Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

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 Week 5’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). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 9 (November 5):

  • Tentative game: Oakland @ Miami
  • Prospects: 2-4 v. 3-2. Okay, not great, but not necessarily something worth burning the first-ever early flex on either.
  • Possible alternatives: With the Chiefs still maxed out on primetime appearances, expect CBS to protect Broncos-Eagles over Chiefs-Cowboys, and with their next-best available game being 3-3 v. 3-3, don’t expect them to be much of a factor for losing a game. For Fox, Falcons-Panthers (3-2 v. 4-2) and Washington-Seahawks (3-2 v. 3-2) are their best games.
  • Analysis: Let’s say both teams in the tentative lose to go to 2-5 v. 3-3, while all four of the potential Fox games win to create two games at 4-2 v. 5-2 and 4-2 v. 4-2. Does the NFL pull the early flex on the game Fox doesn’t protect? It’s certainly tempting, assuming there aren’t further restrictions than are already known to keep the NFL from using early flexes on any but the most catastrophically bad tentatives.

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 3-2, attractive enough to be difficult to beat.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Colts if anything (CBS) and probably Cowboys-Falcons (FOX). (Texans-Rams likely does not need to be protected, to avoid trying to host a night game at the LA Coliseum, though this isn’t really known for certain; this also affects other Rams home games below.)
  • Other possible games: Saints-Bills and Vikings-Skraelings are the best options, while Texans-Rams lurks a step or two behind.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 2-3, 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: Natives-Saints is the only game between two teams above .500, with Cardinals-Texans pitting two teams at that mark.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 4-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of, even if the Packers go into the tank without Aaron Rodgers.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games. 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 at least be under consideration for a move to Sunday night. Bucs-Falcons is also a game Fox might have protected if I was wrong about their protection, though it’s a bit iffier. Saints-Rams would be an option if a night game at the Coliseum was an option. That leaves only games involving teams at .500 (Panthers-Jets, Jaguars-Cardinals) unless CBS protected Broncos-Raiders to leave Dolphins-Patriots open.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 3-2, and if the Seahawks play more like the Seahawks of old from now on it’ll be very difficult to beat.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Vikings-Falcons, Panthers-Saints, and Broncos-Dolphins are the best options, with Rams-Cardinals a viable dark horse. Chiefs-Jets would at least be a dark horse if the Chiefs weren’t still maxed out and it weren’t a skosh lopsided. Lions-Ravens and Texans-Titans pit two 3-3 teams.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 3-3 v. 4-2 and for the AFC North lead if it were played today.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants or (less likely) Eagles-Rams (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Vikings-Panthers is a pretty strong potential matchup if CBS left it unprotected; only Eagles-Rams could really come on par with it, but neither is likely to overcome the tentative game bias at this point even if Coliseum night games were an option. Seahawks-Jaguars, Jets-Broncos, and Titans-Cardinals are dark horses.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 2-3 v. 2-4, 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, with Dolphins-Bills a bit behind and Jets-Saints and Cardinals-Trumps dark horses. Texans-Jaguars is a bit further back than that as a battle of 3-3 teams, but would be for the AFC South lead if played today.

Week 17 (December 31):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

15 Comments

  1. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 18, 2017 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    As said in other posts, I do NOT see Raiders-Dolphins (Week 9) being flexed out under any circumstances. I suspect elected officials in Miami would throw a massive hissyfit if Raiders-Dolphins were flexed out.

    Week 10:
    Seriously doubt Patriots-Broncos gets flexed out.

    Week 11:
    Seriously doubt Eagles-Cowboys gets flexed out unless the Cowboys falter to say 2-6 by the time that decision has to be made and they are completely out of it.

    Week 12:
    Seriously doubt Packers-Steelers gets flexed out. Two brand names and the Steelers seemed to have gotten their act together.

    Week 13:
    Seriously doubt Eagles-Seahawks gets flexed out. By the time this game is played, the #1 seed in the NFC could be on the line.

    Week 14:
    It looks like right now Steelers-Ravens remains in place, but I suspect there may be a lot of pressure from officials in Florida to “make nice” with the Jaguars by moving Seahawks-Jaguars to SNF should the Jags be still in contention for the AFC South when such a decision has to be made. Also still think the NFL would make it worth it to USC to look the other way and allow Eagles-Rams to be on SNF (if not protected) so NBC can do a big “meet and greet” with ALL of the stars of NBC’s shows ahead of the game that Sunday and have them all at the game afterwards.

    Week 15:
    If the Cowboys and Raiders both continue to falter and are out of realistic playoff contention (say both are 4-9) when the decision has to be made), then I suspect if Rams-Seahawks has the potential to be for the NFC West, then that replaces it (that is a 4:05 PM ET game on FOX that because of restrictions can’t go to the whole country that week). If the Packers somehow stay in contention without Rodgers and the Panthers bounce back, then Packers-Panthers is a possible replacement on SNF (if not protected by FOX). Same for Cardinals-Redskins should the Cardinals show beyond this past week they are not a pretender.

    Week 17:
    Right now the most likely game to actually have meaning the final week is Jaguars-Titans. The winner of that game could win the AFC South.

