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):
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
|2 tied at 4-5||4-5|
|2 tied at 5-4|
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
|2 tied at 4-5||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.