Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 10

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; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Giants, Cowboys, Packers, and Eagles don’t have games in the main flex period, and of those only the Giants don’t have games in the early flex period. 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 22):

  • Selected game: Cincinnati @ Arizona.

Week 12 (November 29):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Final prediction (made two weeks ago): New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos. (With the caveat that it’s not clear Peyton Manning will be starting. Still, you don’t want to take the risk of flexing out of this game and then he IS healthy, especially since, as Sunday made clearer than ever, this might be the last Brady v. Manning showdown.)

Week 13 (December 6):

  • Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-5 v. 6-4, a rather mediocre game but the Colts still lead the division despite being below .500.
  • Likely protections: Jets-Giants (CBS) and Eagles-Patriots (FOX).
  • Other possible games: There are no games involving nothing but teams at or above .500. When we hit teams at 4-5, we see Cardinals-Rams, Seahawks-Vikings, Falcons-Bucs, and Texans-Bills. Chiefs-Raiders is a matchup of two 4-5 teams.
  • Analysis: For the record, this week is so bad that even the protected games involve 5-5 and 4-5 teams respectively (though that’s largely because of across-the-board mediocrity and a huge number of 4-5 teams – see the Playoff Picture below). So if you have to settle for a 4-5 or 5-5 team, a game where the 4-5 team leads, or at least contends for, the sorry AFC South is probably your best option, meaning this might actually be the best game of the week at the moment (and a potential Wild Card preview at the opposite stadium). Even if one of the 4-5 teams wins and the Colts lose, I think that factor combines with the tentative game bias (not to mention the middling-at-best attractions of the alternatives, with Seahawks-Vikings probably having the best name value) to let this game keep its spot.
  • Final prediction: Indianapolis Colts @ Pittsburgh Steelers (no change).

Week 14 (December 13):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: 4-5 v. 2-7. Not looking good.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bengals (CBS, confirmed) and Cowboys-Packers or Falcons-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The Cowboys suck and are pressed for primetime appearances, so if Falcons-Panthers is protected (admittedly extremely unlikely given Fox’s track record, even though both teams were unbeaten when protections came in) we’ll once again have to go to teams at 4-5. Raiders-Broncos remains lopsided, while Bills-Eagles is less so but has zero star power. Racial Slurs-Bears pits two 4-5 teams against each other.

Week 15 (December 20):

  • Tentative game: Cincinnati @ San Francisco
  • Prospects: 8-1 v. 3-6. Massively lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Steelers (CBS, confirmed) and Panthers-Giants or Bears-Vikings (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Giants is a bit lopsided, sitting at 9-0 v. 5-5, but it’s the only option pitting two teams at or above .500. If the NFL must go to a 4-5 team, they’d likely prefer Packers-Raiders to avoid scheduling two Bay Area home games at the same time (or even doing something weirder), though unlike some of my commenters I don’t think it’s the only option, only the most likely one. (Once again, the NFL still has yet to learn that it needs to consider every Sunday night game in the late-flex period as potentially flexible. Well, unless it involves the Cowboys of course.) The next best game might actually pit two 4-5 teams against each other: Texans-Colts pits the two AFC South contenders, Cardinals-Eagles and Bears-Vikings are very lopsided, and Bills-Original Americans is just plain blah.

Week 16 (December 27):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: 6-4 v. 2-7. One of the NFL’s better rivalries, but not in the best shape right now.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Jets (CBS) and Packers-Cardinals or Panthers-Falcons (FOX).
  • Other possible games: As with the week with the first Panthers-Falcons matchup, Fox’s unprotected game is far and away ahead of any other contenders, with Giants-Vikings in second and a trio of matchups of 4-5 teams (Colts-Dolphins, Rams-Seahawks, Bears-Bucs) as very long shots.

Week 17 (January 3):

AFC Playoff Picture
56-4 4-5
4-5 4-5
65-4 4-5
2 tied at 4-5 4-5
5-4 3-6
2 tied at 5-4
NFC Playoff Picture
56-3 4-5
2 tied at 4-5 4-5
66-3 4-5
6-3 4-5
2 tied at 4-5 4-5
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Jets-Bills, Saints-Falcons, Raiders-Chiefs, Eagles-Giants, Vikings-Packers, Seahawks-Cardinals.

