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.
Week 13 (December 4):
- Selected game: Carolina @ Seattle.
Week 14 (December 11):
- Selected game: Dallas @ NY Giants.
Week 15 (December 18):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
- Prospects: 6-5 v. 3-7-1. 6-5 is good enough for a tie for the AFC North lead at the moment, and the Steelers are a name team, but putting a 3-7-1 non-name team on Sunday night this late in the season is very questionable.
- Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
- Other possible games: Lions-Giants is the prohibitive favorite at 7-4 v. 8-3; the question is whether the NFL would be willing to have the Giants at home on Sunday night in consecutive weeks (plus Giants-Eagles the following Thursday), especially in December. Bucs-Cowboys is a bit lopsided, but what the Bucs just did to the Seahawks suggests it might be closer than records indicate, while Titans-Chiefs is reasonably strong but pits two non-name teams. Colts-Vikings and Raiders-Chargers are dark horses.
- Analysis: The worst Lions-Giants could do is 7-5 v. 8-4, while Bucs-Cowboys could make it to 7-5 v. 10-2 – still concerningly lopsided, but it would be intriguing enough the league would at least consider it… if a) it didn’t put the Cowboys on NBC three straight weeks and b) Fox allowed them to pry the game out of their cold dead hands, protections aside. Meanwhile the Titans are on bye so Titans-Chiefs could be either 6-6 v. 9-3 (too lopsided) or 6-6 v. 8-4 (probably not beating Lions-Giants), and if that’s not good enough Colts-Vikings’ best-case scenario, 6-6 v. 7-5, certainly isn’t (and Raiders-Chargers is too lopsided to even consider). But considering the likelihood the NFL doesn’t want to flex in Lions-Giants for whatever reason, their real problem is that, given their lack of name value, I’m not sure either game would be able to overcome the tentative game bias; if it weren’t protected Eagles-Ravens might do better at 6-6 v. 7-5, but if either team loses it becomes a lot more questionable. If the NFL does flex to a game that doesn’t involve an NFC East team it’ll be a sign that they really don’t want to see more headlines about bad primetime ratings, or bad non-Cowboys ratings in general, created by bad games.
Week 17 (January 3):
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-6)
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THE WINGS (5-6)
- Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
- Possible games: Giants-Swamp, Texans-Titans, Patriots-Dolphins, Raiders-Broncos.