Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 7

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 10 (November 12):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Prospects: 5-2 v. 3-3. The Broncos aren’t playing as well as they might have looked to start the season, but this’ll still 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 is the best option in terms of records, while Vikings-Skraelings and Texans-Rams are a bit more lopsided.
  • Analysis: Right now Vikings-Skraelings and Texans-Rams have the exact same pair of records as the tentative, and even if the Broncos lost and each of the two teams in one of those games won (and the Rams are on bye this week), it’s doubtful it would overcome the tentative game bias. At 4-2 v. 4-2, Saints-Bills isn’t much of an improvement either, especially given how the Bills aren’t a name team. 6-2 v. 3-4 or 5-3 v. 3-4 is the sort of point when you start thinking about pulling a flex, but in a season where the league is as flat as it is it’s about as good as could be hoped for; I’m not sure 5-2 v. 5-2 with less name teams, or even Vikings-Skraelings at 6-2 v. 4-3, is going to get it done. (It also doesn’t help that the Broncos play on Monday night.) I could understand if the NFL pulls the flex, but I’d still probably be pretty surprised.
  • Final prediction: New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos (no change).

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 6-1 v. 3-3, 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: If the league needed an excuse to keep a lopsided Cowboys game, the fact that Natives-Saints is the only unprotected game involving two teams at or above .500 would do it.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 5-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of, even if the Packers go into the tank without Aaron Rodgers. And the next two weeks, the Packers are on bye and hosting the Lions; they’d need to lose that game and then lose to the Bears in the last week before the decision needs to come down to put this in serious jeopardy.
  • 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. In lieu of that, the league’s only options involving only teams at or above .500 are Saints-Rams, which depends on a night game at the Coliseum the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend being an option, or Dolphins-Patriots, which may or may not have been protected.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 6-1 v. 4-2, about as good as could be hoped for at the moment.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Saints is the best alternative at the moment, with Vikings-Falcons, Broncos-Dolphins, and Texans-Titans being dark horses.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 3-4 v. 5-2. Starting to become concerningly lopsided and the Steelers might be running away with the division, and this rivalry doesn’t have as much fire as it used to.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants or (less likely) Eagles-Rams (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Did CBS leave Vikings-Panthers unprotected? If so, it’d be hard to beat. Is it possible for the Coliseum to host a Sunday night game in mid-December, after college football season is over but in the midst of USC finals, and would the NFL be okay with the Eagles having back-to-back Sunday night games? If so, that becomes an option, though if NBC were as desperate for it as one of my commenters thinks they’d have it scheduled to begin with (yes, no one thought the Rams would be this good, but still). But even without those two games, keep an eye on Seahawks-Jaguars. Would the NFL flex out of a game involving a rivalry that still has some resonance and a team with a fanbase far outside its home market for one involving a team most people are only aware of because they’re surprised they’re still in Jacksonville? Wait and see.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 3-3 v. 3-4, 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: If one of the teams in the tentative weren’t the Cowboys, Rams-Seahawks would be another reason not to flex in Eagles-Rams the previous week, with Dolphins-Bills a bit behind and Texans-Jaguars continuing to lurk as a dark horse.

Week 17 (December 31):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

22 Comments

  1. Posted October 24, 2017 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    I posted a FanPost on the SBNation Rams blog TurfShowTimes discussing the possibility of flexing a Rams game to SNF (I certainly referenced and publicized Morgan’s SNF Scheduling Watch so I hope you get a bigger audience).

    I also put a poll in on which game they would like to see moved to SNF giving them the choices the Texans, Saints, Eagles, and Seahawks. The Seattle game was obviously popular because they are the primary divisional opponent but the Eagles were right up there because of the Wentz/Goff matchup. There wasn’t a lot of love for either the Texans or Saints matchups among Rams Nation. Of course if you ask Houston or New Orleans they’d think differently. Then again, Houston’s busy with the Astros right now.

