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 15 (December 18):
- Selected game: Tampa Bay @ Dallas.
Week 17 (January 3):
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-6)
|2 teams at 6-6|
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-7)
|2 teams at 6-6|
- Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
- Possible games: Saints-Falcons, Giants-Swamp, Texans-Titans, Panthers-Bucs, Jaguars-Colts, Packers-Lions, Patriots-Dolphins, Cowboys-Eagles, Raiders-Broncos, Chiefs-Chargers.
- Preliminary analysis: Typically, since the advent of the all-division-matchups-Week-17 era, I come up with arbitrary percentage chances of each game and analyses of the situations that might reward each game in my Week 14 post, then lay out the exact Week 16 outcomes that would put a specific game into SNF in my Week 15 post. But because there’s no primetime flex scheduling in Week 16 this year, this would be a short post if I didn’t say anything here, so here’s a sneak preview of next week’s post. The NFC East is strong enough that teams might end up playing for seeding at best, although the Bucs’ resurgence is making the game in the nation’s capital potentially more interesting. But if that game doesn’t work out, the AFC South is the likeliest candidate to produce the SNF game, much to NBC’s chagrin. Raiders-Broncos and Packers-Lions could end up becoming division title games (or games with a wild-card spot on the line), but the home teams would need to make up two-game deficits, an intermediary team (the Chiefs or Vikings) would need to become irrelevant, and the loser, ideally, would need to be eliminated from wild-card contention (requiring an absolute collapse on the part of the Raiders and huge rallies by the Dolphins and/or Steelers and Ravens). See here for why the NFC South games, Jaguars-Colts, and Chiefs-Chargers are options, and why there’s a very slight chance Patriots-Dolphins or Cowboys-Eagles could be the pick even if the road teams have already clinched their respective divisions, depending on how tiebreakers work out for the home teams.