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 last 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 8:15 p.m. ET. (Note: Last year, NBC listed a tentative game for Week 17; they are not doing so this year.)
- 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. (Note: Again, excluding Week 17.)
- 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 could not protect any games Week 17 last year. Unless I find out otherwise, I’m assuming that’s still the case this year, especially with no tentative game listed Week 17, and that protections were scheduled after Week 4.
- 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. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 16):
- Selected game: Dallas @ Washington.
Week 12 (November 23):
- Selected game: Indianapolis @ San Diego. Really? 5-4 @ 4-5 is better than 8-1 @ 6-3 or 7-2 @ 6-3? Even if I was wrong about Fox’s protection, both of those games are Fox games so if one was protected, the other was available – and even Eagles-Ravens would have been a better game, at 5-4 @ 6-3! I always figured NBC and the NFL would hold on to the tentative game if circumstances warranted, but either that “tentative bias” is way more powerful than I had suspected, or the NFL looked at the Colts’ winning streak against good teams and the fact that despite a below-.500 record, the Chargers are still only a game back in the AFC West, and decided the game was still worth keeping with all the (diluted) “name” value. Or alternately, NBC and the NFL forgot how to flex a game out. (Or one side wanted to wait until after MNF and the other side thought that wasn’t possible. Or either side was concerned about maxing out Eagles and Giants primetime appearances and Panthers-Falcons was protected.)
Week 13 (November 30):
- Tentative game: Chicago @ Minnesota
- Prospects: Two 5-4 teams tied for the lead in the NFC North. Might be a possibility to keep its spot. The bad news is the Bears didn’t get the job done against the Titans; the good news is they kept it within a score and Kyle Orton expects to be back THIS week.
- Likely protections: Giants-Redskins (Fox) and either Steelers-Patriots or Broncos-Jets (CBS).
- Other possible games: It’s Thanksgiving Weekend, so more teams like the Cowboys and Titans aren’t available. Panthers-Packers is probably out because it’s lopsided and if you want a game with NFC North teams, you keep the all-division battle in the tentative game. On the off chance Steelers-Patriots isn’t protected it certainly looks good, but after this week I’m not sure if being a game better on both sides is enough. Broncos-Jets would be even more vulnerable. Forget about Falcons-Chargers, but Saints-Bucs is really in the same boat.
- Prediction: What a mediocre weekend. If the Bears and Vikings both win they WILL keep their spot. If they both lose, the Steelers and Patriots both win, and their game is unprotected, it’s a fairly good bet to nab the star. The Jets, Chargers, and Saints probably need to win for their respective games to have anything resembling a shot.
Week 14 (December 7):
- Tentative game: New England @ Seattle
- Prospects: The Seahawks are just too terrible for this game to keep its spot.
- Likely protections: Cowboys-Steelers (FOX) and if anything, Jags-Bears (CBS).
- Other possible games: Redskins-Ravens suddenly looks teriffic (though I will consider the prospects of Cowboys-Steelers if Redskins-Ravens had been protected next week), and Eagles-Giants is looking lopsided. Jags-Bears really needs a rally and a Redskins/Ravens collapse, and Falcons-Saints also needs improvement. Titans-Browns could be a masochistic dark horse if the Titans keep winning.
Week 15 (December 14):
- Tentative game: NY Giants @ Dallas
- Prospects: This is why I had Fox protect Bears-Packers Week 11: so they could leave this week protection-free and maximize their chances of getting a marquee NFC East matchup back. And this game might be alive again. A lot depends on what the Cowboys do with Tony Romo back.
- Likely protections: Steelers-Ravens, Broncos-Panthers, Bills-Jets, or nothing (CBS).
- Other possible games: Bucs-Falcons looks great, but they’re running in a dead heat with Steelers-Ravens if that game isn’t protected. Bills-Jets and Broncos-Panthers both trail those two. Vikings-Cardinals looks like a serious contender. Titans-Texans could be a masochistic dark horse if the Titans keep winning.
Week 16 (December 21):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Tampa Bay
- Prospects: It’s 4-5 @ 6-3. Way too lopsided unless the Chargers can keep recovering.
- Likely protections: Panthers-Giants or Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS).
- Other possible games: Cardinals-Patriots is still strong and Bills-Broncos remains in trouble, but Falcons-Vikings is gaining. If Fox protected Eagles-Redskins all this is moot because the Panthers and Giants would have to collapse to give up the spot, but if it was Panthers-Giants protected the main advantage Eagles-Redskins would have is being a divisional matchup.
Week 17 (December 28 Playoff Positioning Watch):
- Note that not only is there no longer an NBC tentative game, there’s no NFL Network game. Apparently the league learned their lesson from last year’s Patriots-Giants debacle.
- AFC East: Anyone’s game. All four teams within a game of one another. The Pats and Bills play each other, as do the Dolphins and Jets.
- AFC North: Every team is theoretically in it. The Steelers and Ravens are running away with it but are neck-in-neck. The Steelers play the Browns while the Ravens play the Jags.
- AFC South: The Titans are running away with it. No matter the standings, if the Titans remain undefeated Titans-Colts could be a lock. The Texans are mathematically still in it.
- AFC West: Every team is theoretically in it. Broncos and Chargers the main contenders, and play each other. Hmm.
- AFC Wild Card: The losers of the AFC East and North would get the nod if the season ended today. The Dolphins, Bills, and Colts would be a game back, with the Jags and Chargers waiting in the wings, adding luster to both East games, Titans-Colts, Jags-Ravens, and Broncos-Chargers. The AFC has a very attractive line-up.
- NFC East: Every team within three games. Giants and Redskins look strongest. The Giants play the Vikings but the Redskins play the 49ers. The Cowboys and Eagles play each other.
- NFC North: Bears and Vikings lead, Packers a game back. The Bears play the Texans and the Packers play the Lions, but the Vikings play the Giants. The Lions are mathematically still in it.
- NFC South: Every team within three games, with the Panthers leading and the Bucs and Falcons a game behind. The Panthers play the Saints, but Tampa Bay plays the Raiders and the Falcons play the Rams.
- NFC West: Every team mathematically still in it but the Cardinals are running away with it. They play the Seahawks. Hardly must-see TV.
- NFC Wild Card: Any two of the Redskins, Bucs or Falcons would get the nod if the season ended today. Cowboys, Eagles, Bears, and Vikings a game back; Packers and Saints waiting in the wings. Despite all but four teams being within a game of the playoffs, the only real interesting NFC games are Giants-Vikings, Cowboys-Eagles, and Panthers-Saints (and the Saints’ playoff window is narrow to say the least). Those could be competitive games for the NBC pick, especially the first two, but the AFC holds the overall edge right now. The NFL may have done too much to ensure the best game for NBC, creating an overabundance of choices.