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 even with the bit about the early flexes, 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 5
- In effect during Weeks 5-17
- Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
- 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 starting Week 11, 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. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
- 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; ten teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Packers, Bears, 49ers, Steelers, and Saints don’t have games in the main flex period, and all have games in the early flex period. I don’t know if both of the games scheduled for 12/20 count towards the total, or only the one in primetime. 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 16):
- Tentative game: New England @ Indianapolis
- Prospects: 4-2 v. 4-2; hard to imagine it losing its spot.
- Likely protections: Probably nothing, but if anything Bengals-Saints (CBS) and 49ers-Giants or Eagles-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Besides Fox’s unprotected game, Lions-Cardinals is a possibility, and Texans-Browns is a dark horse.
Week 12 (November 23):
- Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 5-1 v. 3-3. This game could start looking lopsided, but the Cowboys being flexed out of SNF would probably be a harbinger of the apocalypse, especially when they’re not the ones dragging it down.
- Likely protections: Dolphins-Broncos (CBS, confirmed) and Cardinals-Seahawks or Lions-Patriots (FOX).
- Other possible games: Basically, the only real option is whatever game Fox didn’t protect, although Bengals-Texans is a dark horse.
Week 13 (November 30):
- Tentative game: Denver @ Kansas City
- Prospects: 4-1 v. 2-3. Also could start looking lopsided, and doesn’t have the Cowboys invulnerability factor.
- Likely protections: Chargers-Ravens or Patriots-Packers (CBS) and Saints-Steelers (FOX, confirmed).
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games, especially with Eagles-Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Browns-Bills is a dark horse, but CBS’ unprotected game is really the only good option. Would that overcome the chance to have Peyton Manning on?
Week 14 (December 7):
- Tentative game: New England @ San Diego
- Prospects: 4-2 v. 5-1. Very strong to keep its spot.
- Likely protections: Steelers-Bengals (CBS, confirmed) and Seahawks-Eagles (FOX).
- Other possible games: Colts-Browns is an option, and Bills-Broncos is a dark horse, but none of those are particularly appealing, especially given the tentative they’d have to unseat.
Week 15 (December 14):
- Tentative game: Dallas @ Philadelphia
- Prospects: 5-1 v. 5-1 and an NFC East showdown. If form holds, this game has a mortal lock on this spot.
- Likely protections: Chargers-Broncos (CBS, confirmed) and 49ers-Seahawks (FOX).
- Other possible games: Bengals-Browns is the only unprotected game involving two teams over .500, and it would require an absolute collapse by one or both tentative teams and that still might not be enough (as many Cowboys games past have shown). Packers-Bills and Texans-Colts are dark horses.
Week 16 (December 21):
- Tentative game: Seattle @ Arizona
- Prospects: 3-2 v. 4-1 makes for a pretty strong game, all things considered, especially given the alternatives.
- Likely protections: Colts-Cowboys (CBS) and almost certainly nothing, but if anything Lions-Bears (FOX).
- Other possible games: Browns-Panthers is the only real option at the moment, and it hardly is one. Ravens-Texans and Lions-Bears are dark horses.
Week 17 (December 28):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.