    One game that in all likelihood CAN NOT be flexed under any circumstances to SNF in Week 17 or even possibly to 4:25 PM is Panthers-Falcons due to the Peach Bowl (New Year’s Six Bowl Game) taking place at 12:30 PM on New Year’s Day. They are going to have a very short turnaround as it is getting Mercedes-Benz Stadium ready for the Peach Bowl after Panthers-Falcons the day before and I seriously doubt Peach Bowl officials will allow the NFL to move the game to 1:00 PM and if the NFL tried to might be taken to court by the Peach Bowl Committee, likely if so concerned about how having SNF there on New Year’s Eve would ruin the experience for people coming the next day for the Peach Bowl, especially if they only had say nine hours between the end of SNF and opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Peach Bowl to get the stadium ready for the latter event (especially given how difficult it likely would be to get staff to do that turnaround during the overnight on very short notice). Given a good portion of that part of the country is where College Football is actually bigger than the NFL, I suspect the NFL would be up against it if they tried to force Panthers-Falcons to SNF if it created potential problems for the Peach Bowl the next day.

  2. Posted October 18, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Walt, I highly doubt any elected people in Florida really care that much about whether Miami Dolphins games are played at night or day or whether they get flexed or not and probably care less about Jacksonville Jaguars games.

  3. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 18, 2017 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Actually agree on the elected officials part, but knowing how elected officials in New York have in the past forced time changes on MLB and NFL games involving New York teams (mainly when the Jewish Holidays are involved), I can see where elected officials can influence the NFL in certain instances. The situations in Florida involving the Dolphins and Jaguars are such.

    BTW, the Jags and Browns actually do play each other this season, but I believe due to other scheduling issues unrelated to them the NFL scrapped having them on Thursday Night Football and went without a Thursday game in Week 16 this year (likely including the NFL having doubleheaders on the Saturday before and Christmas Day that is on a Monday this year).

  4. Posted October 19, 2017 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Interesting catch on the no TNF on Week 16 Walt. Looking at the Week 16 schedule on NFL.com, Saturday Dec. 23 at 4:30pm there is an NFLN only game at 4:30pm (Colts/Ravens) and an NBC only game at 8pm (Vikings/Packers). On Sun. Dec. 24 there are only 1, 4:05, and 4:25pm games. On Mon. Dec. 25 there is a 4:30pm game on NBC/NFLN (Steelers/Texans) and an 8:30pm ESPN game (Raiders/Eagles). I assume the Saturday game is part of the SNF package and the Mon. 4:30pm game is part of the TNF package and there are no flexes possible that week (sucks without Rodgers that week as that game could be a dud).

    As for Cleveland and Jacksonville getting stiffed out of a TNF game I thought since both had London games the league could say those were nationally televised games. Or maybe the Browns and Jaguars could have argued since they gave up home games to London they should be excused from playing on Thursday night as a result and the league excused them and it’s a good thing. Who knows? I would say a team like the Browns or Jaguars probably like having their one guaranteed prime time appearance but the Patriots or Cowboys who know they will be on SNF will find any way they can to get out of it (and the league will never let them out if it).

  5. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    One other thought:

    In years where New Year’s Day falls on a Monday, the NFL ought to consider swapping days with the College Football Playoff Comittee and have the final week’s games on Saturday (in those years December 30) rather than New Year’s Eve. That would eliminate some problems with having the last day of the season be the last day of the year, especially having the final SNF game on New Year’s Eve (though that would be eliminated as I would do it by having ALL games from each conference go simultaneously in the same window (3:00 or 6:45 PM ET) the last week with no SNF).

  6. Posted October 20, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    The NFL would never agree your plan for just two windows on the final weekend unless they can come up with some way to compensate the TV partners. Right now both CBS and FOX have doubleheaders and NBC has a SNF game. Granted many times the last game has been a dud and one time it was winner in loser out the “winner” was a 7-9 NFC Worst champion but still you can’t just take one week of SNF away from NBC without compensating them somewhere else. The NFL did get away with eliminating the last MNF by giving ESPN an opening night DH the first weekend. Technically they gave NBC the Kickoff Game and the Thanksgiving Night Game already but since NBC already “has them”, they can’t “take away” a game now without compensation some other way.

    I guess in your scenario, you could have CBS, FOX, and NBC all air games at 3 and 6:45pm at the same time on that day. To compensate losing the last SNF game, have NBC get the first choice for the best game in the 6:45pm window, then FOX or CBS gets the first choice for game in the 3pm window. The remaining network gets the next choice in both windows. Maybe it could work.

  7. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 20, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    My plan has ALL of the TV partners getting games at 3:00 & 6:45 PM ET:

    NBC gets the #1 game in each slot.

    CBS/FOX split the #2-3 games,

    ESPN/ABC split the #4-5 games (ABC is involved because all cable games have an over-the-air partner in this, ESPN game also airs on ABC DT-2 Channel).

