Last season, the Patriots played a ridiculous six prime time games.
They opened the season against the Steelers, faced the Colts in what should have been Tom Brady's return from suspension, faced the Dolphins on Thursday night, hosted Rex Ryan and the Bills, traveled to Denver to see the Broncos, and then the Texans game was flexed to prime time as Houston entered the playoff race.
That was the absolute maximum number of prime time regular season games a team could play in any given season.
"Per the NFL Broadcast Policy," the NFL told PatsPulpit in a statement. "Each team is limited to five scheduled primetime games in one season, or six if they are flexed into one Sunday night matchup."
Well, it turns out that the owners want more prime time and they've changed the rules again. Per USA Today's Tom Pelissero, the NFL changed the rule to only apply for the first sixteen weeks of the season. This means that a team that has played the maximum six prime time games through Week 16 could possibly get "promoted" to a seventh prime time game in Week 17.
The NFL has structured the schedule so teams finish the season with divisional games to increase the competitiveness of the final stretch of the year and to deter teams sitting their starters. The Patriots and Jets have faced either the Dolphins or the Bills in the season finale in each of the past six seasons.
I would presume that the Patriots and Jets don't play each other in the finale because they are more valuable franchises with greater viewership than both the Dolphins or Bills and the league doesn't want to stick a network with a Dolphins-Bills finale.
But how long will it be until the Bills or Dolphins are competing for a final wild card spot? You can write it down in permanent marker that the NFL will try to get the Patriots in six prime time games through week 16; New England has played in 11 prime time games over the past two seasons, tied with the Giants and Packers for the most in the NFL.
The NFL will probably pit the favorite between the Bills and the Dolphins against the Patriots in the season finale for the foreseeable future. It's the profitable thing to do.