NFL Week 15: Are fans in Britain right to be greedy for bigger London games?

Cleveland Browns
The winless Cleveland Browns will be heading to London in 2017

It showed how far the game has come in Britain when the news of the four NFL games being played in London next year was met with a slight indifference by supporters.

Let me explain. When the first regular-season game was brought to these shores in 2007, it was groundbreaking. It was a sport willing to play a meaningful fixture in another country when the result would matter. As NFL teams play only eight home games, it was a considerable move. How those in Asia would crave a real Premier League fixture in their countries.

At the time, it didn't matter which teams came over. The enormous thirst of NFL supporters was overwhelming - the fact it was here was enough.

The NFL owners loved it and, over time, the international series grew and grew. Kick-off times were changed from 18:00 GMT to early afternoon. It has worked, and a decade on, everything that was hoped for has happened. Games are still selling out, the thirst is still there.

But in growing the game the way the NFL has, the public now know their stuff, and we are greedy. We want the games. But not any old games. We want the blockbusters.

I get it that fans want a New England, Green Bay, Dallas or Seattle to face each other, but it's unlikely given what the UK is up against.

The NFL has three major primetime slots to fill each week. In the main, Sunday and Monday nights will receive the best match-ups. The sponsors who plough an inordinate amount of money to the TV companies for ratings dictate that, plus the broadcasters themselves, who pay extraordinary sums to the league.

There is the scheduling to consider, the geography, plus the contractual obligations of a team like the Jaguars, who are committed to playing one home game in London through to 2020, the Rams through to 2018.

The fixtures were announced as follows: the Baltimore Ravens v the Jacksonville Jaguars; the New Orleans Saints v the Miami Dolphins; the Minnesota Vikings v the Cleveland Browns; the Arizona Cardinals v the Los Angeles Rams.

Now it's easy to see why there was a lacklustre response. The Jaguars (2-11), Browns (0-13) and Rams (4-10) are all involved separately and this doesn't seem to thrill many.

But let's get real and have cause for optimism.

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'Block could have ended that man's career'

Imagine if there was a London NFL franchise. There would be eight home games, and probably four or five would be against sides with losing records. Most likely the London team would be terrible for a good few seasons if they did exist. Not every game, every week is a good one. You can't guarantee how a result will turn out. Seattle played Green Bay last week. In truth it was a dog of a game, with the Packers easily dispatching the Seahawks.

Secondly, in today's NFL, the fortunes of a team can change in the space of 12 months. A good draft, some clever free-agent signings, a head coach who makes an underachieving side click can make a world of difference.

Look at Dallas. Last year they were 4-12. Now they are 11-2 and in the play-offs. The Giants - 6-10 to 9-4. The Titans - 3-13 to 7-6. The Raiders, the Bucs, the Lions and more beside went from also-rans to contenders in a year. The opposite can happen too. The Panthers, 15-1 a year ago, are 5-8. The Cardinals 13-3 to 5-7-1, the Bengals 12-4 to 5-7-1.

If you played London's planned 2017 games next week, they would be ordinary fare. I believe we should wait and see what happens in the off-season and also the first three weeks of the 2017 season before we make any comments.

There are four games coming to London. I'll take four bad games over no games any day.

Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers have hit a good run of form but is it too late to beat Detroit to the divisional title?

Don't rule out the Packers

Back to the play-off push and I just wonder if this is the week that will give the Green Bay Packers a shot at pipping the Detroit Lions at the post for the NFC North title.

Detroit (9-4) travel to the Meadowlands to face the New York Giants (9-4) fresh from stopping Dallas' 11-game winning streak. Detroit, used to their enclosed stadium, have to go outdoors and the Big Apple should be cold and unwelcoming.

The Giants are an odd team. Very rarely do both offense and defense work together on the same day. However, they make it work and, given their history of making long-winded trips to the Super Bowl, are a force to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile the Packers (7-6) have found their groove, albeit a little late. Aaron Rodgers takes his side to the Chicago Bears (3-10). Historic divisional rivalry this may be, but Chicago surely don't have enough to upset the odds.

The script is surely written as the Packers and the Lions go head to head in week 17, but can the Lions hold their nerve?

Bell holds key for Steelers

1) The Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) have a tough trip to division rivals Cincinnati. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is in a purple patch right now and that needs to continue. The Bengals have too much to do to make the play-offs but could play spoiler. The Ravens (7-6), meanwhile, host the Philadelphia Eagles, who are no pushovers. Neither can afford to slip up.

2) Tennessee Titans (7-6) are at Kansas City (10-3), the Texans (7-6) host the Jaguars (2-11) and the Colts (6-7) travel to the Minnesota Vikings (7-6). Advantage Houston.

3) Our 5 live NFL commentary comes from San Diego, where the Oakland Raiders (10-3) have had 10 days to prepare for the Chargers (5-8). This match-up, whether home or away, may well be held in different cities in the future, but that is for another day. The Chargers are another of those spoiler teams and, after a tough loss at the Chiefs last Thursday, the Raiders need to find their rhythm again.

4) One more spoiler are the Carolina Panthers (5-8). They travel to the capital on Monday night to play the Washington Redskins (7-5-1). Depending on results on Sunday, come Monday a Panthers victory could well end their play-off chances.

5) I've written this one before.... will the Browns win this season?

Listen to 5 live NFL commentary of the Oakland Raiders at the San Diego Chargers on 5 live sports extra from 19:30 GMT on Sunday 18 December.

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