Why would the NFL give America a prime time game Sunday between the barely-alive Giants and the Vikings at a college stadium in Minnesota when the Patriots visit the Jets for a seemingly more attractive, meaningful matchup that day?

Because the latter was not an option.

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CBS protected the Pats-Jets game from being flexed into NBC’s nighttime slot, a right CBS and Fox can exercise on a limited basis as part of the flex scheduling system.

The Patriots have appeared on NBC four times this season, most recently against the Texans on Dec. 13.

The NFL announces flexed games a minimum of 12 days in advance, so the Giants-Vikings game got the nod before the Giants’ latest dramatic loss to the Panthers on Sunday.

They can be eliminated from playoff contention before they take the field Sunday if the Redskins beat the Eagles Saturday night.