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 this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point 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 4:25 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; I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006 and 2011. 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.
- Three teams can 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, although starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. 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 10 (November 13):
- Selected game: Seattle @ New England.
Week 11 (November 20):
- Selected game: Green Bay @ Washington.
Week 12 (November 27):
- Selected game: Kansas City @ Denver. Well if that game wasn’t protected it would seem to be a no-brainer to flex in, but it’s a bit puzzling that it wasn’t protected (though I suppose CBS could have felt getting Pats-Jets back was worth potentially losing a strong Chiefs-Broncos matchup). Even more puzzling is that Patriots-Jets is now going to be the lead late doubleheader game on CBS (the second time the tentative game has moved to the lead late doubleheader slot, after another Patriots game moved to CBS in Week 16 of 2013), which would seem to defeat the point of flexing it out and makes me doubt that the NFL pulled another protection override (though it’s worth noting the Giants play in the early spot, and while the Jets and Giants have played at the same time several times in recent seasons, the NFL still wants to avoid it); were it not for Adam Schefter tweeting the full list of protections in 2014, I would be starting to doubt the protections work even remotely the way they did before the most recent TV deal. NBC’s Sam Flood seemed to possibly prefer keeping Pats-Jets, which suggests this was as much about propping up CBS as anything else, but again there seems to be little point to simply switching the two main Sunday games. The NFL seems to have gone even further into panic mode regarding the primetime ratings than I thought, and it’s not even necessarily clear that SNF will benefit more. The tentative game bias may actually be weaker than it used to be despite the TNF factor.
Week 13 (December 4):
- Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
- Prospects: 3-6 v. 6-2-1. Just got a little more lopsided than it already was.
- Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
- Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons is definitely the strongest option; even if I’m wrong about CBS’ protection, which just got a lot more likely, the Packers’ struggles mean that Texans-Packers isn’t that strong and may not be that much better than the tentative. Dolphins-Ravens is also reasonably strong, while Racial Slurs-Cardinals at least pits a .500 team against a team above that mark. Lions-Saints, Rams-Patriots, Eagles-Bengals, Giants-Steelers, and Bills-Raiders are dark horses.
- Analysis: Before the Week 12 flex came in I would have said Chiefs-Falcons was nearly a mortal lock to be flexed in. If it’s not protected it would still seem to be the obvious choice but it would put the Chiefs on SNF on consecutive weeks when neither game was the tentative beforehand, which I’m not sure has ever happened when Week 17 wasn’t involved (which makes that flex all the more puzzling, but the NFL has rarely been one for looking ahead when it comes to its flexes). Best-case scenario for Dolphins-Ravens is 6-4 v. 6-4 while the Falcons are on bye so the worst-case for Chiefs-Falcons is 7-3 v. 6-4. On the flip side, if Texans-Packers stands at 6-4 v. 5-5 it could either clearly lose to Dolphins-Ravens, or clearly beat it if it’s 5-5 v. 5-5, which could also keep Dolphins-Ravens pretty close to Racial Slurs-Cardinals if I’m right about the protection but the NFL doesn’t want to flex Chiefs-Falcons in anyway. So if I’m right about the protections this is a fairly easy choice no matter what else happens, but if Chiefs-Falcons is protected or the NFL doesn’t want to flex the Chiefs in in consecutive weeks, I would need to hold off and make a last-minute remarks post on Monday. Check my Tweeter on Sunday night and Monday afternoon, but in the meantime:
- Final prediction: Kansas City Chiefs @ Atlanta Falcons.
Week 14 (December 11):
- Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 8-1 v. 6-3, and the top two teams in the division, would be tough for any game to overcome the tentative game bias against, but when it’s an intra-NFC East matchup involving the Cowboys, nothing else has a chance.
- Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles was good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, and if it’s not protected it’s the only game involving nothing but teams above .500. Broncos-Titans and Cardinals-Dolphins aren’t far behind. Texans-Colts and Falcons-Rams are dark horses, while Steelers-Bills and Saints-Bucs are very long shots.
Week 15 (December 18):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
- Prospects: 4-5 v. 3-5-1. The Steelers’ four-game losing streak may be putting this game in serious jeopardy of being flexed out (not that the Bengals aren’t bringing the game down on their own), especially with the wild-card cut line currently at 7-3, but it’s still really only mediocre. Still, this is another situation where the NFL’s finger might be on the Primetime Ratings Panic Button.
- Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
- Other possible games: While the Giants barely escaped the Bengals at home, it still put their game against the Lions at 5-4 v. 6-3, so if the teams keep moving in these directions Lions-Giants might be able to overcome the tentative game bias. Titans-Chiefs is a bit lopsided, but if the gap closes don’t count it out either. Saints-Cardinals, Colts-Vikings, and Bucs-Cowboys are all dark horses.
Week 17 (January 3):
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-5)
|2 teams at 4-5|
- Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
- Possible games: Saints-Falcons, Giants-Swamp, Texans-Titans, Packers-Lions, Patriots-Dolphins, Bears-Vikings, Cowboys-Eagles, Cardinals-Rams, Raiders-Broncos, Chiefs-Chargers, Seahawks-49ers.