11 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 10

  1. My thoughts after Week 10:

    Weeks 12 & 13: No change in either case. For Week 13, Steelers currently #5 seed and Colts (who they actually would face in Wild Card round) currently tied with Texans (but hold all tiebreakers) for AFC South.

    Week 14: What the Raiders do the next two weeks goes a long way to determining this game. Win in Detroit and Tennessee (road games they should win if they are a real playoff contender) and if they are 6-5 when the decision has to be made, their game in Denver with the Broncos probably gets flexed in. Raiders are far from perfect. Patriots-Texans is now a possibility as well given Texans are tied for AFC South lead (and if Texans win next two against the Jets and Saints would make it very possible) and it’s likely the only chance the NFL has to flex in the Pats. Bills-Eagles is possible depending on how both do next two weeks, but the NFL likely wants to save the Eagles flex for Week 17 in case their game with the Giants is for the NFC East.

    Week 15: Main reason I think Packers-Raiders is the only realistic flex that week is the NFL does NOT want to set a precedent (outside of Week 17) for having two games at the same time a home team is playing (even if in this case two home teams are playing since Bengals-49ers is scheduled SNF game) because the NFL likely knows they would then face pressure from elected officials in New York to lift the ban on airing another game outside home team games since there are many weeks in New York you ONLY get the Jets and Giants there. That to me may play a major consideration here.

    Week 16: As noted last week, regardless of whether or not Fox protected Packers-Cardinals, it’s possible that game can’t be moved to SNF anyway because of Fiesta Bowl officials wanting extra time to get University of Phoenix Stadium ready for that game that begins at 11:00 AM local time New Year’s Day. Panthers-Falcons could be meaningless for the Panthers by the time this takes place as they continue to lead the entire NFC by two games. If the Dolphins win the next four and are 8-5 (including three games against the NFC East and a rematch with the Jets and they are 4-1 outside their division) when the decision has to be made, given the AFC South could go to the wire there is a very good chance that is the game flexed. Otherwise, Steelers-Ravens stays.

    Week 17: The Saturday night Eagles-Redskins game a week earlier could very well determine whether Eagles-Giants is for the NFC East the following week. If Eagles-Giants is, as of now it remains the front-runner to be the Sunday Night Finale. Otherwise, too early to tell as a lot can happen between now and then.

    As said in the previous SNF scheduling post, I’m sure the NFL is praying by the Cardinals will have wrapped up the #2 seed for the NFC BEFORE any decisions have to be made for the Sunday night finale for reasons well stated in the last post.

  2. Obviously for Week 16 I meant the Dolphins game with the Colts is flexed if they win their next four (all winnable games for the Dolphins, especially since as noted they are 4-1 outside the AFC East, which is turning out to be a much tougher division than anyone may realize).

  3. I know I am the outsider of the group with the Week 14 prediction but I still think that if the Cowboys @ Packers is not protected by FOX that will be the one that is flexed to Sunday Night Football. I would believe that if the NFL does not have a compelling match up of winning record teams to pick it would then go to a “big ratings” game instead of dabbling in match ups of 4-5 teams. A 2-10 Cowboys team against another well followed Packers team will still outdraw any Bills-Eagles, Redskins-Bears, and Raiders-Broncos game. I think TV ratings factor in big when there is not a slam dunk match up to flex. The NFL values their advertising dollars. The average NFL fan tends to watch the Cowboys win or lose no matter what their record is and I think this is the only remaining Cowboys game NBC would flex for the year.

  4. Cory:

    Given the Pats may be 11-0 when the decision has to be made, the Texans are likely going to be in AFC South contention no matter what (and will be if they win their next two to get to 6-5 or even split and are 5-6), that game suddenly has jumped into the fray given it’s likely the only chance the NFL and NBC has to flex in the Pats. Otherwise, if the Raiders win their next two their game with the Broncos may be flexed because there it may be the last chance for the NFL to flex Peyton Manning into prime time AND the Raiders still are a name brand nationally in spite of all of the bad seasons in Oakland, plus Raiders-Broncos still is a big rivalry.

