NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, and six-day notice for Week 17.
The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.
Here are the rules from the NFL Web site (note that this was written with the 2007 season in mind):
- Begins Sunday of Week 11.
- In effect during Weeks 11-17.
- Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
- The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:20 p.m. ET.
- The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
- No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
- The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:20 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
- Week 17 start time changes could be decided on six days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
- The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
- Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (six days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
- NFL schedules all games.
- Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
- Rules NOT listed on NFL Web site, but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 the first year of flexible scheduling, but are now protected after Week 5.
- Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in prime time on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. At this writing, no team is completely tapped out at any measure, although the Jets have five prime time appearances and can’t be flexed out of any of them, which is a problem since five other teams also have five prime time appearances and can be flexed out of them. (So naturally this turned into the Year of Parity!) NBC appearances for all teams: MIN 2, NO 2, DAL 3 (1 flexible), WSH 2, NYG 3 (1 flexible), IND 3 (1 flexible), NYJ 1, MIA 1, CHI 1, PHI 3 (2 flexible), SF 1, GB 3 (1 flexible), PIT 3 (1 flexible), NE 2 (1 flexible), SD 2 (both flexible), BAL 1 (flexible), CIN 1 (flexible). All prime time appearances for all teams: MIN 4, NO 4, DAL 5 (1 flexible), WSH 3, NYG 4 (1 flexible), IND 5 (1 flexible), NYJ 5, MIA 3, CHI 4, PHI 5 (2 flexible), SF 4, GB 4 (1 flexible), PIT 5 (1 flexible), NE 4 (1 flexible), SD 5 (2 flexible), BAL 4 (1 flexible), CIN 3 (1 flexible), ATL 2, HOU 3, TEN 2, CAR 1, ARI 2, KC 1, JAX 1, DEN 1.
- A rule that may have come to light late 2008, but that, given its restrictiveness and lateness in coming to light, I’m having trouble accepting, is that the balance of prime time games taken from FOX and CBS can’t go beyond 22-20 one way or the other. The current tally is FOX 18, CBS 17; with tentative games, the tally is FOX 21, CBS 20. With this rule in place, Weeks 12, 13, and 16 cannot be flexed away from NFC road games without making up for it in Weeks 11, 14, 15 and 17.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (Nov. 21):
- Tentative game: NY Giants at Philadelphia
- Prospects: Both teams at 3-2, so could go either way, but looking good for now.
- Likely protections: Packers-Vikings (FOX) and Colts-Patriots (CBS).
- Other possible games: Jets-Texans, Chiefs-Cardinals, Redskins-Titans, with Falcons-Rams, Saints-Seahawks and Raiders-Steelers as dark horses, all very dependent on how everything shakes out. (Given how chaotic this year is shaking out to be, that goes for all of these weeks and goes double.) CBS would probably protect Jets-Texans based strictly on records, but there’s only one win of difference. Fox would likewise protect Redskins-Titans based strictly on records, and may be tempted to do so anyway, considering Brett Favre may end up retiring by Week 11—but the temptation of him playing his former team will be too much, especially with an NFC East game as the tentative. (I’ve even seen quite a few people suggesting leaving this week unprotected.)
Week 12 (Nov. 28):
- Tentative game: San Diego at Indianapolis
- Prospects: 3-2 vs. 2-3, but the Chargers always start slow. But there are some ominous signs in the Colts’ losses…
- Likely protections: Reportedly, Eagles-Bears (FOX) and Titans-Texans, Jags-Giants, or nothing (CBS). Bucs-Ravens is slightly better than Eagles-Bears, but the latter contains more name teams and bigger markets.
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games. Besides the potentially protected games, Packers-Falcons, Bucs-Ravens, and who knows, maybe even Vikings-Redskins or Chiefs-Seahawks.
Week 13 (Dec. 5):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh at Baltimore
- Prospects: 4-1 vs. 3-1, potentially deciding the AFC North. Extremely good chance of keeping its spot.
- Likely protections: Falcons-Bucs or Cowboys-Colts, more likely the latter (FOX) and Jags-Titans if anything (CBS). This week has only one good CBS game but a better tentative compared to the other CBS unprotected candidate.
- Other possible games: Redskins-Giants or the potentially protected games, with Chiefs-Broncos, Rams-Cardinals and Saints-Bengals as potential dark horses.
Week 14 (Dec. 12):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia at Dallas
- Prospects: 3-2 vs. 1-3, but an NFC East game always equals ratings, so Fox would still be happy to take this game. This is probably still the most likely unprotected week for Fox.
- Likely protections: Patriots-Bears (CBS) and probably nothing (FOX).
- Other possible games: Giants-Vikings and Bucs-Redskins are the main Fox protection candidates if they did protect something. Broncos-Cardinals, Jags-Raiders, Bengals-Steelers, Rams-Saints and Chiefs-Chargers are dark horses.
Week 15 (Dec. 19):
- Tentative game: Green Bay at New England
- Prospects: 3-2 vs. 3-1 means a pretty good chance of keeping its spot.
- Likely protections: Jets-Patriots (CBS) and Saints-Ravens or Redskins-Cowboys, more likely the latter (FOX). CBS would be putting potential big AFC South games at risk (see below) with a Fox tentative game, but not only might Jets-Patriots decide the division, but the winner could get a first-round bye with the loser going on the road in the first round.
- Other possible games: Texans-Titans, Jags-Colts or Eagles-Giants, with Chiefs-Rams and Falcons-Seahawks as dark horses.
Week 16 (Dec. 26)
- Tentative game: San Diego at Cincinnati
- Prospects: Both at 2-3, and the Bengals will have trouble catching up to the Ravens and Steelers.
- Likely protections: Jets-Bears (CBS) and Giants-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Texans-Broncos, Chiefs-Titans, Colts-Raiders, Redskins-Jaguars or Seahawks-Bucs. Vikings-Eagles has an outside shot, but not enough for Fox to protect it—Brett Favre might not even make it to that game.
Week 17 (Jan. 3):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.