NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives the network flexible scheduling. For Weeks 10 through 15, the games are determined on 12-day notice—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, hence why it contradicts the above—and the page it comes from, for that matter):
- 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 8:15 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 8:15 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 (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; however, they are back to Week 4 this year, probably for the same reason as that first year: NBC hosting a Christmas night game and the other games being moved to Saturday.
- 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; five teams have five primetime appearances each, but all of them have at least one game that can be flexed out. A list of all teams’ primetime appearances is in my first two posts for Weeks 4 and 5.
- Last year’s selection of prime time games was weighted rather heavily toward Fox games. This year, the selection currently leans CBS 22, FOX 20 (though if I miscounted one game it may be even). My guess is that the balance will continue to lean towards the AFC. Weeks 10, 12, 13, and 15 are all CBS games, while Weeks 11 and 14 are FOX.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 10 (November 13):
Selected game: New England @ NY Jets.
Week 11 (November 20):
Selected game: Philadelphia @ NY Giants.
Week 12 (November 17):
Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Kansas City
Prospects: 6-3 v. 4-4. Remember when the Chiefs were 0-3 and widely considered the worst team in the league? Suddenly this game looks pretty good to keep its spot.
Protected games: Patriots-Eagles (CBS) and Bears-Raiders (FOX).
Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games (Packers-Lions is an especially bad loss). Bills-Jets is really the only good option, with Bucs-Titans a dark horse and Bengals-Browns very behind. After the protections, NBC isn’t left with very attractive matchups in terms of drawing power.
Analysis: Bills-Jets does look pretty good, as both teams are in a three-way tie for the division lead at 5-3. It might also be a more attractive matchup in terms of how name the teams are; the Bills seem more credible than the Chiefs. I doubt it’ll overcome the tentative, but if things break down perfectly it’ll be two teams with the same record as the Steelers at 6-4 while the Chiefs will be below .500 and the four-game winning streak will look like a fluke. At that point, it’ll be very tempting to pull the flex.
Week 13 (December 4):
Tentative game: None. For the first time ever, the NFL has announced that it is pulling a game out of primetime before the two-week deadline – Colts-Pats has become that sucky. Notably, they haven’t announced a replacement yet, which suggests there are multiple candidates…
Protected games: Jets-Redskins (CBS) and Packers-Giants (FOX).
Other possible games: Lions-Saints had the early lead, and may have re-taken it, but Bengals-Steelers has the exact same pair of records. Falcons-Texans is probably third, Titans-Bills and Chiefs-Bears are dark horses, and Ravens-Browns is fading.
Week 14 (December 11):
Tentative game: NY Giants @ Dallas
Prospects: NFC East clash, with both teams moderately good and the division lead potentially on the line. A flex isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but one or both teams would have to completely collapse and the other game would have to sweep the NFL off its feet. Combine that with a paucity of NFC road games, and no wonder Fox left this week unprotected.
Protected games: Patriots-Redskins (CBS).
Other possible games: Texans-Bengals is the only game involving two teams over .500. Bills-Chargers, Raiders-Packers, Saints-Titans, and Chiefs-Jets are dark horses.
Week 15 (December 18):
Tentative game: Baltimore @ San Diego
Prospects: Not NBC’s biggest-name late-season matchup, but one of the better ones record-wise. Good chance to keep its spot.
Protected games: Jets-Eagles (CBS) and Redskins-Giants (FOX).
Other possible games: Lions-Raiders and Packers-Chiefs and that’s it, both involving AFC West teams at .500 (admittedly, same as Ravens-Chargers). Yeah, I’d say Ravens-Chargers is keeping its spot.
Week 17 (January 1):
After last year, I realized that the NFL’s new all-divisional-matchups-Week-17 rule, combined with their division-heavy tiebreak structure and desperate desire to only give NBC games guaranteed to still have playoff implications before prime time, severely limited the sorts of games that NBC could show Week 17, to games with playoff implications for both teams.
Thus, I’m changing up the format for the Week 17 Playoff Positioning Watch for the second straight year, only listing, in effect, the possible games. More than ever, the actual state of the races is mostly irrelevant; a quick glance at the standings and the slate of games is all that’s necessary, and that’s not very different from what I do for any other week.
Possible games: Cowboys-Giants, Titans-Texans, Lions-Packers, Ravens-Bengals, Bucs-Falcons, Bills-Patriots, Chargers-Raiders.