  2. Posted October 24, 2017 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    Totally forgot about Dolphins-Patriots as another option for November 26. If the Dolphins stay near the top (who knows, Matt Moore might rejuvenate the offense) that could be a battle for first place in the AFC East. So you can flex out the Patriots for Texans/Rams next Sunday and flex in Dolphins/Patriots on Nov. 26 and get rid of both the Broncos Nov. 12 and the Rodgers less Packers on Nov. 26 while keeping Brady on SNF at least once this season, making sure the Rams get one SNF game, and avoiding Thanksgiving return weekend and finals weekend.

    The only loser is Brees as he’s then shut out of SNF (but he still gets a TNF game if that means anything). Plus we’re still stuck with that Steelers-Ravens game on Dec. 10 but we better keep it or the Steelers lose all of their SNF games.

  3. Craig
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Is Week 9 still in play as of 10/24? I know they have to make a decision 12 days before, which would be today. Do they have to make a decision BEFORE 12 days, or can it be determined ON the 12th day?

  4. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    I would not be surprised myself if the Broncos lose Monday night AND the Saints and Bills both win that Saints-Bills replaces Pats-Broncos because there is a very good chance the Broncos could be 3-5 going into that game and in a total freefall. It would be a chance to get Drew Brees on in prime time with a Saints offense that has been rejuvenated in recent weeks.

  5. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Craig:

    They were never going to move Raiders-Dolphins unless both were real bad. Raiders had a big win on Thursday and Dolphins are in a position to win the AFC East if they get rolling.

  6. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Oh, and I certainly think the NFL would be happy to have Carson Wentz on NBC three times in four weeks if Eagles-Rams gets flexed to Sunday Night Football, especially after his showcase game Monday night against a Redskins team that now they no longer have to face the Eagles or Chiefs again could get on a major roll, snag a Wild Card and potentially return to the Linc in January for a Divisional Playoff game against the Eagles.

  7. Posted October 24, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Saints-Bills to me would be a longshot since New Orleans and Buffalo are two of if not the two smallest markets in the NFL. Drew Brees is a great and popular QB but while the Bills have a good record most people can’t name the Bills QB or any Buffalo Bills player.

  8. Posted October 24, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Morgan,

    The Los Angeles Times website has an article that quotes Joe Furin, general manager of the Coliseum, who said “there would be no restrictions on the venue playing host to a Sunday night game.” Your site will not allow me to post a link in any comment to your site.

    So if the Eagles and Rams are still playing well heading into December I would think if the Eagles/Rams wasn’t protected and the Coliseum has no problems with a night game, then the only problem I would see is three weeks of Wentz in four weeks so we don’t have to suffer yet another Steelers/Ravens game.

  9. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Schmolik:

    Thanks for the article. I suspect NBC would LOVE to have Wentz on three weeks out of four, especially since he right now is the most charismatic quarterback in the NFL. The Eagles could easily be 9-2 or 10-1 and the Rams 8-3 or 9-2 at this rate when that decision has to be made and if that happens, it’s a no-brainer, especially since FOX would have a rare opportunity to get the Steelers in the national (4:25 PM ET) window.

  10. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Adding:

    I would think in December, Steelers ticket holders would rather have Ravens-Steelers at 4:25 PM as opposed to 8:30.

  11. Atsushi Idobe
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Walt,

    I agree with you in that Eagles-Rams would probably be the leading candidate to replace Steelers-Ravens on Sunday Night Football in Week 14 if the Eagles and Rams both continue their success.

    My question is how would FOX handle the main doubleheader game in the national window (4:25 PM). With the Giants at 1-6 and out of any realistic playoff contention, no matter how well the Cowboys are playing, I have to think that game will be moved to 1:00 PM ET, despite the popularity and ratings of Cowboys-Giants games and Steelers-Ravens will become the late national game. In addition, how would Seahawks-Jaguars factor into this? I know that the Jaguars are not an popular team, but if they continue their success, maybe that game will be moved to 4:25 PM ET as well.

  12. Atsushi Idobe
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Walt,

    Piggybacking on your comment about the Steelers ticket holders preference for the game to be moved to 4:25 PM, I believe that Giants fans would welcome moving their game to 1:00 PM since that is a rare occurrence for Cowboys-Giants matchups.

    While Seahawks-Jaguars is not necessarily a popular or marquee matchup, perhaps the Jaguars fans would enjoy having a game televised to a wider audience in a late national slot, and the Seahawks would benefit if the game were moved to 4:25 PM, since west coast teams typically do not perform as well when playing at 1:00 PM ET.

