Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 14

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 16 (December 27):

  • Selected game: NY Giants @ Minnesota.

Week 17 (January 3):

AFC Playoff Picture
8-5 5-8
NFC Playoff Picture
2 tied at 6-7
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Jets-Bills, Raiders-Chiefs, Indians-Cowboys, Vikings-Packers, Colts-Titans, Texans-Jaguars, Seahawks-Cardinals. Unfortunately, no division has more than one realistic wild card contender, and the divisions with the most straightforward straight-up division title games, the NFC North and West, have also all but locked up the two wild card spots between them.
  • Chances of Vikings-Packers: 25 percent. The good news is that this game should be a division title game regardless of the order in which the teams would be in so long as they’re within a game of each other; the Packers have a game in hand while the Vikings should take the division tiebreaker with a win. The bad news is it would take a nearly complete collapse for the loser of this game not to be in line for a wild card spot, and outright impossible for the loser to be guaranteed to be out. It may actually be better if the winner of this game is in line for a first-round bye, even though that could cause a logistical nightmare for the NFL (see the Seahawks-Cardinals section below for what’s facing the NFL if the Cardinals have to host a wild-card game). If this game could just determine home-field for a rematch the following week, or if the loser gets to play the sucky NFC East winner while the winner has to deal with an actually good team, the NFL might actually prefer Bucs-Panthers if the Panthers are still unbeaten. Still, the likelihood of this game being a division title game leads me to peg its chances so high; if the Panthers lose one of their next two this becomes the last-resort option.
  • Chances of Bucs-Panthers: 20 percent. This is basically a last-resort option for the undefeated factor the NFL would only choose if there’s no other attractive options; if the Panthers are still undefeated they’d have nothing else to play for, and there’s an off chance the NFL would prefer this game was simultaneous with other games involving NFC Wild Card contenders. So it says a lot I have the chances for this game being so high; all the other games below are counting on fairly specific circumstances.
  • Chances of Indians-Cowboys: 15 percent. Turns out the Giants might be more relevant to the Week 17 selection than I thought when I made my Last-Minute Remarks. As explained here, this game could be a contender for SNF even if the Cowboys are completely irrelevant; if Washington loses next week while the Eagles win, then the Eagles lose the following week while the Giants split their next two games, the result would be a three-way tie with Washington having swept the Eagles and holding the division tie-breaker over the Giants with a win over the Cowboys. Alternately, the Cowboys have a game in hand over the Indians and are the only team in the division with three division wins; if they win their next two and the only other NFC East win is the one that’s necessary for the Eagles to lose Week 16, the result would be a three-way tie a game back of the Indians with the Cowboys set to win any three-way tiebreakers over the Indians and the Eagles-Giants winner. Both of these scenarios would be dependent on the Giants-Vikings result, but we have just seen the NFL is willing to condition a flex on the Monday Night Football result, so they might be willing to condition a flex on the SNF result as well.
  • Chances of Jets-Bills: 10 percent. If the Bills win their next two and the Steelers lose their next two, the Jets would actually only need to split for this game to be an option, since the Bills have a game in hand.
  • Chances of Seahawks-Cardinals: 8 percent. Would need the Cardinals to lose their next two and the Seahawks to win their next two, and might need the Packers to lose this week as well so the Cardinals aren’t at risk for hosting a Wild Card game the same weekend as the college football National Championship in their stadium. Even then the Cardinals have already clinched a playoff spot and the Seahawks would have as well, so this is another last-resort pick.
  • Chances of Raiders-Chiefs: 7 percent. If the Chiefs lose their next two and the Raiders win their next two, and either the Jets or Steelers also lose their next two, both these teams would be in pretty good tiebreaker shape… to the point that if both the Jets and Steelers lose their next two, there’s a disturbingly good chance the loser of this game still makes the playoffs.
  • Chances of Texans-Jaguars: 7 percent. The Jaguars have opened up the possibility of the AFC South bailing out the NFL here. If the Colts lose their next two, the Jaguars win their next two, and the Texans lose their other game, this becomes a division title game.
  • Chances of Colts-Titans: 7 percent. Another last-resort game that could still lose to Bucs-Panthers if the Panthers are unbeaten and the Bucs aren’t still contending for the wild card, but falls under the same category as Indians-Cowboys might fall into, mentioned above. If the Jaguars win out and the Colts and Texans split, the Colts would hold the tiebreaker over the Texans-Jaguars winner.
  • Chances of Eagles-Giants: 1 percent. Yes, both these teams are technically maxed out on primetime appearances. Yes, part of the reason they’re maxed out may be that this game can’t be moved to primetime no matter what, given the possibility of a blizzard and traffic nightmare. But you know what? Given the constraints and substandard options facing the NFL, if worst comes to worst and this is a division title game and the only option otherwise available I would not be surprised to see the NFL say “screw everyone” and push this game into primetime no matter what Fox and the Meadowlands think.

9 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 14

  1. Actually, if the Texans beat the Colts this weekend AND the Colts lose next week to the Dolphins, as long as the Jaguars win their next two Jaguars-Texans would be for the AFC South title since the Jags would then have the tiebreaker on the Texans if both finish 8-8. At this point, I think the NFL is praying that happens to avoid what could be potential nightmare scenarios on other fronts.

