Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 12

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):

  • Selected game: New England @ Denver.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Dallas.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Selected game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Seattle.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Selected game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh. Regarding the changes that were made, for many the headline is “Fox would rather have Seahawks-Jaguars in the late slot than Cowboys-Giants”, but in fact the move indicates the opposite of what it seems to, serving as a testament to how much of a draw Cowboys-Giants still is even in the early slot. Cowboys-Giants now gets to anchor an early slate where the best worse team across all the games is Tampa Bay at 4-7, only two games better than the Giants, and salvage good or at least acceptable ratings for the early slot with two name teams that can pop a rating no matter what. Meanwhile, Seahawks-Jags isn’t being moved to the late slot to be Fox’s new feature game, but to serve as the undercard to Eagles-Rams, inflating ratings in Jacksonville and the Pacific Northwest and serving as a backup if Eagles-Rams gets out of hand, and given the mediocrity of the early slate might have actually gotten better distribution had it remained early; I suspect it was only chosen as the game to move late to keep the Seahawks from having to play at 10 AM in their normal time zone (the Niners have to do the same thing, but Houston is in Central time, not on the Atlantic coast, and the Niners almost want to lose at this point). I bring all this up because it has bearing on the Week 15 flex.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 5-6 v. 5-6, but as usual it would take the apocalypse hitting to dislodge a Cowboys game from Sunday night, and Oakland, at least, is still in playoff contention.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (CBS) and probably Packers-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Rams-Seahawks would be a good choice to flex in under more ideal circumstances. Any other games would involve going to teams below .500, and Cardinals-Trumps is the only game that stays with teams at 5-6 or above.
  • Analysis: If there is an argument for the league flexing in Rams-Seahawks, it’s the fact that right now it’s pinned to the 4 PM ET timeslot on the singleheader network when the doubleheader network’s protected game will in all likelihood determine home field in the NFC. Fox’s own protected game could feature the return of Aaron Rodgers so while Rams-Seahawks would be an attractive game to show in the home markets of teams with CBS early games, it’s probably not worth diluting Packers-Panthers distribution and undermining the CBS feature game to broaden Rams-Seahawks’ reach. The NFL has stepped in to broaden the distribution of potentially under-distributed singleheader-network games (especially those otherwise pinned to 4:05) before, most notably with the “protection override” of Chiefs-Broncos a few years ago (even Saints-Rams being crossflexed to CBS this past week arguably falls in this category, though it’s also precisely the situation for which the crossflex was developed regardless of original timeslot). But the Cowboys have never been flexed out of Sunday night, even when circumstances would absolutely warrant it with any other team, and  with a game that still has playoff meaning (certainly for the Raiders), NBC would scream bloody murder at losing a Cowboys game even when swapping two potentially 5-7 teams for an 8-3 v. 7-4 divisional clash featuring the big (but lukewarm) Los Angeles market.

    Notably (especially if you want to stick to the crossflex era), the league had a somewhat similar situation in Week 12 of 2014, and kept a matchup between the top two teams in the NFC West, the Cardinals at Seahawks, 8-1 v. 6-3 at the time the decision had to be made (with the Cardinals holding the league’s best record), in the late time slot of the Fox singleheader playing second fiddle to the 7-2 Lions at the 7-2 Patriots, while keeping CBS’ late slot anchored by a much more mediocre Dolphins-Broncos contest that stood at 5-4 v. 7-2, worse than either of those Fox games. The game the league kept on NBC that time involved a Cowboys team with a much less disappointing season (the problem was lopsidedness, not overall mediocrity), their opponents the Giants were and are a bigger draw in their own right than the Raiders, and all else being equal the Rams can probably pop a bigger rating than the Cardinals, but given the league’s other history with Cowboys SNF games color me skeptical that they’ll pull the trigger now.

  • Final prediction: Dallas Cowboys @ Oakland Raiders (no change).

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
2 teams at 5-6
6-5 5-6
6-5 5-6
NFC Playoff Picture
6-5 6-5
2 teams at 5-6
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Jaguars-Titans, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Cardinals-Seahawks.

26 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 12

  1. As for Week 14, with FOX lobbying to keep Eagles-Rams (this was noted on the Eagles Message Board), it’s likely the NFL didn’t want to do anything, though if I were in NBC’s Entertainment Division, I would have demanded Eagles-Rams for non-football reasons (mainly being able to have a “meet and greet” with the stars of NBC’s prime time shows at the LA Coliseum before the game and also have those competing on The Voice performing before the game as part of Football Night in America).

    Moving Eagles-Rams would likely have also meant a plethora of other moves that would have likely included multiple cross-flexes (including Cowboys-Giants to CBS AND Jets-Broncos and Redskins-Chargers to FOX) with Ravens-Steelers as FOX’s main game of the entire day being at 1:00 PM with the regional games at 4:25 and moving ALL of CBS’s games to 4:05 except for Cowboys-Giants that would have been at 1:00).

    It might have been a logistical nightmare seeing almost ALL games switching time slots had Eagles-Rams been flexed.

    As for Week 15, I suspect Cowboys-Raiders remains, especially if the Raiders and Chargers both win this week as they should as with the Chiefs in a massive free-fall, this game could have serious meaning on the AFC West.

