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 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.
- 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, although the Jets have five primetime appearances and can’t be flexed out of any of them, which is a problem since five other teams also have five primetime appearances and can be flexed out of them. (So naturally this turned into the Year of Parity!) A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.
- A rule that may have come to light late 2008 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 18, CBS 17; with tentative games, the tally is FOX 21, CBS 20. With this rule in place, Weeks 12, 13, and 16 cannot be flexed away from AFC road games without making up for it in Weeks 11, 14, 15, and 17.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 21):
- Tentative game: NY Giants @ Philadelphia
- Prospects: 5-2 v. 4-3, with the Giants leading the most attractive division in the league and the Eagles a game back. Extremely good chance to keep its spot, but the NFL may want to think twice if the Eagles fall to .500, tied at second with the Redskins.
- Protected games according to this: Packers-Vikings (FOX) and Colts-Patriots (CBS).
- Other possible games: Jets-Texans saw both teams lose to fall to 5-2 v. 4-3, which can’t overcome the tentative-game bias. Chiefs-Cardinals is out with the Cardinals falling below .500. A few long shots: Redskins-Titans at 5-3 v. 4-4, Saints-Seahawks at 5-3 v. 4-3, Falcons-Rams at 5-2 v. 4-4, and Raiders-Steelers at 5-2 v. 4-4.
- Analysis: It’ll be very difficult for any game to steal the spot. The Seahawks can help their own case by beating the Giants, but a Giants win might be better for flexing in general by making the game lopsided. Any flex depends on the Eagles losing, but that would shrink them down to .500, throwing the doors open. Jets-Texans CAN make the flex look attractive if both teams win; even a Texans win and a Jets loss could be tempting, but it might not be enough to overcome the tentative game bias and the name team factor. (Locking the Jets out the rest of the year shouldn’t be a problem; there are no other good available games the rest of the way, and it’s doubtful they’ll need to beat the lowly Bills Week 17.) Both Redskins and Titans have a bye, so they’re out since Giants-Eagles can only match them, not fall behind. If Seahawks and Saints win, will the NFL be tempted by 6-3 v. 5-3 vis-a-vis 5-3 v. 4-4? Rams have a bye, so either Falcons-Rams becomes lopsided (6-2 v. 4-4, and Giants-Eagles would still have division implications), inferior, or equivalent, and therefore out. Raiders-Steelers may be too lopsided already, and the Steelers don’t play until Monday; 5-3 v. 5-4 wouldn’t be lopsided, and slightly better than Giants-Eagles, but have the Raiders’ decade of mediocrity sullied their name-team status? (As with the Jets, locking the Steelers out of future NBC appearances, setting aside the VERY unlikely “let’s flex out of Steelers-Ravens” scenario, doesn’t lock them out of any good games or any potential playoff-deciding game with the Browns Week 17.) I reiterate that there’s a very slim chance of any flex at all, but a 4-4 Eagles squad has to make the NFL at least consider the flex.
Week 12 (November 28):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Indianapolis
- Prospects: 5-2 v. 3-5; time will tell if Sunday’s win was the start of the annual Chargers charge, but they may be desperate for at least one Colts loss to keep the game from looking lopsided. They have a bye Week 10, so they can’t make it back to .500 and absolutely have to beat the Texans this week for this game to have a chance to keep its spot.
- Protected games: Eagles-Bears (FOX) and Jags-Giants (CBS).
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend usually means a paucity of good games, but sadly for Colts-Chargers, not this year, especially with the Cowboys’ struggles. Four games currently involve only teams with three or fewer losses: Titans-Texans at 5-3 v. 4-3, Packers-Falcons at 5-3 v. 5-2, Bucs-Ravens at 5-2 v. 5-2, and Chiefs-Seahawks at 5-2 v. 4-3. All involve iffy markets, so the name team Packers are in good shape, but Bucs-Ravens remains a battle of two-loss teams. As for how Colts-Chargers can keep its spot? It’ll be difficult: Bucs-Ravens can get to 5-4 v. 5-4 at worst and Colts-Chargers 5-4 v. 4-5 at its least lopsided, which might mean the tentative-game bias, name team factor, and feeling the Chargers are on their hard charge would work in their favor… if the other games cooperate.
Week 13 (December 5):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 5-2 v. 5-2, potentially deciding the AFC North. Extremely good chance of keeping its spot.
- Protected games: Cowboys-Colts (FOX). This week has only one good CBS game but a better tentative compared to the other CBS unprotected candidate last week.
- Other possible games: Falcons-Bucs involves two teams with the same records as Steelers-Ravens, and at the moment is the only serious flex candidate, but even it could need a perfect storm. Redskins-Giants, Jags-Titans, and Rams-Cardinals all involve 4-4 teams.
Week 14 (December 12):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
- Prospects: 4-3 v. 1-6; an NFC East game always = ratings, but the Cowboys’ struggles are becoming hard to watch. This is NBC’s only shot at a Cowboys game during the flex scheduling period, but they could come in to this game 3-9 or something gruesome like that, maybe already mathematically out of the playoffs; its only shot at keeping its spot may be if it’s the game Romo comes back in, and that probably won’t be known 12 days in advance. On the other hand, look at the alternatives…
- Protected games: Patriots-Bears (CBS).
- Other possible games: Bucs-Redskins, Rams-Saints, and Jags-Raiders all involve teams at .500, but they’re the best games you have. A lot depends upon what those .500 teams do, but I’m not optimistic about the Jags.
Week 15 (December 19):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ New England
- Prospects: 6-1 v. 5-3, a bit lopsided but both teams have sole possession of their respective division leads and are within a half-game of the best record in their respective conferences, so you have the Super Bowl Preview angle.
- Protected games: Jets-Patriots (CBS) and Eagles-Giants (FOX).
- Other possible games: Saints-Ravens involves two teams within one game of the best record in their respective conferences and a half-game of the division lead. Texans-Titans and Falcons-Seahawks are also options, with Jags-Colts and Chiefs-Rams as dark horses.
Week 16 (December 26)
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Cincinnati
- Prospects: 2-5 v. 3-5; it looks like the T.Ocho experiment isn’t working out, meaning the Chargers’ late-season surge will only serve to make this game lopsided, especially since, even if the Bengals go on a run of their own, they can’t break past the Ravens and Steelers.
- Protected games: Jets-Bears (CBS) and Giants-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Chiefs-Titans and Seahawks-Bucs both involve two teams above .500. Colts-Raiders and Redskins-Jaguars are also options.
Week 17 (January 3):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.