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):
- Selected game: San Diego @ Indianapolis.
Week 13 (December 5):
- Selected game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore.
Week 14 (December 12):
- Selected game: Philadelphia @ Dallas. Truly, the NFL’s tentative game bias knows no bounds. Who knows if it was the appeal of the Cowboys, the appeal of Michael Vick, the prospect of six Charger appearances despite one of them being the Bengals dog, or the NFL balking at putting the Kansas City Chiefs in primetime, no matter how good their record says they are. You know, in the first year of flexible scheduling, there WAS no tentative game. The NFL had moved the premier primetime game off Monday, ending its ~36-year relationship with ABC and starting the process that has slowly been destroying sports on ABC, in order to make sure a game that mattered was put in primetime, in response to growing NFL parity, rather than a dog that looked good before the season. Yet in the tentative game era, almost every year most pundits that aren’t me have found only one game worth flexing out, and the NFL’s actual flex rate hasn’t been that different, which begs the question: was the move really worth it when you only get a better game two or three weeks a year (counting Week 17)?
Week 15 (December 19):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ New England
- Prospects: 9-2 v. 7-4. No longer looking like a potential Super Bowl preview, and at risk of getting lopsided, but still a decent bet to keep its spot. There are other excellent games that come close, but it’s becoming apparent the real nature of the NFL’s tentative game bias: they look first to see whether the tentative game is worth airing in primetime, and then look at the alternatives. Week 16 could be telling; the tentative there is a piece of crap but the alternatives are few and the Chargers could redeem it.
- Protected games: Jets-Patriots (CBS) and Eagles-Giants (FOX).
- Other possible games: Saints-Ravens at 8-3 v. 8-3 probably needs a perfect storm to overcome the tentative bias. Jags and Colts both lost, so despite the game’s importance to both teams’ playoff chances, they’re probably out (especially with the Colts’ primetime appearances), and Falcons-Seahawks is as lopsided a game as you can get while still having two playoff contenders.
- Analysis: The perfect scenario involves the Saints and Ravens both winning, creating a 9-3 v. 9-3 game between two of the best records in the league, and at the very least the Packers need to lose, giving them five losses and raising concerns that they may be falling off the map (it helps that they’re playing the lowly 49ers). The Pats and Packers are both name teams… but so are the Saints and Ravens, so if that perfect storm happens a flex is very possible, even though it might disprove my new hypothesis. It does give both the Saints and Ravens five primetime appearances, but the NFL would want to give four five-appearance teams the slots in the next two weeks for that to matter much.
Week 16 (December 26)
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Cincinnati
- Prospects: 6-5 v. 2-9; it looks like the T.Ocho experiment isn’t working out, meaning the Chargers’ late-season surge is only serving to make this game lopsided, especially with the Bengals already eliminated from the playoffs.
- Protected games: Jets-Bears (CBS) and Giants-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: The only alternatives involve teams at 5-6. With the NFC Worst’s weakness, Seahawks-Bucs at 7-4 v. 5-6 (same as Chiefs-Titans) has a legitimate shot at having the most playoff implications. Redskins-Jaguars and Colts-Raiders stand at 6-5 v. 5-6. Colts-Raiders has the most name value, but it would max the Colts out, and Titans-Colts Week 17 could be important – not to mention the “are the Colts slipping?” meme. Still, the NFL can’t possibly keep a game as bad as Chargers-Bengals, right? Well… last year the NFL kept a (through 12 weeks) 10-1 v. 4-7 game (Vikings-Panthers) because of the name value of the 10-1 team. These two teams are worse, but if the Chargers keep winning, by the time comes to make the flex they could be 8-5 and not only leading the division, there’s an off chance they could be competing for a first-round bye. The Chargers aren’t quite as name as some others, but the NFL isn’t looking at the most attractive options. Seahawks-Bucs and Redskins-Jaguars are CBS-to-Fox flexes that could restrict the NFL Week 17, Colts-Raiders could turn out to be a dog and also restrict the NFL Week 17, and no one will watch Chiefs-Titans no matter how good they are.
Week 17 (January 3 Playoff Positioning Watch):
|DIVISION LEADERS||WILD CARD||WAITING IN THE WINGS (6-5)|
- AFC East (Bills-Jets, Dolphins-Patriots): Jets and Patriots are tied for the division lead, playing Monday night for the likely division title, with the Dolphins three back and the Bills out.
- AFC North (Steelers-Browns, Bengals-Ravens): It’s basically a two-horse race between the Ravens and Steelers, with the Browns four back and the Bengals out.
- AFC South (Titans-Colts, Jags-Texans): Jags and Colts tied for the lead, Texans and Titans a game back.
- AFC West (Raiders-Chiefs, Chargers-Broncos): Chiefs lead, Chargers a game back, Raiders another game back, Broncos four back.
- AFC Wild Card: The AFC playoff picture seems crystal-clear. The East and North losers would get the nod if the season ended today, with the only other contenders – the Dolphins, Chargers, and South loser – two whole games back. The Bills and Bengals are officially eliminated from the playoffs. That means the South and West become very competitive, so the main contenders are Titans-Colts, Jags-Texans, and Raiders-Chiefs, all games where the losers aren’t likely to make the playoffs. Chargers-Broncos is a dark horse, and if the Dolphins are still in wild card contention, keep an eye on Dolphins-Patriots.
|DIVISION LEADERS||WILD CARD||WAITING IN THE WINGS (5-6)|
- NFC East (Giants-Redskins, Cowboys-Eagles): Eagles and Giants lead, Redskins two back, Cowboys four back.
- NFC North (Bears-Packers, Vikings-Lions): Bears lead, Packers a game back, Vikings four back and Lions out. One more win and the Vikings could be “waiting in the wings” next week.
- NFC South (Panthers-Falcons, Bucs-Saints): Falcons lead, Saints a game back, Bucs two back, Panthers out.
- NFC West (Rams-Seahawks, Cardinals-49ers): Rams and Seahawks lead, Niners a game back, Cardinals two back.
- NFC Wild Card: The Saints and either the Bucs, Packers, or East loser would get the nod if the season ended today; as in the AFC, there is no team exactly a game back, with the Redskins and West loser two back – at 5-6, so only two teams above .500 are likely to miss the playoffs, so expect little protest at the NFC Worst winner getting in (home field is a different story). 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, and only three divisions not tied, NBC could have no shortage of good choices Week 17.