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, 6-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 6 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 (6 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 primetime 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 primetime appearances and can’t be flexed out of any of them, which is a problem since five other teams also have five primetime appearances and can be flexed out of them. (So naturally this turned into the Year of Parity!) A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.
- 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 primetime 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 AFC 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 (November 21):
- Selected game: NY Giants @ Philadelphia.
Week 12 (November 28):
- Selected game: San Diego @ Indianapolis. (With Eagles-Bears the Fox late game instead of Packers-Falcons for some reason…)
Week 13 (December 5):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 6-3 v. 6-3, probably deciding the AFC North. Extremely good chance of keeping its spot.
- Protected games: Cowboys-Colts (FOX).
- Other possible games: Falcons-Bucs at the moment is the only serious flex candidate at 7-2 v. 6-3, and the perfect storm it could need to pass Steelers-Ravens may be brewing; based on records, it’s actually now a better game, but it still needs help (see below). Redskins-Giants and Rams-Cardinals are out. Jags-Titans and Raiders-Chargers don’t involve any teams above 5-4, so they can’t pass Falcons-Bucs.
- Analysis: Falcons-Bucs needs to overcome the NFL’s tentative-game bias, the fact that people don’t trust the Bucs, and how obvious a big playoff-determining game Steelers-Ravens is. All that means they probably need to both win and the Steelers and Ravens need to both lose, and the Steelers and Ravens are both playing weak teams. But if all that happens, it becomes 8-2 v. 7-3, as opposed to a game at 6-4 v. 6-4, and the Steelers and Ravens might not be fighting for a first-round bye anymore, and people may start wondering if they’re starting to collapse, and the NFL may start wondering if they’re showing a stinker. Even then, though, it would be the equivalent of Cowboys-Vikings on Fox earlier in the season, except with the Ravens being a smaller-name team. I don’t want to make an early prediction after the perfect storm was played to perfection this week, but the cincher may be that it would be moving from a CBS game to a Fox game, same as last week.
- Final prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens (no change).
Week 14 (December 12):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
- Prospects: 6-3 v. 2-7; time will tell if the Cowboys are starting a Chargers-esque hard charge. An NFC East game always = ratings, and this is NBC’s only shot at a Cowboys game during the flex scheduling period, but they need to go on a historic tear with Garrett at the helm to have a shot; even then its only shot at keeping its spot may be if it’s the game Romo comes back in, and that probably won’t be known 12 days in advance. No matter how hard a charge they make, they’d be 5-7 by the time the NFL would have to make the flex decision, still a little lopsided unless the Eagles collapse. On the other hand, look at the alternatives…
- Protected games: Patriots-Bears (CBS).
- Other possible games: Jags-Raiders is the only game involving nothing but teams above .500… and it’s 5-4 v. 5-4. Bucs-Redskins and Rams-Saints are both 6-3 v. 4-5; Chiefs-Chargers is worse at 5-4 v. 4-5, but its prospects may be the strongest if the Chargers continue their annual hard charge (they could even lead the division by the time comes to make the flex). A lot depends upon what those .500 teams do, but this could have a pretty good chance of moving from a Fox to a CBS game, possibly allowing the reverse to happen in other weeks.
Week 15 (December 19):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ New England
- Prospects: 7-2 v. 6-3, a potential Super Bowl preview. Extremely good chance to keep its spot.
- Protected games: Jets-Patriots (CBS) and Eagles-Giants (FOX).
- Other possible games: Saints-Ravens at 6-3 v. 6-3 is the only serious flex candidate but even it has to be considered a long shot. Jags-Colts and Falcons-Seahawks are also options, while Texans-Titans and Chiefs-Rams fading.
Week 16 (December 26)
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Cincinnati
- Prospects: 2-7 v. 4-5; it looks like the T.Ocho experiment isn’t working out, meaning the Chargers’ late-season surge will only serve to make this game lopsided, especially since, even if the Bengals go on a run of their own, they can’t break past the Ravens and Steelers.
- Protected games: Jets-Bears (CBS) and Giants-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Chiefs-Titans, Colts-Raiders, and Seahawks-Bucs all involve two teams above .500. Redskins-Jaguars is a big dark horse and came within a hail mary of being almost completely out this week. Colts-Raiders seems most likely, but it would max the Colts out, and Titans-Colts Week 17 could be important. We’ll wait and see how things shake out, I guess.
Week 17 (January 3 Playoff Positioning Watch):
- I’m tweaking the format of the Playoff Positioning Watch this year to take advantage of the NFL scheduling all divisional matchups Week 17. Next to each division is that division’s Week 17 matchups in parenthesis.
- AFC East (Bills-Jets, Dolphins-Patriots): Jets and Patriots are tied for the division lead, with the Dolphins two back. The Bills are still alive… barely.
- AFC North (Steelers-Browns, Bengals-Ravens): It’s basically a two-horse race between the Ravens and Steelers, with the Browns three back and the Bengals four back.
- AFC South (Titans-Colts, Jags-Texans): Colts lead, Titans and Jags a game back, Texans two back.
- AFC West (Raiders-Chiefs, Chargers-Broncos): Raiders and Chiefs tied for the division lead, Chargers a game back, Broncos another game behind that.
- AFC Wild Card: The East and North losers would get the nod if the season ended today, with the West loser, Dolphins, Titans, and Jags a game back. The Chargers and Texans are waiting in the wings. Today, Titans-Colts and Raiders-Chiefs are appealing games with the losers likely not to make the playoffs, with Dolphins-Patriots and Jags-Texans moving up.
- NFC East (Giants-Redskins, Cowboys-Eagles): Giants and Eagles tied for the lead, Redskins two back, Cowboys four back.
- NFC North (Bears-Packers, Vikings-Lions): Bears and Packers lead with the Vikings three games back and the Lions a game behind that.
- NFC South (Panthers-Falcons, Bucs-Saints): Falcons lead, Saints and Bucs a game back, ignore the Panthers.
- NFC West (Rams-Seahawks, Cardinals-49ers): Seahawks lead, Rams a game back, Cardinals and Niners two back.
- NFC Wild Card: The Saints, Bucs, and losers of the East and North are all at 6-3; the Rams and Redskins are two games behind them. Wide open, with only the Lions, Cowboys, and Panthers more than three games out of the playoffs in the NFC. Keep an eye on Rams-Seahawks, Bucs-Saints, Bears-Packers, and Giants-Redskins. With no one leading a division by more than a game in either conference, and only three divisions not tied, NBC could have no shortage of good choices Week 17.