    FOX likely protected Cowboys-Packers because at the time those decisions had to be made, the Cowboys were still 2-3 and no one knew they would be falling off the face of the earth and figured to be in NFC East contention (and may actually still be given the Giants lead at 5-5 at present).

  5. Bears/Vikings CAN’T be flexed to SNF because of Semester Rules at the University of Minnesota, whose stadium the Vikings are using until the new stadium is ready. Giants/Vikings in week 16 CAN be flexed with UOM on Winter Break.

    P.S. Washington’s team name is the REDSKINS whether you like it or not until the NFL outlaws the name.

  6. Abel:

    If the NFL REALLY wanted to flex the Vikings into SNF this season while school was in session, they would likely pay the University whatever it took to make it happen no matter who it inconvenienced. In this case, it’s not necessary, however, because there are other games that are more logical flexes (and in the case of Week 15, a situation where the only game that can be flexed into SNF without causing a potential political nightmare for the NFL is Packers-Raiders) so its a moot point anyway.

  7. An addition to Week 14 following the Thursday night game:

    If the Jaguars win their next game (very winnable against the Chargers) and are 5-6 when the decision has to be made, we could see Colts-Jaguars actually flexed into SNF given if that happens, the Jags amazingly will be only one game behind the Colts/Texans at worst. This would be more likely if they win next week and the Texans lose their next two.

    As of now, still think if the Texans take care of business the next two weeks and are 6-5 when the decision has to be made, their game at home against the Patriots is the most likely game to be flexed, with if the Raiders win their next two to get to 6-5 and are in Wild Card contention, their game with the Broncos the next most likely.

  8. Walt-

    I agree Colts-Jaguars could go neck and neck by Week 14 but I still think NBC/NFL would look at the ratings picture. Outside the Jacksonville/Indy home markets you would probably have one of the lowest or lowest watched Sunday Night games of the year. Neither the NBC nor the NFL wants that. The Broncos appeal for NBC will be if Manning is still dropping back to pass. If its his backup the Broncos/Raiders match up loses a lot of its luster for the common fan. In the Patriots/Texans match up, Brady will probably have it put away by halftime. I think NBC/NFL would be worried about the big potential of lopsidedness. I still think the ratings game will decide the Week 14’s game NBC covers.

  9. Cory:

    Still think Patriots-Texans is the favorite because it’s the only chance the NFL likely has to flex the Pats, especially if they are unbeaten. Raiders-Broncos (if the Raiders are 6-5 when the decision has to be made) is next partially because of Manning but also because as noted the Raiders are still a brand name outside the Bay Area even with so many bad seasons in a row. Colts-Jags (if the Jags win a week from Sunday) would be option #3 because especially if the Colts and Jags are 5-6 and the Texans (and Raiders) are 4-7 when the decision has to be made, then that is a game that like decides the AFC South (and more so if the Colts are 6-5).

    NBC likely can’t flex Cowboys-Packers (even if FOX didn’t protect it), especially if the Raiders are 6-5 when that decision has to be made because they have to save the Packers flex for Week 15, when their game in Oakland with the Raiders is the ONLY game that can be flexed into SNF that does not create a potential political nightmare for the NFL with elected officials in New York as noted above (and that is something New York politicians will pounce on if they think it will help them garner votes at election time).

    You also likely won’t see ANY NFC East team (except the Redskins, who can be flexed in more than once) flexed into SNF before Week 17, especially since Eagles-Giants could very well be for the NFC East and it’s even possible with Romo the Cowboys go on a long run that has them playing for the NFC East against the Redskins that final Sunday night.

  10. Very surprising because that used to NOT be done. That might only have been done so everyone (except in the Bay Area) gets Steelers-49ers. NFL may have been under pressure from elected officials in New York to do that.

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