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 in 2006 and 2011, 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; six teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the 49ers don’t have at least one game that can be flexed out. Due to the unique circumstances I’m assuming Sunday’s Chargers-Raiders game doesn’t count as a primetime appearance. NBC appearances for all teams: BAL 3 (1 flexible), DEN 3 (1 flexible), NYG 3 (2 flexible), DAL 3, SF 2, SEA 1, CHI 1, PIT 3 (1 flexible), NE 3 (2 flexible), ATL 2 (1 flexible), HOU 2, WAS 2 (1 flexible), IND 2, GB 3 (2 flexible), MIN 1, NO 1, CIN 1 (flexible). All primetime appearances for all teams: BAL 4 (1 flexible), DEN 5 (1 flexible), NYG 5 (2 flexible), DAL 4, SF 5, SEA 4, CHI 4, PIT 4 (1 flexible), NE 5 (2 flexible), ATL 5 (1 flexible), HOU 4, WAS 5 (1 flexible), IND 4, GB 4 (2 flexible), MIN 3, NO 4, CIN 3 (1 flexible), PHI 2, SD 3, MIA 3, NYJ 2, STL 2, TB 2, CAR 2, all other teams 1.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 17):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 2-2 v. 0-5. A surefire bet to lose its spot under normal circumstances, but the name value and the tire fire that is the NFC East could save it when you consider the competition.
- Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and 49ers-Saints (FOX).
- Other possible games: Browns-Bengals is the only remaining game involving two teams above .500. Maybe Jets-Bills, Chargers-Dolphins, or even Raiders-Texans can make a game of it, but none of those are particularly appetizing. Look for NBC to be stuck with Packers-Giants.
Week 12 (November 24):
- Tentative game: Denver @ New England
- Prospects: 5-0 v. 4-1 and Manning v. Brady. No force on Earth could budge this game from this spot. This could be a week that CBS especially decides to leave unprotected.
- Likely protections: Colts-Cardinals if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants if anything (FOX).
- Other possible games: Colts-Cardinals is the only game involving two teams above .500, making Broncos-Patriots even more of a mortal lock.
Week 13 (December 1):
- Tentative game: NY Giants @ Washington
- Prospects: 0-5 v. 1-3. The name value and NFC East tire fire helps, but these are the worse two teams in the division.
- Likely protections: Broncos-Chiefs (CBS) and Cardinals-Eagles but more likely nothing (FOX).
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games, but Titans-Colts awaits if the Titans really are an above-.500 team, as does Dolphins-Jets.
Week 14 (December 8):
- Tentative game: Atlanta @ Green Bay
- Prospects: 1-4 v. 2-2. Not looking good.
- Likely protections: Colts-Bengals, Browns-Patriots, Titans-Broncos, or nothing (CBS) and Seahawks-49ers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Pretty much whatever games CBS didn’t protect. Raiders-Jets and Rams-Cardinals are dark horses.
Week 15 (December 15):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: If I told you before the season that this game would be 3-2 v. 0-4 after Week 5, and you didn’t have the bye week schedule on hand, would you have ever guessed that the Steelers would be the 0-4 team?
- Likely protections: Cardinals-Titans, Bears-Browns, Packers-Cowboys, or nothing (FOX) and Patriots-Dolphins (CBS).
- Other possible games: Again, pretty much whatever games Fox didn’t protect, with the caveat that I listed Packers-Cowboys for name value as much as anything.
Week 16 (December 22):
- Tentative game: New England @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 4-1 v. 3-2, so a pretty respectable matchup with a good chance to keep its spot.
- Likely protections: Colts-Chiefs (CBS) and Cardinals-Seahawks or Cowboys-Indians (FOX).
- Other possible games: Cardinals-Seahawks if left unprotected, and that’s about it. I doubt that threatens Pats-Ravens.
Week 17 (December 29):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9, but let’s face it, this is probably going to be an NFC East title game, which means more likely than not it’s going to be Eagles-Cowboys.