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. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 18):
- Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: 5-2 v. 4-3 and one of the hottest rivalries in the NFL. Despite the Steelers’ mediocre start, it’s hard to see this one losing its spot.
- Likely protections: Cardinals-Falcons (FOX) and Chargers-Broncos (CBS).
- Other possible games: Colts-Patriots and Packers-Lions are really the only half-good games.
- Analysis: At 5-3 v. 4-3, Colts-Patriots is the best of the alternatives and it’s roughly equivalent to Ravens-Steelers. The best it can do is 5-3 v. 5-3 going up against 5-3 v. 4-4, and the best Packers-Lions can do is similarly one win better on one side, 6-3 v. 4-4. That’s not beating the tentative game bias when it’s a rivalry like this (and even if Cardinals-Falcons wasn’t protected for some reason, it’s too lopsided to matter now). Expect Colts-Pats to settle for the CBS feature game spot.
- Final prediction: Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers (no change).
Week 12 (November 25):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 5-3 v. 6-2; the Packers may have started out mediocre, but now this game might have the best chance to keep its spot.
- Likely protections: Vikings-Bears or Rams-Cardinals if anything (FOX) and probably nothing (CBS) as Ravens-Chargers was their only real protection-worthy game and both teams have listed two protected games each, neither of which was this one.
- Other possible games: Normally Thanksgiving Weekend means a paucity of good games, but Vikings-Bears would be a very strong choice if it’s unprotected (a big if), enough to potentially be flexed in against weaker competition; as is it’ll probably get the late-afternoon feature spot. There are other options as well, but Seahawks-Dolphins is the only one not involving a 3-4 team (and the Seahawks are 4-4) and Bills-Colts is the least lopsided of the ones that do (followed by Ravens-Chargers and Falcons-Bucs).
Week 13 (December 2):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
- Prospects: Very iffy at 3-4 v. 3-4 (and the Giants starting to pull away with the division), but never count out an NFC East showdown.
- Likely protections: 49ers-Rams or Vikings-Packers (FOX) and Steelers-Ravens (CBS).
- Other possible games: Vikings-Packers would be the strongest alternative if it’s unprotected (another big if), as Seahawks-Bears might be a little too lopsided; Pats-Dolphins is also an option, while Colts-Lions and Bucs-Broncos are dark horses.
Week 14 (December 9):
- Tentative game: Detroit @ Green Bay
- Prospects: 3-4 v. 5-3. The Lions have improved to the point that if this game weren’t already a tentative I’d be listing it as a “dark horse”. But the Packers are looking like the team that spent most of last year unbeaten, which could end up making it lopsided anyway.
- Likely protections: Bears-Vikings or Cardinals-Seahawks if anything (FOX) and Chargers-Steelers (CBS).
- Other possible games: Bears-Vikings would be the favorite if it wasn’t protected; otherwise Dolphins-49ers, despite being a bit lopsided, has the edge over a battle of 4-4 teams in Cardinals-Seahawks, though neither game is likely to overcome the tentative game bias.
Week 15 (December 16):
- Tentative game: San Francisco @ New England
- Prospects: 6-2 v. 5-3, pretty much in the same shape as Packers-Giants, replacing the Packers with the Patriots and noting that the Niners aren’t quite all the way back to being that much of a name team.
- Likely protections: Broncos-Ravens (probably not), Colts-Texans, Steelers-Cowboys, or nothing (CBS) and Giants-Falcons (FOX).
- Other possible games: Packers-Bears (or if it’s protected, Giants-Falcons) is in the best shape, though Broncos-Ravens and Colts-Texans are also competitive. Steelers-Broncos, Seahawks-Bills, and Lions-Cardinals are dark horses.
Week 16 (December 23):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ NY Jets
- Prospects: 3-4 v. 3-5; possibly the worst of the tentative games. Even if the Jets are driving the Tebow bandwagon, that could just make it lopsided, especially given the alternatives.
- Likely protections: Giants-Ravens (FOX) and Bengals-Steelers if anything (CBS).
- Other possible games: If the Vikings are protected in Weeks 13 and 14, this is probably the likeliest flex with Vikings-Texans giving NBC a shot to show the Vikings anyway. Bears-Cardinals and 49ers-Seahawks could become lopsided, while Bills-Dolphins is a dark horse.
Week 17 (December 30):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.