    NFL Network (also airing on COZI-TV, NBC’s DT-2 Channel) gets the #6 Game in each slot

    FS1 and SPIKE TV (or another Viacom/CBS outlet) split the #7-8 Games in each slot with those games also airing on BUZZR, FOX’s DT-4 Channel and Decades, CBS’s DT-2 Channel).

  8. Posted October 21, 2017 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    Problem is the NFL loses a viewing window. Why have two windows when you can have three? More viewers trumps competitive balance. If they cared about competitive balance they wouldn’t have Thursday Night Football.

  9. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 21, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    You lose in this format a 1:00 PM window that almost all meaningless games in this format. This format puts ALL of the games in each conference on simultaneously (one conference at 3:00 PM, the other at 6:45).

    Many other leagues now do this. MLB puts all of its games on the last day of the regular season at 3:00 PM (starting between 3:05-3:20 PM depending on normal team start times) while the NBA does it where all games involving one conference start at 8:00 PM and the other 10:30 PM ET on the final night. Lots of other sports leagues around the world do this as well.

    NBC can be compensated for losing the final Sunday night both this way and also by:

    Adding two weeks to the regular season that would become 19 weeks with every team getting three bye weeks (at least one and sometimes two tied to mid-week games).

    Getting a new Wednesday-after-Thanksgiving game tied to the tree lighting in Rockerfeller Plaza that would alternate being hosted by the Jets and Giants with the tree lighting at halftime of that game. Teams playing that game get a bye the week before.

  10. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 22, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Certainly no chance now of Raiders-Dolphins being flexed out.

    After today, I can see where the Rams or Seahawks could be flexed in two weeks in a row (potentially in the Seahawks case meaning three straight Sunday night games): Week 15 obviously against each other (if the Raiders and/or Cowboys falter, though both seems to have righted themselves and one of the two in Week 14 (either Eagles-Rams or Seahawks-Jaguars, though I give the latter the edge right now because Seahawks-Jags could have playoff implications in both conferences).

  11. Posted October 22, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Based on Week 7 Sunday results,

    The Nov. 12 (Denver), Nov. 26 (Green Bay), and Dec. 10 (Baltimore) games have single clunkers but have teams that can carry games by themselves (New England on Nov. 12, Pittsburgh on Nov. 26 and Dec. 10). If the NFL really wants to get the Rams featured on SNF they could try for Nov. 26 and/or Dec. 10. Nov. 26 makes more sense since it gets Drew Brees on SNF when he’s currently not scheduled for any games yet. While you’d like to have Goff/Wentz, the Eagles already have two SNF games on Nov. 19 at Dallas and Dec. 3 at Seattle. Nov. 12 isn’t a bad choice for a SNF game either since it’s Goff vs. Deshaun and Houston although they were already on SNF Week 5. The question which Morgan asked already is can the Coliseum host SNF games? I think if the answer is yes, Nov. 26 is the most likely for the Rams and Goff to get their spotlight under the SNF lights. I doubt they want to take Brady and Co off SNF since they won’t have another chance this season. BTW, Seattle-Jacksonville has ZERO chance of being a SNF game. Jacksonville has no star power and their market is non existent. Seattle isn’t a big market and Russell Wilson’s popularity has cooled the last few years.

  12. Morgan Wick
    Posted October 22, 2017 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    The NFL would have a lot easier case convincing USC to let the Coliseum host an SNF game on December 10 than on November 26.

  13. Posted October 23, 2017 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    Morgan,

    November 26: Sunday after Thanksgiving, Students returning from break. Do more students come back between 1-5pm or 5-9pm? Which time would be less disruptive for students returning?

    December 10: Sunday during finals week. I would think students would appreciate the game over in the afternoon so they can have the campus quiet by nighttime so they can study.

    Maybe the compromise would be November 12 but it means yanking Tom Brady off SNF for the rest of the season. With the Steelers, you have two games. November 26 is the more attractive because Brees has no SNF while Wentz will be playing his third in four weeks. Also while Baltimore sucks at least Flacco is still a name while Hundley isn’t a name.

    I’m surprised USC agreed to a game during finals weekend. I guess they really didn’t have much choice on returning from Thanksgiving weekend since they have to fit around USC’s schedule. In 2018 I am sure Notre Dame will play at USC so that means they will play that weekend so I doubt the Rams will play the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2018.

    I am thinking the Chargers should strike a deal to play the Raiders games at the Coliseum until the new stadium opens since they can fill it for those games with Raiders fans (it’s just one more game so assuming the Rams play a game overseas it’s still just 8 games a year at the Coliseum).

  14. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 23, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    With USC hosting Notre Dame next year, I would not be surprised if the Rams host the Thanksgiving Night game next year where NBC could fully do it where the LA-based stars of their shows could be at the game. This would give LA Coliseum officials likely 48 hours to turn around the stadium for USC-Notre Dame.

    Walt

  15. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 23, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Also:

    If the Saints and Bills win next week and the Broncos lose again next Monday night, I could see NBC pulling Pats-Broncos and replacing it with Saints-Bills and a chance to get Drew Brees on in prime time with a Saints offense against a very tough Bills defense, especially with the prospect of the Broncos being in a total free-fall and 3-6 and their season on life support when the Pats come to Denver.

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