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):
- Selected game: New England @ Houston.
Week 15 (December 20):
- Selected game: Arizona @ Philadelphia. Hoo boy, I can’t wait to hear what inscrutable thought process went into this one; have we ever seen a team below .500, certainly with more than a game’s difference between wins and losses, flexed into Sunday night (at least with a game involving only teams at .500 or above as an option)? Certainly I didn’t consider any teams below 5-6 last week despite the tire fire the NFC East is this year, but that’s offset by the fact this maxes out the Eagles on primetime appearances with a Week 17 game against the Giants still potentially deciding the division, and the decision came down before seeing if the two would come out of this week tied for the division lead. If you’re going to disqualify yourself from airing Eagles-Giants, why not put on Panthers-Giants, a game that honestly isn’t that much more lopsided even if the Panthers lose? If Fox protected Panthers-Giants, and you really don’t want to put the Texans on consecutive weeks or you want to address an imbalance of games taken from CBS or Fox, why not put on Bears-Vikings, two bigger markets and a less lopsided game? Yeah, the Vikings’ lease at the University of Minnesota’s stadium only allows them one primetime home game to be played when classes aren’t in session, but I can’t imagine Minnesota would still have classes in session when Christmas is the following Friday, and their Week 17 potential NFC North title game against the Packers is at Lambeau. Hell, Bills-Original Americans would at least be competitive and wouldn’t squeeze you out of a potential Week 17 game. The more I think about this the more I think this is the worst actual flex I’ve ever encountered in the ten years we’ve had flex scheduling, worse than the multi-week clusterbleep of two years ago that put the absolute worst Week 16 game the NFL could have for the purpose of determining the Week 17 game into SNF, which was at least an otherwise understandable choice with a two-game gap and without outright ruling out any potential Week 17 game. The only flex that might come close would be the very first flex known to be a flex way back in 2007 (when I wasn’t sure protections or appearance limits even existed), and even that involved the undefeated Patriots in their 18-1 season. Seriously, do you realize this is only a game less lopsided than the tentative?
Week 16 (December 27):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 7-5 v. 4-8. One of the NFL’s better rivalries, but not in the best shape right now. Probably would be a better flex choice than Cardinals-Eagles though.
- Likely protections: Patriots-Jets (CBS) and Packers-Cardinals or Panthers-Falcons (FOX).
- Other possible games: Fox’s unprotected game has been far and away ahead of any other contenders all season, with Giants-Vikings in second. Of course that involves a 5-7 team, so for completeness’ sake let’s mention Bears-Bucs and Colts-Dolphins. Hell, let’s throw Cowboys-Bills in there for the hell of it.
- Analysis: Well, with the Packers still hovering a game short of being maxed out and this now potentially representing the second straight week for the Cardinals on SNF, I guess we can rule that game out. Meanwhile, the once-mighty Falcons have fallen to .500 and the Panthers have clinched the division and might not have much of anything to play for by the time this game comes around, and it’s not like the Giants have a Week 17 candidate game to worry about getting maxed out for anymore. The worst-case scenario for Giants-Vikings is probably 8-5 v. 5-8, which probably still beats 7-6 v. 6-7 for Bears-Bucs and Colts-Dolphins given the name factor and NFC East bull-dropping fire, but might be close with 7-6 v. 5-8 for a game involving America’s Team that could still win the division. Of course the Cowboys would also be maxed out with their own potential Week 17 candidate game, but does anyone really want to see Indians-Cowboys in primetime again? Really the biggest threat to Giants-Vikings might be the tentative, whose best-case scenario is identical to Giants-Vikings’ worst with both the rivalry-game factor and the tentative game bias on its side, but after this flex I’m not even so sure about that. Hopefully I’ll be less sleep-deprived and more informed about just what the hell the NFL was thinking by Sunday night when I make my Last-Minute Remarks.
Week 17 (January 3):
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-7)
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-7)
|2 tied at 5-7|
- Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
- Possible games: Jets-Bills, Raiders-Chiefs, Indians-Cowboys, Vikings-Packers, Seahawks-Cardinals. Only three of these games involve teams within a game of each other at the moment (which would have been two if the Cowboys hadn’t won Monday night), but sure, let’s carelessly throw away the possibility of a fourth for whatever unfathomable reason!