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: 6-2 v. 5-3; hard to imagine it losing its spot.
- Protected games: Eagles-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Seahawks-Chiefs is an option and Texans-Browns is a dark horse, but…
- Analysis: Lions-Cardinals is clearly the best option for a flex at 6-2 v. 6-1, compared to Seahawks-Chiefs at 4-3 v. 4-3. It’s also slightly better than Patriots-Colts, but probably not enough so to overcome the tentative game bias, even in a best-case scenario (the Lions have a bye this week so the best it can do is 6-2 v. 7-1 compared to 6-3 v. 5-4), nor are either of them particularly name teams on the level of the Pats or Colts.
- Final prediction: New England Patriots @ Indianapolis Colts (no change).
Week 12 (November 23):
- Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 6-2 v. 3-4. This game is starting to look 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.
- Protected games: Dolphins-Broncos (CBS).
- Other possible games: Lions-Patriots is the best option, with Cardinals-Seahawks starting to look lopsided. Lions-Patriots, though, isn’t quite a big enough game involving (in the case of the Lions) a big enough name to justify flexing out Cowboys-Giants, and may end up getting crossflexed to doubleheader-holding CBS instead (whose best game is the protected game), leaving Cardinals-Seahawks as a game without much hope of overcoming the tentative game bias. Bengals-Texans is a dark horse.
Week 13 (November 30):
- Tentative game: Denver @ Kansas City
- Prospects: 6-1 v. 4-3. Not terribly lopsided at the moment, but doesn’t have the Cowboys invulnerability factor.
- Protected games: Patriots-Packers (CBS) and Saints-Steelers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games, especially with Eagles-Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Chargers-Ravens and Browns-Bills are the only options, and neither one is all that impressive. Could either one overcome the opportunity to have Peyton Manning on?
Week 14 (December 7):
- Tentative game: New England @ San Diego
- Prospects: 6-2 v. 5-3. Very strong to keep its spot.
- Protected games: Steelers-Bengals (CBS) and Seahawks-Eagles (FOX).
- Other possible games: Colts-Browns, Ravens-Dolphins, Chiefs-Cardinals, and Bills-Broncos are all options, 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: 6-2 v. 5-2 and an NFC East showdown. If form holds, this game has a mortal lock on this spot.
- Protected games: Broncos-Chargers (CBS) and 49ers-Seahawks (FOX).
- Other possible games: Packers-Bills, Bengals-Browns, and Dolphins-Patriots are all options, but they 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). Texans-Colts is a dark horse.
Week 16 (December 21):
- Tentative game: Seattle @ Arizona
- Prospects: 4-3 v. 6-1 is starting to look a mite lopsided, but what do you flex it out for?
- Protected games: Colts-Cowboys (CBS) and Lions-Bears (FOX).
- Other possible games: Chiefs-Steelers is the only game involving two teams over .500. Ravens-Texans is a dark horse.
Week 17 (December 28):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.