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 17 (January 3):
THE WINGS (6-7)
THE WINGS (5-7-1)
|2 teams at 7-6
- Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
- Possible games: Giants-Swamp, Texans-Titans, Panthers-Bucs, Jaguars-Colts, Packers-Lions, Patriots-Dolphins, Raiders-Broncos, Chiefs-Chargers.
- Chances of Texans-Titans: 35 percent. With these two teams tied at the top of the division and the Colts a game back, there are only two main obstacles to this game being flexed to NBC: the severe lack of name value of the teams and the possibility of the loser still picking up a wild card spot, and the latter isn’t too big a concern right now. With Houston holding a perfect division record including one game over the Titans, while the Titans have only one division win, this game would at least be a candidate if the teams were either tied or if the Titans took a one-game lead into Week 17; that perfect division record also means that the Colts could be tied with the Texans in the latter scenario and still allow this to be a division title game. But the Colts can’t be tied for the division lead heading into the final week, and NBC might prefer virtually any other game.
- Chances of Packers-Lions: 25 percent. The Packers have a game in hand over the Lions so they only need to make up one game to make this a division title game, but they have the twin problems of the potential of the loser still making the playoffs and the Vikings gumming up the waterworks. Even then, so long as the Packers beat the Vikings on Christmas Eve the Vikings would lose a tiebreaker if they managed to nab a share of the division lead, with the Packers winning the three-way tiebreaker if it came to that. What may be the biggest problem is that the Lions play on Monday night Week 16, meaning this game may have to be a division title game no matter what happens there – in other words, the Packers may have to make up a game this week and then beat the Vikings – but if that happens NBC would gobble this game up in a heartbeat.
- Chances of Giants-Swamp: 15 percent. The Giants and Bucs have identical conference records with nothing but conference games remaining, so if they finished tied the Bucs would win the tiebreaker. So if the Giants and Bucs enter Week 17 tied with Washington a half-game behind both, then the loser of this game is out as they would fall behind the Bucs no matter what, while the winner should get in if they can’t be leapfrogged by an NFC North team.
- Chances of Raiders-Broncos: 10 percent. The Raiders have a game in hand over the Broncos but have only a one-game lead in divisional games, so depending on what games the Raiders lose or Broncos win the Broncos might only need to make up one game. But this game would also need the Dolphins, or (less likely) teams in other divisions, to cooperate in order to eliminate the loser, and both AFC West games are dependent on Broncos-Chiefs as the Christmas night game.
- Chances of Patriots-Dolphins: 6 percent. The Dolphins would lose the common games tiebreaker to either the Raiders or Broncos, so if they all entered the week tied this game would be closer to a win-and-in, lose-and-out game than that one, for reasons described here, assuming the AFC North or South isn’t a factor… and assuming the Patriots have nothing left to play for, because if they’re still fighting for seeding the league would probably prefer to have them playing at the same time (or earlier) as the Chiefs. The flip side is that the Dolphins can still win the division if they win out and the Patriots lose out, and the Patriots aren’t even guaranteed a playoff spot yet; I don’t know if that’s more or less likely as a scenario (and I’m not sure the Patriots can be guaranteed to be eliminated from the playoffs with a loss before the rest of the Week 17 games), but it might be more likely to put this game in primetime. If the chances I give this game seem high to you, think of it as 3 percent for each of these scenarios.
- Chances of Jaguars-Colts: 4 percent. Similar to the first Pats-Dolphins scenario above but under slightly different conditions, namely the Colts and Titans being tied for the division lead by a game over the Texans. The Colts swept the Titans so they would get in with a win, but if the Texans win and the Colts lose then the Texans’ sweep of both teams would give them the division. But this game might be even less appealing than Texans-Titans, so it would be an absolute last resort.
- Chances of Chiefs-Chargers: 4 percent. Also similar to Pats-Dolphins, this game is also dependent on a three-way tie but for the opposite reason: the Chiefs swept the Raiders and the Broncos can’t beat them on divisional record, so if the Chiefs collapsed to the point all three teams were tied for the division lead, the Chiefs would win the division with a win no matter what happened with the Raiders and Broncos. But between this and Jags-Colts, I don’t know which scenario is less likely or which game is less desirable.
- Chances of Panthers-Bucs: 1 percent. Unlike the other games that only matter to one team, this one isn’t nearly as cut and dry, and in fact I’m not sure a scenario even exists where this game would be picked. The best-case scenario I can find for this being a win-and-in, lose-and-out game for the Bucs is if you took the scenario for the Giants game above and moved Washington a half-game ahead of the Giants and Bucs; then, if the Giants lose and the Bucs win the Bucs would get the 6 seed if no NFC North team intervenes, if the Giants and Bucs lose the Bucs could still make the playoffs unless an NFC North team intervenes, but if the Giants win and the Bucs lose then the Bucs are out. But even that requires the NFC North to cooperate in each direction, making it difficult if not impossible to think of a situation where this game would be a true candidate but Packers-Lions was not.