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):
- Selected game: New England @ Indianapolis.
Week 12 (November 23):
- Selected game: Dallas @ NY Giants.
Week 13 (November 30):
- Selected game: Denver @ Kansas City.
Week 14 (December 7):
- Tentative game: New England @ San Diego
- Prospects: 8-2 v. 6-4. A teensy bit lopsided, but still a very good game.
- Protected games: Steelers-Bengals (CBS) and Seahawks-Eagles (FOX).
- Other possible games: Colts-Browns, Ravens-Dolphins, and Chiefs-Cardinals are all options, with Bills-Broncos fading, but none of those are particularly appealing.
- Analysis: With the other two games being matchups of 6-4 teams, Chiefs-Cardinals definitely has an edge over its competition at 7-3 v. 9-1, which actually makes it a game better than the tentative. But if it’s standing at 8-3 v. 10-1, and Patriots-Chargers is at 8-3 v. 6-5, which is the best-case scenario for a flex, I’m not sure that’s overcoming the tentative game bias, especially when Tom Brady is involved. Worth noting that Fox has the doubleheader this week, so it would take a crossflex for Chiefs-Cardinals to reach a larger audience if it doesn’t get flexed in, and the protected game is plenty good enough for them anyway; of course, Patriots-Chargers is a CBS game too. If a team like the Patriots weren’t involved I might hold off for a week, but as it is?
- Final prediction: New England Patriots @ San Diego Chargers (no change).
Week 15 (December 14):
- Tentative game: Dallas @ Philadelphia
- Prospects: 7-3 v. 7-3 with the division lead in the NFC East potentially at stake.
- Protected games: Broncos-Chargers (CBS) and 49ers-Seahawks (FOX).
- Other possible games: Bengals-Browns and Dolphins-Patriots are options, with Packers-Bills and Texans-Colts dark horses, but time may have run out for them if they ever really had a chance. Dolphins-Patriots is the best of the bunch at 6-4 v. 8-2; if it gets to be 8-4 v. 10-2, and Cowboys-Eagles starts getting lopsided at 9-3 v. 7-5 either way, that’s really only a game better than the tentative with the same gap in records, which isn’t going to overcome the tentative game bias. again especially when the Cowboys are involved. These two teams are guaranteed to have the top two records in the division when the decision is made, making lopsidedness the only possible point against it and this prediction officially a mortal lock.
- Final prediction: Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles (no change).
Week 16 (December 21):
- Tentative game: Seattle @ Arizona
- Prospects: 6-4 v. 9-1 is getting worryingly lopsided, and the 49ers have tied the Seahawks for second in the division, but what do you flex it out for?
- Protected games: Colts-Cowboys (CBS) and Lions-Bears (FOX).
- Other possible games: Chiefs-Steelers at 7-3 v. 7-4 is the only game involving two teams over .500, with Ravens-Texans a dark horse. That’s not overcoming the tentative game bias.
Week 17 (December 28):
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-5)
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-5)
|2 tied at 6-4|
- Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
- Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Browns-Ravens, Lions-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Bills-Patriots, Bengals-Steelers, Cardinals-49ers.