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):
- Selected game: Kansas City @ Denver.
Week 12 (November 24):
- Selected game: Denver @ New England.
Week 13 (December 1):
- Selected game: NY Giants @ Washington.
Week 14 (December 8):
- Selected game: Carolina @ New Orleans. A case could be made that this pick, as opposed to Lions-Eagles, actually wasn’t that far-thinking of the NFL, especially given the released protection on Chiefs-Broncos earlier in the year; see Week 16 below.
Week 15 (December 15):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: The Steelers’ 5-6 record now has them tied for second in the division (and in a six-way tie for the six seed), while the Bengals aren’t looking quite so strong as they were. If the Steelers keep winning, this game may yet keep its spot, especially given the lack of other options.
- Protected games: Packers-Cowboys (FOX) and Patriots-Dolphins (CBS).
- Other possible games: Cardinals-Titans and Jets-Panthers both involve other teams in the six-way tie for the AFC six seed, and if we’re talking about 5-6 teams we have to talk about Saints-Rams.
- Analysis: Honestly, at this point any other alternative probably needs the Steelers to lose to have any shot at overcoming the tentative game bias. Saints-Rams may be too lopsided to mention, and the best-case scenario for the other two might be 8-4 v. 6-6 with Bengals-Steelers sitting at 8-4 or 7-5 v. 5-7. That suggests it may be impossible to overcome the tentative game bias even if the Steelers do lose. Would NBC and the NFL be willing to overlook lopsidedness at 9-3 v. 6-6 going against 7-5 v. 5-7? It’s possible, especially with the TV-friendliness of the Saints, Jets, and Panthers, and especially if 6-6 is good enough for a playoff spot, but I’m not going to count on it.
- Final prediction: Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers (no change).
Week 16 (December 22):
- Tentative game: New England @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 8-3 v. 5-6; pretty lopsided, but the name value could still save it if it weren’t for the strong alternatives, and the Ravens are very much alive in the playoff hunt (then again, every AFC team that’s not the Texans – more on them in a bit – and Jags are).
- Protected games: Broncos-Texans (CBS) and Cowboys-Indians (FOX).
- Other possible games: CBS’ decision to protect Broncos-Texans over Colts-Chiefs was questionable at the time since the Texans definitely had the worst record of the four at 2-3 and seemed to be in a tailspin; now it seems to have given the Texans the kiss of death, as they haven’t won since (even losing to the freaking Jaguars!) and the Colts and Chiefs have only two-thirds as many losses between them as the Texans have themselves. But Colts-Chiefs will have to compete with the Saints-Panthers rematch, especially with CBS holding the doubleheader, and Cardinals-Seahawks and Bears-Eagles are waiting in the wings with Steelers-Packers a very dark horse.
Week 17 (December 29):
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
|2 tied at 5-6||5-6|
|2 tied at 5-6||4-7|
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-6)
|2 tied at 7-4||5-5-1|
- Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
- Possible games: Eagles-Cowboys (the odds-on favorite), Packers-Bears, Ravens-Bengals, Jets-Dolphins, 49ers-Cardinals, Rams-Seahawks.