NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For Weeks 10-15, the games are determined on 12-day notice, with Week 17 the exception on six-day notice.
The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday night slot, and there was 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 website (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 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 website 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 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 time, no team is completely tapped out at any measure; five teams have five prime time appearances each, but all of them have at least one game that can be flexed out. A list of all teams’ prime time appearances is in my first two posts for Weeks 4 and 5.
- Last year’s selection of prime time games was weighted rather heavily towards 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 (Nov. 13):
- Selected game: New England @ NY Jets
Week 11 (Nov. 20):
- Selected game: Philadelphia @ NY Giants
Week 12 (Nov. 17):
- Selected game: Pittsburgh @ Kansas City
Week 13 (Dec. 4):
- Tentative game: None. For the first time ever, the NFL has announced that it is pulling a game out of prime time before the two-week deadline (Colts-Pats has become that unappealing.) 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 retaken it, but Bengals-Steelers has the exact same pair of records. Falcons-Texans is probably third, Titans-Bills is in the mix, and Chiefs-Bears and Broncos-Chargers are dark horses.
- Analysis: Lions-Saints would probably win a tiebreaker if the Lions and Bengals both win or both lose, but the Lions’ hot start has largely faded into the background as a story. These aren’t the Palmer-Ochocinco Bengals, and heaven only knows if they’ll make any noise in the playoffs, but if a battle of 7-3 teams gets passed over for inferior games in a week where the tentative game bias isn’t a factor, it makes a mockery of the notion that teams can “play their way into prime time” (even if it arguably applies to the Lions). Falcons-Texans has a legitimate shot if the Lions and Bengals both lose and the Falcons win, but I suspect the NFL would still go with Lions-Saints. Titans-Bills likely has no shot at all. Basically, it’s Lions-Saints unless the Lions lose to the lowly Panthers and the Bengals beat the Ravens, and it might still be Lions-Saints even then.
Week 14 (Dec. 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 and Saints-Titans are the only games involving two teams over .500. Bills-Chargers, Raiders-Packers, Broncos-Bears and Chiefs-Jets are dark horses.
Week 15 (Dec. 18):
- Tentative game: Baltimore @ San Diego
- Prospects: At one point, this game was the only one of NBC’s tentatives involving two teams above .500. Might the Chargers’ mid-season swoon be putting this one in flex jeopardy? Maybe not, given the alternatives.
- Protected games: Jets-Eagles (CBS) and Redskins-Giants (FOX)
- Other possible games: Lions-Raiders, Packers-Chiefs and Patriots-Broncos are the only remotely good options, and Lions-Raiders is the only one involving two teams over .500.
Week 17 (Jan. 1):
- Possible games: Cowboys-Giants, Titans-Texans, Lions-Packers, Ravens-Bengals, Bucs-Falcons, Bills-Patriots, Chargers-Raiders and Chiefs-Broncos
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