Also known as “Why Chargers-Bengals might NOT be flexed out”. This week’s Flex Schedule Watch dedicated to the memory of Don Meredith, who Trey Wingo said on Monday’s NFL Live got people through the many “awful” Monday Night Football matchups in its early golden days. Now, of course, the NFL is so desperate to avoid crappy matchups in their main primetime package they yanked it away from both Mondays and ABC, all so they could change one to three games a year. Granted, MNF has never truly been MNF since the end of the Gifford/Cosell/Meredith era… still, I repeat: was it worth it to end MNF as we knew it?
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.
Week 15 (December 19):
- Selected game: Green Bay @ New England.
Week 16 (December 26)
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Cincinnati
- Prospects: 6-6 v. 2-10; 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, and the loss to the Raiders just makes it look even worse. It’s no longer guaranteed either team will be above .500 when the time comes for the NFL to make its decision. But to those who claim a flex is inevitable, answer the question: If you can’t have a New York team, what do you replace it with?
- Protected games: Jets-Bears (CBS) and Giants-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: The only alternatives involve teams at .500 or worse. With the NFC Worst’s weakness, Seahawks-Bucs at 7-5 v. 6-6 (same as Chiefs-Titans) has a legitimate shot at having the most playoff implications. Chiefs-Titans at 8-4 v. 5-7 is getting lopsided but can’t be eliminated. Redskins-Jaguars at 7-5 v. 5-7 isn’t much better, and Colts-Raiders is a battle of 6-6 teams. With the 5-7 teams involved, could Vikings-Eagles or Ravens-Browns save the day?
- Analysis: 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. (I personally think the Colts just ran into two hot teams the last two weeks, but last year’s Colts would have beaten them if they had anything to play for.) Seahawks-Bucs probably has the most playoff implications, but Rams-Seahawks Week 17 is even more likely to be important, and besides the unattractiveness of the idea of having the same team two weeks in a row, such a flex could force the NFL to take an AFC game Week 17; this same problem also afflicts Vikings-Eagles. The large number of tight races means maybe the NFL doesn’t care much about the CBS-Fox balance, but you can’t rely on any race to still be tight Week 17, and certainly for any game to still be relevant in primetime, especially in the AFC where four teams seem to have a stranglehold on the playoffs with only two divisions really questionable; what if the Colts fall off the wagon and the Titans stay there? What if the Chargers-Broncos game turns out to be win-and-you’re-in for the Chargers, or the Chiefs have already locked up the division, potentially rendering Chiefs-Raiders irrelevant?
- 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 win this week, it means their hard charge should still be on, and they are still both name teams (yes, even the Bengals with T.Ocho). The Chargers aren’t quite as name as some others, but the NFL isn’t looking at the most attractive options. Seahawks-Bucs, Redskins-Jaguars, and Vikings-Eagles 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, no one will watch Chiefs-Titans and it might be irrelevant by game time anyway, and the Browns, unlike the Bengals, don’t have the name value to overlook their bad season. If the Browns win this week I might lean towards Ravens-Browns, but because no one else seems to be considering the possibility that this game won’t be flexed out, I hope to post my Last-Minute Remarks late Sunday so I can say “I told you so” and be able to cite something that came before the flex or lack thereof, and the B/R version thereof might even be in regular blog post/essay/column form.
Week 17 (January 3 Playoff Positioning Watch):
|DIVISION LEADERS||WILD CARD||WAITING IN THE WINGS (6-6)|
|2 tied at 6-6|
- AFC East (Bills-Jets, Dolphins-Patriots): Patriots lead, Jets a game back, Dolphins’ chance for a non-Pats-or-Jets division title hanging on tiebreakers.
- AFC North (Steelers-Browns, Bengals-Ravens): Replace “Patriots” with “Steelers”, “Jets” with “Ravens”, and “Dolphins” with “Browns”.
- AFC South (Titans-Colts, Jags-Texans): Jags lead, Colts a game back, Texans and Titans a game behind that.
- AFC West (Raiders-Chiefs, Chargers-Broncos): Chiefs lead, Raiders and Chargers two 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, Colts, and Raiders – two whole games back. The Bills, Bengals, and Broncos 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 (6-6)|
- NFC East (Giants-Redskins, Cowboys-Eagles): Eagles and Giants lead, Redskins three back, Cowboys hanging on tiebreakers.
- NFC North (Bears-Packers, Vikings-Lions): Bears lead, Packers a game back, Vikings hanging on tiebreakers for the division title.
- NFC South (Panthers-Falcons, Bucs-Saints): Falcons lead, Saints a game back, Bucs three back, Panthers out.
- NFC West (Rams-Seahawks, Cardinals-49ers): Rams and Seahawks lead, Niners two back, Cardinals three back.
- NFC Wild Card: The Saints and either the Packers or East loser would get the nod if the season ended today; the Bucs are a game back with the West loser two back. 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 only the Chiefs leading a division by more than a game in either conference, NBC could have no shortage of good choices Week 17.