  13. Atsushi Idobe
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    For Thanksgiving weekend, I have to believe Saints-Rams is also strongly in consideration, since I don’t think FOX protected that game and nobody believed that the Rams would be playing this well.

    In the past, I remember the announcers for a Thursday Night game moving from a game on one coast to another for a game on Sunday, so I don’t think travel from Washington to the west coast would prevent this game from being flexed if the Saints and Rams continue to play well.

  14. Jeff
    Posted October 25, 2017 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    Hello all,

    Great work on all of the commentary here, as usual. I am more just “watching” the football this year, as opposed to being in a position to be able to throw out my opinions on what should or shouldn’t be flexed. Life has given me some challenges to work out for the moment. I love this back and forth though and will continue to watch for your great comments. Thank you for this blog Morgan. I have been following it for probably the last 5 to 6 years at least and it is great.

    Sucks that my Packers lost Rodgers, but onward we continue. Go Pack Go !!!!

    Jeff 😉🏈

  15. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 25, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Another thing to watch out for:

    There are those who think Eli Manning could be traded to the Jaguars during the bye week for the G-Men. Although unlikely, if that happens, then Seahawks-Jaguars suddenly becomes an option for Week 14.

  16. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    With the Saints and Bills winning today, if the Broncos lose tomorrow night, I can see the NFL pulling the plug on Pats-Broncos and replacing it with Saints-Bills, who both will be no worse than 5-3 going into that game.

    And as for Week 14, if the Eagles keep winning and are 10-1 when the decision has to be made, I can see Eagles-Rams flexed as long as the Rams hold up their end and are at least in Wild Card contention.

  17. Posted October 30, 2017 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    Walt,

    Or how about replacing Denver with Texans/Rams after the show Deshaun put on yesterday vs. Seattle and the Legion of Boom? No one’s hotter than Watson right now. Buffalo’s still a really poor market and can you even name the Bills quarterback?

  18. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Saints have Drew Brees and Bills have LeSean McCoy. Saints offense vs. Bills defense is also very intriguing, plus it’s a game with potential major meaning to both conferences.

    Texans-Rams is a possibility because even at 3-5, the Texans would be far from out of it in a very weak AFC South and should be able to get well on the Colts this week (Colts could be trading T.Y. Hilton before this week is out and raise the white flag). The problem is, that game has Goff doing what the Seahawks were expected to on the Texans written all over it (Seahawks were very fortunate to escape with the win yesterday).

    Saints-Bills to me is the frontrunner if there is a change, though I can see it being Texans-Rams IF NBC knows they can get as many of the stars of their shows to be at the LA Coliseum for that game by the time the change has to be made.

    This of course all hinges on the Broncos losing tonight as is expected in Kansas City, especially since they are likely to lose again next week to the Eagles.

  19. Cory
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Walt, I still think with the NFL not flexing out the Raiders-Dolphins game with little going for it this coming Sunday, you will more than likely have no flexes this year. There are too many name teams in the tentatives that draw ratings no matter what their records are. Sunday Night Football is NFL’s mainstream game – not necessarily what game would be most intriguing based on records even if the Bills are competitive and relevant in this year’s playoff chase, a main stream viewer is not going to tune in. The more hardcore NFL fan would maybe find a Saints-Bills as a good watch, the main stream casual Sunday Night Football watcher won’t. The national TV ratings factor with name teams will out trump a good match-up of lessor teams.

  20. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Cory:

    They were never going to flex out Raiders-Dolphins because that fell in the early flex period where teams had to be REAL bad to do that. Plus, I suspect local officials in Miami would have thrown a massive hissyfit had they done that because it will be the first nationally televised event in Miami since Irma.

    Saints-Bills does have Drew Brees, while not Tom Brady does have a name QB.

  21. Walt Gekko
    Posted October 31, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Well they did decide the keep Pats-Broncos. Had the Broncos been blown out last night, I suspect Saints-Bills would have replaced it.

  22. Posted November 1, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Already Wednesday. Shouldn’t Week 8 be posted by now?

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