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, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):
- 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 8:15 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 8:15 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 last year as well as the first year of flexible scheduling, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5.
- In the past, three teams could 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. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; eight teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Broncos and Bears don’t have at least one game that can be flexed out. NBC appearances for all teams: DAL 3 (1 flexible), NYG 3 (1 flexible), PIT 3 (1 flexible), DEN 2, DET 2 (1 flexible), SF 2 (1 flexible), NE 3 (1 flexible), BAL 2 (1 flexible), PHI 2 (1 flexible), SD 2 (1 flexible), NO 2, GB 3 (2 flexible), HOU 2, CIN 1, ATL 1, CHI 1, NYJ 2 (1 flexible). All primetime appearances for all teams: DAL 4 (1 flexible), NYG 5 (1 flexible), PIT 5 (1 flexible), DEN 5, DET 4 (1 flexible), SF 5 (1 flexible), NE 4 1 flexible), BAL 4 (1 flexible), PHI 5 (1 flexible), SD 5 (1 flexible), NO 4, GB 5 (2 flexible), HOU 4, CIN 3, ATL 4, CHI 5, NYJ 4 (1 flexible), OAK 2, SEA 2, ARI 2, KC 2, CAR 2, TEN 2, all other teams 1.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 18):
- Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: 4-1 v. 2-2; one of the hottest rivalries in the NFL, but are the Steelers more like those two losses than those two wins?
- Likely protections: Cardinals-Falcons (FOX) and Chargers-Broncos or Jets-Rams if anything (CBS).
- Other possible games: Colts-Patriots and the unprotected game(s), with Eagles-Redskins as a dark horse.
Week 12 (November 25):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 3-2 v. 2-3; a pair of name teams, but both look a little questionable so far, especially the Packers.
- Likely protections: Vikings-Bears or Rams-Cardinals if anything (FOX) and Ravens-Chargers (CBS).
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games. Besides whatever game Fox doesn’t protect, Seahawks-Dolphins is a dark horse.
Week 13 (December 2):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
- Prospects: Very iffy at 3-2 v. 2-2, but never count out an NFC East showdown.
- Likely protections: 49ers-Rams or Vikings-Packers (FOX) and Steelers-Ravens (CBS).
- Other possible games: Seahawks-Bears and whatever game Fox doesn’t protect, with Bengals-Chargers a dark horse.
Week 14 (December 9):
- Tentative game: Detroit @ Green Bay
- Prospects: The Lions look to have fallen back into their old morass at 1-3, and the Packers may not be that much better. This may be the likeliest game to lose its spot.
- Likely protections: Bears-Vikings or Cardinals-Seahawks (FOX) and Chargers-Steelers or Ravens-Redskins (CBS), with either network possibly leaving the week unprotected.
- Other possible games: Basically, whatever games aren’t protected.
Week 15 (December 16):
- Tentative game: San Francisco @ New England
- Prospects: 4-1 v. 3-2, possibly the tentative game in the best shape.
- Likely protections: Broncos-Ravens, Colts-Texans, Steelers-Cowboys, or nothing (CBS) and Giants-Falcons (FOX).
- Other possible games: Vikings-Rams, Packers-Bears, and the games CBS doesn’t protect.
Week 16 (December 23):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ NY Jets
- Prospects: 3-2 v. 2-3; somewhat mediocre, but who knows if the Jets will be driving the Tebow bandwagon by this point.
- Likely protections: Vikings-Texans, Giants-Ravens, Bears-Cardinals, 49ers-Seahawks, or nothing (FOX) and Bengals-Steelers if anything (CBS).
- Other possible games: Besides the unprotected games, Redskins-Eagles is a dark horse.
Week 17 (December 30):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.