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):
- Selected game: NY Giants @ Philadelphia.
Week 12 (November 28):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Indianapolis
- Prospects: 5-3 v. 4-5; the Chargers’ win over the Texans potentially puts the NFL in a difficult situation, and the Eagles may have granted the Chargers’ prayers. They have a bye this week, so they can’t make it back to .500, but they’re close enough, and have enough upward momentum that history suggests will continue, that the NFL will have to weigh its tentative game bias against the present iffy state of the game and the strength of the alternatives. 6-3 v. 4-5 still isn’t so lopsided to rule the game out.
- 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. The good news for Colts-Chargers is that Titans-Texans and Chiefs-Seahawks both went to 5-3 v. 4-4; the bad news is that still has a chance to beat the tentative, and Packers-Falcons at 6-3 v. 6-2 and Bucs-Ravens at 5-3 v. 6-2 remain very strong.
- Analysis: Packers-Falcons is the key game; all of the alternatives involve iffy markets, so the Packers’ name-team status bolsters its status as a battle of six-win teams. The Packers have a bye week like the Chargers, so the games that will play the biggest role for determining the flex are Bengals-Colts and the Thursday night Ravens-Falcons game; also keep an eye on Panthers-Bucs. The best situation for Colts-Chargers leaves Packers-Falcons at 6-3 v. 6-3 and Colts-Chargers at 6-3 v. 4-5, so if the NFL sticks with Colts-Chargers it will be because of the tentative-game bias and feeling that the Chargers are on their annual hard charge. On the other hand, the same situation could very easily coincide with Bucs-Ravens being 6-3 v. 7-2, but even then Packers-Falcons could get the nod based on name teams and people’s general feeling that the Bucs are beneficiaries of a weak schedule; needless to say, the Ravens need to win on Thursday night to have any shot for the flex at all. Worth noting that both of these would be moves from a CBS game to a Fox game, with a Fox-to-CBS move unlikely in the remaining weeks to force Week 17 to go to a CBS game, and Green Bay would be maxed out on NBC appearances with Packers-Patriots unlikely to be flexed out, and a potential huge Week 17 game with the Bears. Still, can the NFL really keep a 5-4 v. 4-5 game with a 6-3 v. 7-2 game available (from either of these games)?
Week 13 (December 5):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 6-2 v. 6-2, probably deciding the AFC North. Extremely good chance of keeping its spot.
- Protected games: Cowboys-Colts (FOX).
- Other possible games: Falcons-Bucs at the moment is the only serious flex candidate at 6-2 v. 5-3, but even it could need a perfect storm, like the Steelers and Ravens going on losing streaks the next two weeks. Redskins-Giants, Jags-Titans, and Rams-Cardinals all involve 4-4 teams. Raiders-Chargers is an emerging, but massive, long shot.
Week 14 (December 12):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
- Prospects: 5-3 v. 1-7; 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 need to go on a historic tear with Garrett at the helm to have a shot; even then 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. Is Chiefs-Chargers worth pinning your hopes on?
Week 15 (December 19):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ New England
- Prospects: 6-2 v. 6-3, a potential Super Bowl preview. Extremely good chance to keep its spot.
- Protected games: Jets-Patriots (CBS) and Eagles-Giants (FOX).
- Other possible games: Saints-Ravens now has an identical pair of records; it’s the only serious flex candidate but even it has to be considered a long shot. Jags-Colts, Texans-Titans, Falcons-Seahawks, and Chiefs-Rams are dark horses.
Week 16 (December 26)
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Cincinnati
- Prospects: 2-6 v. 4-5; 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 Colts-Raiders both involve two teams above .500. Seahawks-Bucs and Redskins-Jaguars are dark horses. Colts-Raiders seems most likely, but it would max the Colts out, and Titans-Colts Week 17 could be important. We’ll wait and see how things shake out, I guess, but it could affect whether Colts-Chargers Week 12 gets flexed out.
Week 17 (January 3 Playoff Positioning Watch):
|DIVISION LEADERS||WILD CARD||WAITING IN THE WINGS|
- I’m tweaking the format of the Playoff Positioning Watch this year to take advantage of the NFL scheduling all divisional matchups Week 17. Next to each division is that division’s Week 17 matchups in parenthesis.
- AFC East (Bills-Jets, Dolphins-Patriots): Jets and Patriots are tied for the division lead, with the Dolphins two back. The Bills could be reduced to tiebreakers this week.
- AFC North (Steelers-Browns, Bengals-Ravens): It’s basically a two-horse race between the Ravens and Steelers, with the Browns three back and the Bengals four back.
- AFC South (Titans-Colts, Jags-Texans): Titans and Colts tied for the division lead with the Jags and Texans a game back.
- AFC West (Raiders-Chiefs, Chargers-Broncos): Chiefs lead, Raiders a half-game back, Chargers another game behind that, Broncos another game-and-a-half behind that.
- AFC Wild Card: The East and North losers would get the nod if the season ended today, with the South loser a game back and the Raiders a half-game behind that. The Dolphins, Jags, and Texans are waiting in the wings, with the Chargers a half-game behind them. Today, Titans-Colts and Raiders-Chiefs are appealing games with the losers likely not to make the playoffs, with Dolphins-Patriots and Jags-Texans long shots.
|DIVISION LEADERS||WILD CARD||WAITING IN THE WINGS (3-5)|
- NFC East (Giants-Redskins, Cowboys-Eagles): Giants lead, Eagles a game back, Redskins a game behind that, Cowboys not worth mentioning.
- NFC North (Bears-Packers, Vikings-Lions): Packers lead, Bears a half-game back, Vikings two games behind that, Lions a game behind that.
- NFC South (Panthers-Falcons, Bucs-Saints): Falcons lead, Saints a half-game back, Bucs a half-game behind that, ignore the Panthers.
- NFC West (Rams-Seahawks, Cardinals-49ers): Rams and Seahawks tied for the division lead, with the Cardinals a game back and the Niners a game behind that.
- NFC Wild Card: Saints and either the Bears, Eagles, or Bucs would get the nod if the season ended today, with the Redskins and, believe it or not, the West loser a game back, and the Vikings and Cardinals a game behind that. Wide open, with only the Lions, Cowboys, and Panthers more than three games out of the playoffs in the NFC. Keep an eye on Rams-Seahawks, Bucs-Saints, Bears-Packers, and Giants-Redskins. With no one leading a division by more than a game in either conference, NBC could have no shortage of good choices Week 17.