    In the case of Eagles-Giants, it would be mainly the New Jersey State Police and/or Highway Patrol as well as Meadowlands officials that I would guess told the NFL Eagles-Giants can’t be flexed to 8:30 because it likely would create a potential traffic nightmare Sunday night as people are trying to get home from Christmas vacation and then having to be up early the next morning to be at work. As also noted, many Giants season ticket holders have had those tickets going back to when the Giants were actually still playing home games in Yankee Stadium (1973 or earlier) and are well known to loathe night games to where when the Giants are on TNF, SNF or MNF, they often give those tickets to friends and family. It’s quite possible the NFL placated to such in making their decision to flex the Eagles this week and the Giants next week knowing the blowback on many fronts if they flexed Giants-Eagles in Week 17 (and will get if the NFL does it anyway).

    Otherwise, Vikings-Packers is the best option for Week 17 as long as the Pack has not clinched the NFC North. Best scenario here for the NFL is the Pack and Vikings both lose their next two AND the Eagles win this week, lose to the Redskins and beat the Giants in Week 17 PLUS have each of the NFC South teams not named Carolina lose one game each so the second NFC Wild Card is in play (Eagles would win a tiebreaker with the Vikings for the #6 seed if both finish 8-8) OR have the Giants win their next two, lose to the Eagles in the finale and have the rest happen since the Giants would then back in at 8-8.

    If all else fails and the Panthers are 15-0, the NFL likely goes with Bucs-Panthers and prays Tampa is still alive for an NFC Wild Card when that game takes place.

  2. Also, one thing to keep in mind for Seahawks/Cardinals is that Fox can protect one game. That game is already a 4:25 game, with the only other two games at that time being a CBS game and a largely irrelevant game (49ers/Rams), so my bet is they’ll protect it so that they have their “America’s Game of the Week.”

    Also, one thing to keep in mind is that the #6 seed Vikings are two games up on the #7 team in the NFC with three games to play, so it’s likely that we already see the entire NFC playoff picture (assuming one of the four teams in the East). Even the chances of a different team with a bye seems remote (Cards would have to lose all three, Pack win all three). The only really significant NFC game at Week 17 would be Packers/Vikings for the North title.

    Panthers/Bucs is unlikely. Sure, you’d be looking at history in the making, and if we didn’t have the same thing in 2007, it would matter more. Plus, those teams come from markets #13 and #24 and they’ll want to grab more attention than that, either with a larger market (the East games) or with a larger fanbase (Vikes/Pack). Add that to the Bucs being all but out of the playoffs and I think that gets thrown out.

    My opinion is that it’ll be the Vikings/Packers. I had thought that Eagles/Giants might be the only one to usurp that game, but if they have a rule for maxing out primetime games and cannot be flexed, then I think the North game is assured. Which is weird, because that’ll be the Packers 7th primetime game this year if they are flexed.

  3. What is with this sudden widespread misunderstanding of how protections work? No, Fox does not protect games Week 17, and if they did they’d need to submit it Week 5. It would be utterly impossible to put in the sort of game the NFL wants if CBS and Fox could protect games the week of the decision. The only things that matter Week 17 are in the page I link to in the Indians-Cowboys section.

  4. Morgan:

    People forget there are no protections in Week 17 because you have them the rest of the time. You only had protections on the final week the first year (2006) when CBS protected Raiders-Jets and FOX protected Falcons-Eagles, the latter of which wound up meaningless after a 2-13 Lions team went into Dallas and upset the Cowboys in an early game that final week.

    Right now, the NFL I’m sure as noted is praying Jaguars-Texans winds up for the AFC South because that would save the NFL a ton of headaches otherwise.

  5. Sorry, you’re right, I did forget that there is no protected game in week 17. However, I think what I said about Hawks/Cards still applies. Because the other two games at 4:25 are relatively meaningless, they won’t move that one to highlight it as a national game.

    And remember what I said about market share for Panthers/Bucs? Jacksonville and Houston are respectively #47 and #10 in media market size. There’s a reason the NFC East is usually highlighted in that last game if it matters, because they are market sizes 1, 4, 5 and 9. They care about the national appeal. In fairness, Vikes/Pack are 15 and 70, but the Packers have a much broader national appeal than anyone in the AFC South. JJ Watt can only do so much. 🙂

  6. Jeff:

    The last week is NOT set in stone until the end of the season. Usually the last week, the NFL tries to have games that are meaningless or have minimal meaning go at 1:00 PM with the more meaningful games at 4:25 PM, though if there are a lot of meaningful games you can also have some at 1:00. You may also see cross-flexing the final week if it’s warranted.

  7. Walt:

    You still have the AFC South wrong–if Houston beats Indy, the Texans would still have to lose in Week 16 for the Texans/Jags finale to be for the AFC South title. If the Texans win week 16 after beating the Colts, they’d have 4-1 division record heading into the finale, with one of those wins coming over Jax. So the final game wouldn’t matter: even if Jax beats Houston to finish tied at 8-8, the 2nd tiebreaker (division record) favors Houston.

    I spelled it out in the link below, but the only way the HOU/JAX game is for the AFC South title is if JAX wins its next two, IND loses its next two, and HOU beats Indy and loses to TEN. Not impossible, but extremely unlikely. I think we’ll be stuck with an NFC (L)East matchup.

  8. I noticed that earlier Russ:

    Several of the playoff generator sites erroneously had the Jags winning the division tiebreak at 8-8 as long as Houston wins this week and the Jags win their next two, including scenarios where the Jags win a three-way tie at 8-8.

    The fact Jags-Texans is even a possibility for the SNF finale as a defacto playoff game at all is astonishing.

    If the Steelers lose this week to the Broncos AND both win next week, then the NFL might schedule Jets-Bills as the finale.

    Vikings-Packers is likely finale if game is for the NFC North with if the Vikings and Pack both lose next two of the second NFC Wild Card also being up for grabs if Giants and Redskins both win out.

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