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. Apparently CBS oh-so-graciously agreed to “voluntarily” give up its protection on this game to allow it to be seen by a national audience since they only had the singleheader this week; whether or not this has any impact on future weeks is unclear (especially since CBS still has no reason to protect Week 12), and CBS may end up getting paid back next year, but we may surmise from this the “Chiefs-Broncos rule”: if the singleheader network’s protected game is particularly strong, the NFL may overrule it and put it on NBC anyway. Presumably this will be less of an issue when the new contract kicks in next year, when games can move between CBS and Fox (especially since the general consensus seems to be that this is just to ensure a quality game in the late-afternoon doubleheader slot), except that Fox has a pretty strong game of its own in Niners-Saints; I would presume the NFL’s philosophy will be to make sure the two best games are in the two national television timeslots unless the NBC tentative game is good enough for the tentative game bias to kick in, but I have no idea how protection will work in the new contract.
Week 12 (November 24):
- Tentative game: Denver @ New England
- Prospects: 7-1 v. 7-2 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, Panthers-Dolphins, and Colts-Cardinals are the main options…
- Analysis: …but all involve 4-4 teams and the least lopsided is Panthers-Dolphins at 5-3 v. 4-4. None of them can actually get better than Broncos-Patriots, which is killer given the double whammy of the tentative game bias and the general national appeal.
- Final prediction: Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots (no change).
Week 13 (December 1):
- Tentative game: NY Giants @ Washington
- Prospects: 2-6 v. 3-5. 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; Titans-Colts, Dolphins-Jets, and Bengals-Chargers are all options, but all involve 4-4 teams and none have much in the way of name value. And CBS has the doubleheader this week so the NFL isn’t rescuing Broncos-Chiefs for NBC again either.
Week 14 (December 8):
- Tentative game: Atlanta @ Green Bay
- Prospects: 2-6 v. 5-3. Doesn’t look good.
- Protected games: Colts-Bengals (CBS) and Seahawks-49ers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Panthers-Saints is looking very strong to give Cam Newton his first NBC game with only one game separating the two for the NFC South crown. Titans-Broncos is a dark horse but might be too lopsided to compete.
Week 15 (December 15):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: If I told you before the season that this game would be 6-3 v. 2-6 after Week 9, and you didn’t have the bye week schedule on hand, would you have ever guessed that the Steelers would be the 2-6 team?
- Protected games: Packers-Cowboys (FOX) and Patriots-Dolphins (CBS).
- Other possible games: Jets-Panthers is the best option at the moment, with Cardinals-Titans lurking, but overall this is a pretty uninspiring slate of options.
Week 16 (December 22):
- Tentative game: New England @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 7-2 v. 3-5; pretty lopsided, but the name value could still save it if it weren’t for the strong alternatives.
- 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 waiting in the wings.
Week 17 (December 29):
- Playoff positioning watch begins next week because 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.