Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 15

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):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (7-7)
SOUTH
48-6
510-4
8-6
NORTH
39-5
69-5
8-6
WEST
211-3
8-6
10-4 8-6
EAST
112-2
8-6
CLINCHED
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-8)
SOUTH
49-5
510-4
8-6
NORTH
39-5
68-6
8-6
WEST
29-4-1
8-6
CLINCHED 7-6-1
EAST
112-2
7-7
10-4
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Texans-Titans, Packers-Lions, and though it’s an extreme long-shot, Andrew DeCaro will be happy to know there is a situation where Patriots-Dolphins gets picked. Both of the division title games have a very strong chance of happening, though, and Pats-Dolphins is even dependent on one of them happening, so realistically this is about as simple as last year without the NFL being stuck without a loser-out game… not that they’ll necessarily appreciate it.
  • Packers-Lions will be picked if: The Packers win OR (the Titans lose AND the Texans or Colts win). I saw the following tweet on my feed Monday:

    Certainly Packers-Lions is the game NBC would prefer to any alternative, but this overlooks two wrinkles: the possibility that the loser would still make the playoffs, and the fact the Lions play Monday night, which the NFL might be uncomfortable waiting for to announce the Week 17 SNF game, to say nothing of the rest of the schedule. Indeed, the former is pretty realistic at the moment (and cannot be guaranteed not to be the case if the Packers win), even if right now the strength-of-victory tiebreaker is needed to break the tie between the Packers and Bucs. Would the NFL take an NFC North title game that’s not loser-out (the exact scenario that, last year, prompted the league to exempt Week 17 from appearance limits this year) over an AFC South title game that is, especially since the winner of the former probably won’t receive a first-round bye (a Seahawks loss would make it much easier for the league to justify picking this game over Texans-Titans) and in fact the game may just determine home field for a rematch the following week? We’ll see. (That said, if the Texans clinch the AFC South – UPDATE: or the Colts can still steal the division – the league might not wait for Monday to move this game into Sunday night, on grounds that even if the Packers lose and Lions win to clinch the division, they could still be playing for seeding while the Packers will likely be fighting for their playoff lives, and the league wouldn’t have any better options.)

  • Texans-Titans will be picked if: The Titans win OR the Texans and Colts lose. During “Football Night in America” the announcers repeatedly played up the prospect of a Packers-Lions division title game. I didn’t watch the whole show but I saw nothing about Texans-Titans, which might be in even better shape with the two teams tied at the top of the division. It’s also unlikely, though not impossible, for the loser of this game to still make the playoffs. (UPDATE: Turns out I forgot about the Colts being a game back and the possibility of them stealing the division if they take a three-way tie into Week 17 and win alongside the Titans, even though I mentioned it last week. This is why I shouldn’t write these posts late at night.) Actually…
  • Patriots-Dolphins might be picked if: The Dolphins lose AND the Texans and Titans win AND the Ravens lose AND (the Broncos lose OR the Dolphins have already clinched the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Broncos) AND the Patriots win AND the Raiders lose. The Titans beat the Dolphins head-to-head, while if the Dolphins lose out while the Texans split to lose the division, the Texans would have the better conference record. But the Ravens and Broncos need to lose or else it might not be a win-and-in game for the Dolphins, and if the Patriots still haven’t secured the #1 seed the league might prefer this game be played the same time as the AFC West games. And even then, this scenario still wouldn’t guarantee that the Texans-Titans loser made the playoffs even with a Dolphins loss. (It’s also worth noting that if the Raiders have clinched the AFC West, then this game needs to go in the 4:25 time slot to guarantee both the Raiders and Chiefs are playing for something, in which case the NFL might prefer to give Texans-Titans a guaranteed national audience rather than let CBS bury it behind the ratings magnet of the Patriots or in the 1 PM ET time slot, even if Packers-Lions is also an option, unless they’re in the mood to cross-flex one of these games.)

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