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. 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 17):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 5-2 v. 2-6. 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.
- Protected games: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and 49ers-Saints (FOX).
- Other possible games: There are no games not involving teams below .500. Chargers-Dolphins and Ravens-Bears come close as two games involving 3-4 teams.
- Analysis: The Giants are on bye this week, so they will enter the decision time with a win being their most recent game and, thanks to the NFC East tire fire, are currently only two games out of the division lead. Probably the best case scenario for both alternatives is being 6-3 or 5-3 v. 4-4 and Packers-Giants becoming 6-2 or 5-3 v. 2-6 with the Giants two and a half games out of the division lead – and the fact the Chargers are playing in Washington means they can’t really benefit from the Giants having sole possession of last place. I’m not sure that can overcome the tentative game bias given the name value of the teams involved, though since neither team is named the Cowboys I won’t be totally shocked if this game loses its spot.
- Final prediction: Green Bay Packers @ New York Giants (no change).
Week 12 (November 24):
- Tentative game: Denver @ New England
- Prospects: 6-1 v. 5-2 and Manning v. Brady. No force on Earth could budge this game from this spot, which is why both networks chose to leave this week unprotected. (Does the fact Cowboys-Giants wasn’t protected say more about this game, or the NFC East tire fire?)
- Protected games: None.
- Other possible games: Chargers-Chiefs and Colts-Cardinals are the main options, but both are pretty lopsided and neither has the appeal of Broncos-Patriots.
Week 13 (December 1):
- Tentative game: NY Giants @ Washington
- Prospects: 2-6 v. 2-5. The name value and NFC East tire fire helps, but these are the worse two teams in the division.
- Protected games: Broncos-Chiefs (CBS) and Bears-Vikings (FOX).
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games; Bengals-Chargers is the only remotely good game that’s not protected, but at 6-2 v. 4-3, don’t count it out, especially if the Chargers start climbing into wild card contention. Can it overcome the lack of name value?
Week 14 (December 8):
- Tentative game: Atlanta @ Green Bay
- Prospects: 2-5 v. 5-2. Doesn’t look good.
- Protected games: Colts-Bengals (CBS) and Seahawks-49ers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Panthers-Saints is the only game not involving a team below .500, but it too has a pretty good shot at 6-1 v. 4-3; lopsidedness is the main factor against it, but it’s only a two-game difference, Drew Brees and Cam Newton bring name value, the Panthers are third in the wild card race, and unlike the NFC East teams, the Falcons aren’t still alive for a playoff spot in a tire fire of a division (both Panthers and Saints are in the same division).
Week 15 (December 15):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: If I told you before the season that this game would be 6-2 v. 2-5 after Week 8, and you didn’t have the bye week schedule on hand, would you have ever guessed that the Steelers would be the 2-5 team?
- Protected games: Packers-Cowboys (FOX) and Patriots-Dolphins (CBS).
- Other possible games: Jets-Panthers is the only game not involving a team below .500, and it’s pretty uninspiring. Cardinals-Titans and Chiefs-Raiders are the biggest dark horses.
Week 16 (December 22):
- Tentative game: New England @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 6-2 v. 3-4; might become pretty lopsided, but even then the name value could save it and the Pats might be playing worse than their record anyway.
- Protected games: Broncos-Texans (CBS) and Cowboys-Indians (FOX).
- Other possible games: Very surprised CBS chose to protect Broncos-Texans, a game involving a team that was 2-3 and in a tailspin at the time (and hasn’t won since), instead of Colts-Chiefs, two teams now leading their respective divisions and with two losses between them. Perhaps CBS had its eye more on getting Pats-Ravens back. Saints-Panthers is also an option if Colts-Chiefs collapses, and Cardinals-Seahawks is climbing.
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.