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):
- Selected game: New England @ Denver.
Week 13 (December 6):
- Selected game: Indianapolis @ Pittsburgh.
Week 14 (December 13):
- Tentative game: Seattle @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 5-5 v. 3-7. 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) the best available games, aside from heavily-lopsided Patriots-Texans, involve teams at 4-6: Bills-Eagles, Colts-Jaguars, Raiders-Broncos, Racial Slurs-Bears, Saints-Bucs.
- Analysis: With the Falcons on a three-game losing streak, even if Falcons-Panthers is unprotected it’s not clear it actually has that much of an edge over Patriots-Texans; right now it’s just a Falcons game over the Texans better, and if both games are, say, 10-1 v. 6-5, I think the Tom Brady star power factor (as well as J.J. Watt to a lesser degree) wins out. Other than those games, I think there might actually be a slim chance of this game keeping its spot; a Baltimore win next week would put them potentially only a game worse than even the best-case scenario for the 4-6 teams, and even only two games worse than the Falcons if the Falcons lose. Realistically none of the games involving 4-6 teams, with the possible exception of Raiders-Broncos, offer enough buzz to overcome both the tentative game bias and the buzz either Falcons-Panthers or Patriots-Texans offer. Worth mentioning: if the NFL isn’t locked into Packers-Raiders as the only alternative to the tentative next week (and there’s reason to think they may not be), either the Texans or Panthers could be moved to Sunday night next week.
Week 15 (December 20):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ San Francisco
- Prospects: 8-2 v. 3-7. Massively lopsided.
- Likely protections: Broncos-Steelers (CBS, confirmed) and Panthers-Giants or Bears-Vikings (FOX).
- Other possible games: Texans-Colts is a key showdown for the AFC South, even if the two teams are both 5-5. Panthers-Giants is very lopsided at 10-0 v. 5-5, but the unbeaten factor can’t be discounted. I also must mention the continued possibility that the NFL would still give the edge to Packers-Raiders if it’s reasonably competitive with other options, even if it is lopsided with the Raiders at 4-6 at the moment.
Week 16 (December 27):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 6-4 v. 3-7. 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.
Week 17 (January 3):
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
|2 tied at 5-5|
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-6)
|2 tied at 4-6|
- Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
- Possible games: Jets-Bills, Saints-Falcons, Jaguars-Texans, Raiders-Chiefs, Eagles-Giants, Vikings-Packers, Seahawks-Cardinals.