Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 4

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; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, 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, 2011, and last year. 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.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • 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 Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only this weekend’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). NBC appearances for all teams: KC 2, NE 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), NYG 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), DAL 3 (2 flexible), GB 3 (1 flexible), ATL 2 (1 semi-flexible), OAK 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), WAS 2 (1 flexible), IND 1, SEA 2 (1 flexible), HOU 1, DEN 2 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), PIT 3 (1 semi-flexible, 2 flexible), DET 1 (semi-flexible), MIA 1 (semi-flexible), PHI 2 (flexible), BAL 1 (flexible), MIN 1. All primetime appearances for all teams: KC 6, NE 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), NYG 4 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), DAL 5 (2 flexible), GB 5 (1 flexible), ATL 5 (1 semi-flexible), OAK 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), WAS 5 (1 flexible), IND 4, SEA 4 (1 flexible), HOU 4, DEN 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), PIT 6 (1 semi-flexible, 2 flexible), DET 4 (1 semi-flexible), MIA 4 (1 semi-flexible), PHI 5 (2 flexible), BAL 4 (1 flexible), MIN 4, NO 2, LAC 2, ARI 2, CHI 3, TEN 2, CAR 2, CIN 2, TB 2, JAX 0, all other teams 1.

Starting this year I will only talk about early-flex games in this space if they’re actually bad enough to think about flexing out.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Prospects: 2-2 v. 3-1, and it’s hard to see the Patriots truly being that mediocre for long.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Colts or Texans-Rams if anything (CBS) and probably Cowboys-Falcons (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Along with Texans-Rams, Saints-Bills, Jets-Bucs, and Vikings-Skraelings are all games where the worse team is 2-2, and that’s about as good as you can expect.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 2-2, but when it’s the Cowboys the records don’t matter.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Packers, with a possibility of Patriots-Raiders if that game in Mexico City could be flexed to primetime to begin with (CBS) and Rams-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Cardinals-Texans and Natives-Saints are two matchups of 2-2 teams, while Bucs-Dolphins is effectively equivalent to that at 2-1 v. 1-2.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 3-1 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, though two of the teams on the Turkey Day slate are winless at the moment. That said, if they were bigger-name teams and if it weren’t for the Chiefs already being maxed out on primetime appearances, I might have named Bills-Chiefs as a candidate for protection, and if it weren’t for the latter, the quality of the tentative, and how long it would make the trip from the Thanksgiving night game in Washington, it’d be a very real threat for a move to Sunday night. Bucs-Falcons is also a game Fox might have protected if I was wrong about their protection and that would be a flex candidate. Besides CBS’ unprotected game, Saints-Rams is also an option.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 2-2, but as Mike Tirico pointed out on Sunday’s pregame show, the Seahawks have a habit of always starting relatively slow and catching fire late.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Except for Giants-Raiders, all of Fox’s games (Vikings-Falcons, Panthers-Saints, Lions-Ravens, Bucs-Packers, and Rams-Cardinals) involve teams at 2-2 (2-1 in the Bucs’ case) playing teams above that mark. Among CBS’ games, Chiefs-Jets also fits that bill, but see the Chiefs’ number of primetime appearances again, and Broncos-Dolphins does as well, while Texans-Titans pits two 2-2 teams against one another.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 2-2 v. 3-1, so not great and this rivalry isn’t as hot as in Ray Lewis’ heyday, but it can still attract an audience.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants or Eagles-Rams (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Eagles-Rams would pit two teams above .500 if Fox left it unprotected, as would Lions-Bucs. Vikings-Panthers and Jets-Broncos (the latter of which is a long shot for CBS’ protection) pit teams at .500 against teams above it, while Titans-Cardinals is a battle of .500 teams.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 2-2 v. 2-2, but again it would take the apocalypse hitting to dislodge a Cowboys game from Sunday night.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (CBS) and probably Packers-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Rams-Seahawks is the strongest game on the slate. Jets-Saints and Cardinals-Trumps are battles of two 2-2 teams. Dolphins-Bills has potential as well.

Week 17 (December 31):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

15 Comments

  1. Atsushi Idobe
    Posted October 3, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    As a Giants fan, I was really wondering if there was a chance that Giants-Broncos in Week 6 would be flexed out due to the Giants poor start, but I guess the deadline for making that decision has passed.

  2. Posted October 3, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I’m intrigued about Week 14.

    FOX has both Cowboys-Giants and Rams-Eagles and can’t protect both. If FOX protects the Cowboys/Giants (the obvious choice), I can see NBC stealing Goff/Wentz if the Rams and Eagles continue their winning ways and it’s a battle of the top 2 draft picks from 2016. Now if that happens, Baltimore-Pittsburgh actually goes to FOX right because of the new rule? So it would make sense for that to be a 1pm featured game. Could FOX actually protect Rams/Eagles and dare NBC to steal Dallas/Giants knowing the Giants are 0-4 and they already had the two teams Week 1 and maybe NBC keeps Ravens-Steelers instead and FOX keeps both Rams/Eagles and Cowboys/Giants and moves Cowboys/Giants to 1pm? Certainly keeping both at 4:25pm won’t work.

  3. Posted October 3, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Week 15:

    With the new rule, let’s say CBS doesn’t protect Patriots-Steelers and NBC steals it. Then CBS would get Cowboys-Raiders in its place. If you’re CBS and you think Cowboys-Raiders might be more valuable you would leave Patriots-Steelers unprotected and dare NBC to steal it because if they do you get Cowboys-Raiders in its place. In the old days, you protect the Patriots-Steelers, no brainer. Now you have to think about what game you get back.

