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 16 (December 22):
- Selected game: Chicago @ Philadelphia. Now I know the NFL goofed up when it flexed Panthers-Saints into primetime this past Sunday night. Someone commented on my Last-Minute Remarks post that flexing out a perfectly good tentative might be compensation for CBS giving up the Chiefs-Broncos protection, as well as for the NFL’s inability to flex Cardinals-Eagles into primetime the week before, but both of those would have been solved and the whole thing avoided if the NFL had flexed Lions-Eagles last Sunday night and Saints-Panthers this week. Yes, if Al Michaels is right Saints-Panthers is less important now, Lions-Eagles would have been a snowy mess (Fox had to paint yard lines on the field!) with the added factor of night making it that much colder, and Fox had to keep Seahawks-49ers in the late spot so there’s no guarantee they would have even put Saints-Panthers there, but there had to have been a better way to handle this – especially since Eagles-Cowboys had been the odds-on favorite for Week 17 and now it’s highly unlikely NBC would be able to announce that at halftime, which just makes this look all the more supremely dumb. I can pretty much guarantee you that if next year’s rules were in place the whole thing would have been handled very differently. (Meanwhile, the folks at the 506sports.com forums who insist there’s something preventing the NFL from moving both halves of a divisional matchup to primetime against all evidence just got some ammo.)
Week 17 (December 29):
THE WINGS (5-8)
THE WINGS (7-6)
- 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.
- Chances for Eagles-Cowboys: 40 percent. As before, this game now looks a lot less likely, at least if the NFL wants to make the announcement at halftime of Week 16. Considering it’s an NFC East matchup, under normal circumstances all that would be needed would be to avoid a) either the Eagles winning their next two and the Cowboys losing at least one or the Cowboys losing their next two and the Eagles winning at least one or b) the Eagles losing their next two and the Cowboys winning their next two (as the Cowboys would win a division tiebreaker even with an Eagles win in that circumstance). But just that short list of situations could completely preclude this game from happening in any of the following situations where it might otherwise be plausible: the Eagles win their next game and the Cowboys split, the Eagles lose their next game and the Cowboys lose both, the Eagles lose their next game and the Cowboys win both. And, of course, if the Eagles win their next game and the Cowboys lose both the division is already theirs. That leaves just two situations where the Bears-Eagles result has no impact and Cowboys-Eagles can still be announced at halftime: the Eagles winning their next game and the Cowboys winning both, and the Eagles losing their next game and the Cowboys splitting, because if the teams remain a game apart the Cowboys have the head-to-head tiebreaker with a win.
- Chances for Packers-Bears: 10 percent. Did we mention this game is affected by the Week 16 game too? And that this game would probably need the Bears and Packers to win profusely and the Lions to lose profusely?
- Chances for Ravens-Bengals: 20 percent. The Ravens are currently tied for a wild card spot, so in order for this game to be flexed in not only would the Bengals have to lose their next two and the Ravens win at least one (the Ravens won their previous matchup and so would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker), it would probably help if the Dolphins won their next two as well and tried to preclude the Ravens from still getting a wild card with a loss.
- Chances for Jets-Dolphins: 15 percent. If the Dolphins lose both and the Jets win both, the Dolphins would still hold a head-to-head tiebreaker with a win, and the Jets hold the common-games tiebreaker and can’t do worse than tie the division tiebreaker, so as long as the teams remain within a game of one another this game would determine the order in which they finish relative to one another. But Baltimore would have to be unable to make the playoffs if they don’t win the division and Ravens-Bengals needs to be out as an option, which probably means this game needs Baltimore to lose both games, and I haven’t even talked about San Diego.
- Chances for 49ers-Cardinals: 15 percent. The Niners beat them the first time and hold the division tiebreaker no matter what, so the Niners would need to lose at least one more game than the Cardinals (either the 49ers lose both with the Cardinals winning at least one or the Cardinals win both with the 49ers losing at least one), but with all the teams in the “waiting in the wings” column probably winning their mediocre divisions before they get the wild card, there’s an excellent chance this game would be win-and-you’re-in in that case. The problem: the Niners play on Monday night, so really the only situation where this game could be flexed in no matter what would be if the Niners lost their next game and the Cardinals won both. This is why Cowboys-Eagles still has the percentage it does: NBC’s best hope may end up being to flex it in and hope for the best, because the worst case might end up being the game having no impact at all. I’m not ruling out the possibility of me having to check Panthers-Falcons or Chiefs-Chargers either.