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 could not protect any games Week 17 in 2007. Unless I find out otherwise, I’m assuming that’s still the case this year, especially with no tentative game listed Week 17. When looking up info on what the protected games might be, I found out that games were protected after Week FIVE this year, and presumably in some of the previous years. Previously all I knew was that games were protected after Week 4 the first year of flexible scheduling.
- 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 5 post.
- A rule that may have come to light late last year 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 15, CBS 20; with tentative games, the tally is FOX 19, CBS 22. With this rule in place, Weeks 11 and 14-16 cannot be flexed away from NFC road games without making up for it in Weeks 12, 13, and 17, and even with that at least one more game would have to be flexed to an NFC road game in said weeks.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 22):
- Selected game: Philadelphia @ Chicago.
Week 12 (November 29):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 6-2 v. 4-4, so getting lopsided, but the Steelers are defending champs and it’s a rivalry game – and the pickings are very slim otherwise. Very good chance of keeping its spot.
- Protected games: Bears-Vikings (FOX).
- Other possible games: It’s Thanksgiving Weekend, so there are some slim pickings for games. Colts-Texans, at 8-0 v. 5-4, is the only game involving two teams over .500.
- Analysis: Both games are lopsided to a similar extent. Colts-Texans has the undefeated factor, but it also has the same issue going against it that the Colts had last week, and the Texans aren’t a team that can draw the audience. On the up side, it would be taking a game from CBS either way, but if you asked CBS whether they liked Steelers-Ravens, even with the Ravens at 4-5, or Colts-Texans, methinks they would rather have Steelers-Ravens, and methinks NBC and the NFL will likely think the same way.
- Final prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens (no change).
Week 13 (December 6):
- Tentative game: New England @ Miami
- Prospects: 6-2 v. 3-5. This game is officially lopsided.
- Protected games: Cowboys-Giants (FOX) and Titans-Colts (CBS).
- Other possible games: Eagles-Falcons and Vikings-Cardinals each pit a 3-loss team against a team with the same number of losses or fewer. Eagles-Falcons involves two teams with the same record but Vikings-Cardinals is better overall and has the Favre factor.
Week 14 (December 13):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ NY Giants
- Prospects: It’s an NFC East game (always = ratings), and while it doesn’t currently have the NFC East lead on the line it’s still a battle of playoff contenders. Still a pretty good shot to keep its spot – the Giants’ troubles might help it in the long run if the game would have become lopsided as opposed to 5-3 v. 5-4. However, there are strong flex contenders…
- Protected games: Chargers-Cowboys (CBS) and Packers-Bears (FOX).
- Other possible games: Bengals-Vikings, Broncos-Colts, and Saints-Falcons remain strong contenders. Broncos-Colts is still the most compelling candidate to flex away from Eagles-Giants (even if the Broncos are no longer unbeaten), given the NFL’s reticence to pull the flex – but with the Favre factor, Bengals-Vikings at 6-2 v. 7-1 looks mighty compelling, and Saints-Falcons not only has a non-undefeated team almost as good as the Broncos, it might be the Saints’ best chance for a loss all year.
Week 15 (December 20):
- Tentative game: Minnesota @ Carolina
- Prospects: Keeps getting lopsided, with the Vikings 7-1 and the Panthers 3-5. There are better chances to worship at the Favre altar the previous two weeks, against teams that are actually winning, not to mention the Giants Week 17 if that game has playoff implications.
- Protected games: Packers-Steelers (Fox) and Bengals-Chargers (CBS).
- Other possible games: Falcons-Jets is in trouble, but 49ers-Eagles is suffering as the Niners have a losing record. Bears-Ravens is in trouble again with both teams moving to .500 (and the Bears have already moved below that). Those are mediocre enough games that Vikings-Panthers might keep its spot yet.
Week 16 (December 27)
- Tentative game: Dallas @ Washington
- Prospects: Lopsided at 6-2 v. 2-6, but it is the NFL’s biggest rivalry so never count out its chances of keeping the spot.
- Protected games: Ravens-Steelers (CBS).
- Other possible games: Broncos-Eagles and Jets-Colts. Right now the main attraction of those games is the now-beaten Broncos playing 5-3 Philadelphia, and the unbeaten Colts playing a Jets team that is stumbling, but despite the Eagles losing, Broncos-Eagles could be very alive with the two teams separated by one loss. Jags-Patriots is back alive as a dark horse.
Week 17 (January 3 Playoff Positioning Watch):
- With no winless teams and every team playing eight games at most, every team is mathematically in every race.
- AFC East: Patriots lead, Jets two back, Dolphins and Bills a game behind that. New England plays Houston, the Jets play Cincinnati, Miami plays Pittsburgh and the Bills play the Colts.
- AFC North: Bengals and Steelers tied, Ravens two back. The Bengals play the Jets, while the Steelers play the Dolphins and Baltimore plays Oakland.
- AFC South: Colts running away with it; Texans 3 1/2 back, Jags 4 back. The Colts play Buffalo while the Texans play New England and the Jags play the Browns.
- AFC West: Broncos lead, Chargers a game back. The Broncos play the Chiefs while the Chargers play the Redskins.
- AFC Wild Card: If the season ended today, the loser of the AFC North would get the nod along with the Chargers, with the Texans a half-game behind the Chargers and the Jets, Ravens, and Jags a half-game behind that. The Dolphins and Bills are waiting in the wings. Bengals-Jets and Texans-Patriots the main AFC contenders.
- NFC East: Cowboys lead, Eagles a game back, Giants a half-game behind Eagles. Cowboys and Eagles play each other, while the Giants play the Vikings.
- NFC North: Vikings lead by 3 games over Packers and Bears (with the Bears sinking a half-game behind the Packers tonight). The Vikings play the Giants while the Packers play the Cardinals and the Bears play the Lions.
- NFC South: Saints lead by 3 over Falcons. The Saints and Panthers play each other, as do the Falcons and Bucs.
- NFC West: Cardinals lead by 2 over 49ers (now 1 1/2 games back) and Seahawks. Arizona plays Green Bay, while the Niners play the Rams and the Seahawks play the Titans.
- NFC Wild Card: Eagles and Falcons would get the nod if the season ended today, with the Giants a half-game back and the Packers and Bears a half-game behind that (Bears now a full game behind Giants). The Panthers, Niners (just moving a half-game closer), and Seahawks wait in the wings, indicating Panthers-Saints may have dark horse appeal. The NFC definitely has the better games with Cowboys-Eagles, Giants-Vikings, and possibly Packers-Cardinals, but the NFL showed last year they’re more concerned with making sure the game has playoff implications no matter what happens when we get to primetime, so we’ll see how the rest of the season plays out.