  4. matts720
    Posted October 3, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Week 8

    It will be interesting to see if Raiders-Dolphins gets flexed out for Broncos-Eagles if Carr is out and the Dolphins are still struggling since CBS definitely protects Chiefs-Cowboys.

  5. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 4, 2017 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Right now, I say Eagles-Rams in Week 14 is the most likely overall game to be flexed into SNF. While NBC might not want to give up Ravens-Steelers, the Ravens by the time that decision has to be made could easily be 3-8 and the Steelers could again be middling in the AFC North (where the team that wins could finish 8-8).

    Besides Goff vs. Wentz, there is another reason I think NBC would want Eagles-Rams and the NFL might go as far as to ask FOX NOT to protect that game under any circumstances:

    NBC being able to set up that night where NBC could have “meet and greets” with all of the stars of their prime time shows there before the game and then in the stands “being seen at the game” the way we see that at Lakers (and Clippers) games on TNT/ABC/ESPN, attracting female viewers who normally don’t watch sports at all who will watch Laker games in particular just to see who is at the game. That to me if the Rams hold up in particular would be why FOX would be asked by the NFL to protect Giants-Cowboys in Week 14 and let NBC have Eagles-Rams.

    Otherwise, I don’t see any flexes before Week 17 as of now.

  6. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 4, 2017 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Matt:

    NO WAY do I see Raiders-Dolphins being flexed out in Week 9. That game is too important to Miami because of Irma and the NFL is going to want to showcase Miami’s recovery efforts from Irma that week.

  7. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 4, 2017 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    As for Week 17, I go back to my idea from last year where the NFL could make that week where all games in each conference take place simultaneously with simultaneous doubleheaders on CBS, NBC. FOX, ABC, ESPN (also airing the DT-2 Channels of ABC stations), NFL Network (also airing on the DT-2 Channels of NBC stations), FS1 (also airing on the DT-2 Channels of FOX stations) and a cable outlet owned by CBS/Viacom (that would also air on the DT-2 Channels of CBS stations).

    Such would have all games in one conference start at 3:05 PM ET and the other conference at 6:35 PM ET (which order alternates each year).

    That to me solves the Week 17 problem.

  8. Atsushi Idobe
    Posted October 4, 2017 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    With regards to Week 14 and the possibility of Eagles-Rams being flexed in Week 14, I think the fact that the two games surrounding Week 14 are likely to remain and are on the West Coast makes it seem like an even stronger possibility.

  9. cory
    Posted October 4, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Walt, I don’t see the Eagles warranting back to back Sunday Night Football appearances. Right now, they have week 13 with the Seahawks and you would flex them again in week 14 against the Rams. I don’t think Wentz has that mainstream draw yet to hold a national audience’s attention for two weeks. I think week 14 could get flexed if the Seahawks struggle and that week 13 Seahawks-Eagles game gets replaced by say the Bucs-Packers game. Then you could showcase some up and coming Bucs like Winston along side a magnet like Rodgers.

  10. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 4, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Cory:

    It would actually be three SNF appearances in four weeks for the Eagles since the Eagles are in Dallas against the Cowboys in Week 11. Moving Eagles-Rams to SNF in Week 14 would have everything to do with the RAMS and NBC being able to do a big promotional “meet and greet” with all of the stars of NBC’s prime time shows at the LA Coliseum ahead of that game and the being in the stands for that game. Then you have the top two picks of the 2016 draft going head-to-head for the first time and that’s why I would put Eagles-Rams in that slot (and I suspect FOX would not mind picking up Ravens-Steelers to replace it per the new rules).

  11. Atsushi Idobe
    Posted October 4, 2017 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Walt,

    I agree that it might be cool to have a big promotional “meet and greet” with the NBC shows’ primetime stars for a Week 14 Eagles-Rams game.

    I forgot that NBC produces Thursday Night Football, so having games in consecutive weeks in geographically close areas doesn’t mean much.

    However, it’s exciting to see the Rams have such early success and it would be great to seem them flexed to Sunday Night Football this year.

  12. Posted October 8, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    How about flexing out Oakland/Miami Week 9 for Atlanta at Carolina?

  13. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 8, 2017 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Schmolik:

    As said above, there is NO WAY the NFL will flex out Raiders-Dolphins barring both going on severe losing streaks. That game is very important to Miami because of Irma that it be in prime time.

    One other reason I can see Eagles-Rams being flexed in Week 14 if the Rams are in playoff contention (the Eagles at this point are almost certain to be) is the fact the Rams and Chargers are BOTH playing at home that Sunday (Chargers at 1:05 PM PT, Rams at 1:25 PM PT). Moving the Rams to 5:30 PM PT makes sense on that account.

  14. Cory
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Walt, I still say there is NO WAY you have 3 Sunday night appearances by the Eagles in a month’s time span…the only team that NBC might go for doing this is the Cowboys and that might even be a stretch. We know the Eagles-Cowboys will never be flexed out so the only way Eagles-Rams has a chance is if Eagles-Seahawks goes away. However, I think NBC would take Wilson over Goff any day for better national television ratings.

  15. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Cory:

    If the Eagles are 9-2 and playing for the #1 seed in the NFC while the Rams are 6-5 or 7-4 and fighting for the NFC West (a distinct possibility) when the decision has to be made, if the Steelers and Ravens fall apart completely (which the Steelers look like they just might), then I see NBC going with it because it would be so they can have a prime time game in LA.

    If the Jaguars are in contention for the NFC South (which they actually lead right now and the division winner could be 8-8 or worse) and the Seahawks are in contention for the NFC West, then Seahawks-Jaguars is also a possibility, especially since the Jags were one of two teams (Browns the other) not to have ANY prime time appearances at all this season.

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