Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch and Playoff Watch: Week 15

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 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: Jets (v. Miami)-Patriots (@Bills)-Dolphins three-way tie, Bills out.
  • AFC North: The Steelers and Ravens are the only two teams still in it, and the Ravens are out on a tiebreaker (lost to the Steelers both times).
  • AFC South: The Titans are running away with it, with the Colts the only other team with a shot, and they lose the common games tiebreaker.
  • AFC West: Chargers (v. Denver) hanging by the division tiebreaker, and the team they play is the division leader. Hmm. But again, the Chargers would need to win out and the Broncos lose out – but for that to matter, it only needs to happen this week.
  • AFC Wild Card: The Colts (v. Titans) and either the Ravens (v. Jacksonville) or one of the AFC East losers would get the nod if the season ended today. The AFC East losers are a game back. Texans hanging by a tiebreak, and would need the Ravens, Patriots, and eventual Dolphins-Jets loser to all lose two games. Jets would beat the Patriots in the divisional record tiebreaker, Dolphins-Patriots would come down to strength of victory or beyond. Texans can’t have Dolphins winning strength of victory because that would give Ravens head-to-head sweep; otherwise, Ravens conference record would eliminate the Texans anyway.
  • AFC Playoff Positioning Among Division Winners: Titans have the lead over the Steelers (v. Cleveland) for the #1, but only one game, and they play each other this week in a game that pretty much is for the #1 unless the Steelers win that game, then lose the next week and the Titans win it. Steelers have a two-game lead for the #2 over the eventual AFC East winner, and beat the Pats outright, and the other two have at least four conference losses each to Pittsburgh’s one.
  • NFC East: The Giants have a three-game lead over the Cowboys, with the Eagles out by half a game, and the Cowboys lose the common games tiebreaker.
  • NFC North: Vikings (v. NY Giants) lead, Bears (@Texans) a game back. If Bears lose to Packers on MNF it cinches the North for the Vikings by giving them the division tiebreaker, but they still need to tread lightly because their record against the NFC South loses them the common games tiebreaker.
  • NFC South: Panthers (@New Orleans) have a two-game lead over the Bucs (v. Oakland) and Falcons (v. St. Louis). All three season series split, all three division records would be 3-3, all three would have 7-1 records against other common opponents, Bucs and Falcons would both eliminate Panthers with better conference records.
  • NFC West: Cardinals clinched.
  • NFC Wild Card: Any two of the Bucs, Cowboys (@Philadelphia), or Falcons would get the nod if the season ended today. Eagles a half-game back, Bears a full game back, Redskins (@San Francisco) and Saints both hang on tiebreakers. If Bucs and Falcons both lose out, that would come down to strength of victory or beyond; Saints lost more than one game to the common opponents so they’re out. A Redskins-Cowboys tiebreaker scenario would involve the Cowboys losing to the Eagles and the Redskins beating them, putting the Eagles at 9-6-1 compared to the Cowboys’ and Redskins’ 9-7 records and forcing the Bucs and Falcons to both lose out for the Redskins to have a remote shot, although they would win the conference tiebreaker over Dallas and whoever won the strength of victory tiebreaker between the Bucs and Falcons. I don’t have time to consider how the Bears would factor into the tiebreakers.
  • NFC Playoff Positioning Among Division Winners: Giants and Panthers tied, so this weekend’s Sunday night game is for the #1 seed. The loser of that game currently holds a two-game edge over the Vikings, who beat Carolina and would have to beat New York.
  • Analysis: Through next week, there have been 22 games that would have been on Fox aired instead on one of the three primetime partners, compared to 19 for CBS. A recent dispute between Newsday columnist Neil Best and Dallas Morning News columnist Barry Horn may have brought to light yet another rule I haven’t accounted for: the idea that the NFL must take a game from CBS this week. It makes no sense that this would only come to light now, as it necessitates only two or three balances: 21-21, or 22-20 one way or the other. For a game that matters in terms of putting both teams in the playoffs, Dolphins-Jets, Cowboys-Eagles, and depending on what happens this weekend, Chargers-Broncos would seem to be the smart plays, and Cowboys-Eagles would be a shoo-in if this alleged rule were in place. If NBC just wants good teams, Giants-Vikings and a replay of Colts-Titans are also in play; if things break down right next week, Giants-Vikings may be a more impressive NFC game. Based on behavior last year, if NBC has to select an AFC game Colts-Titans is very promising, assuming the Colts don’t find themselves in the playoffs already, and if the Pats win this week NBC may run scared from them potentially winning again next week (even though a tiebreak might still be in play) and run to the potentially more attractive Colts-Titans game. I’ll live-blog on Sunday again this year, but I probably won’t be able to catch another announcement on “FNIA”.

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