    One thing the NFL could do with Week 15 would be to make a few moves:

    Currently, Broncos-Colts is an NBC game on Thursday night that I seriously doubt NBC wants to have go on the full network as it would get severely diminished ratings that Thursday. That could be changed to an NFL Network-only game with what is currently the 8:25 PM game on Saturday (Chargers-Chiefs) on NFL Network changed to a 1:00 PM game on Sunday and moved to FOX while NBC gets Rams-Seahawks on Saturday at 7:25 PM ET with it also airing on NFL Network and Amazon Prime in place of Broncos-Colts being on NBC on Thursday Night (game moved up to 7:25 to best assure Saturday Night Live starts on time) with the early game that Saturday on NFL Network, Bears-Lions also moved up an hour to 3:30 on Saturday. Eagles-Giants could be moved to the 4:05 PM Sunday slot to replace Rams-Seahawks. While not in the normal flex rules, the NFL obviously could not have anticipated the Rams being this good and it would be the one way they could get out of a pickle with Week 15.

    As for Week 17, I still have Jaguars-Titans as the frontrunner since that not only could be for the AFC South but a first-round bye and even the #1 seed if the Pats and Steelers stumble other than one losing to the other in Week 15. Raiders-Chargers is also possible, especially if that is a winner-take-all for the AFC West, but I do think NBC and the NFL would much rather spend New Year’s Eve in Nashville rather than Carson.

    Another possibility for the Sunday night finale if it is for the second Wild Card (and guaranteed to be for such regardless of what happens earlier on Sunday) in the AFC is Bengals-Ravens. Not as likely, but I seriously doubt anyone thought that was even possible given the Bengals got off to a 2-6 start.

  2. Week 14;

    I don’t think we’ll ever know whether FOX actually protected Cowboys/Giants or Eagles/Rams. If they had to choose early, I suspect they chose Cowboys/Giants but if they chose late, I suspect Eagles/Rams. I don’t think they owed FOX anything by not flexing the Eagles/Rams game to SNF, it was probably as Morgan would say “tentative game bias” as to why Ravens/Steelers stayed.

    Week 15:

    No doubt CBS protected Patriots/Steelers and it will be the late doubleheader game. That limits any cross flex possibility like there was for Saints/Rams this past Sunday.

    Unfortunately that means we can’t use the 1pm slot and either we’re stuck with Rams/Seahawks at 4:05pm on FOX in the singleheader slot or Cowboys/Raiders moving back to FOX in the same slot (can’t be a 1pm game since it’s in Oakland). Right now it’s 8-3/7-4 vs. 5-6/5-6. Rams are a heavy favorite, Seattle is a big underdog so that looks like 9-3/7-5. Dallas is a slight favorite while the Raiders are a huge favorite over the inept Giants so that would either be 5-7/6-6 or 6-6/6-6. This would be the last chance to get the Rams on SNF and if we’re sick of Ravens-Steelers you know we’re sick of the Cowboys! So pull the plug! Besides, you know the NFL wants to stick it to Jerry Jones some more!

  3. Schmolik:

    Usually, the NFL can’t flex games like I was proposing, but this is a unique case and the NFL has on occasion bended the rules to fit certain circumstances.

  4. One other thought:

    Citing best interests, the NFL could work a deal where there is a three-way flex between where CBS gives up Pats-Steelers with Rams-Seahawks moved to 4:25 PM ET on CBS and FOX gets Cowboys-Raiders at 4:05 PM (since CBS already has Titans-49ers at 4:25 PM in addition to Pats-Steelers). As compensation for doing so, CBS could be given what is normally NBC’s Thanksgiving night game next season with NBC replacing that with a new, Wednesday-after-Thanskgiving game tied to the tree lighting in Rockerfeller Plaza that could be hosted by the Jets (especially if in the offseason they get Kirk Cousins) with the Jets and their opponent getting their bye week immediately ahead of that game OR CBS getting a Thanksgiving Eve (Wednesday) night game next season (with the teams getting a bye week ahead of that game).

    That to me might be the way to do it.

  5. No disrespect to you Walt, because I love your insight, but only Sunday games will be flexed to Sunday Night Football if there is a move.

    I sure hope that Schmolik is right and they pull the plug on Dallas @ Oakland in Week 15 and give us Rams @ Seahawks.

    And like I said on the other post from Sunday Night, for Week 17 I still have Jack @ Tenn as #1, the Peach Bowl stricken Carolina @ Atlanta #2…..& a possible dark horse Oakland @ Chargers coming on strong. I see you on board with me on that Walt, but for some reason Morgan isn’t. Any insight into the reason you’re not Morgan? 30k seat stadium by chance?

    And Walt, good catch on Bengals @ Ravens sneaking up on us. Morgan doesn’t have that either.

    Go Pack Go this Sunday at Lambeau vs the Bucs. ????☺????

  6. I am going to throw a LONG SHOT into the Week 17 bucket of potentials….how about a Rodgers Vs Stafford showdown for the final NFC Wild Card Spot with the loser going home? While the Jacksonville @ Tennessee match up may be important in the playoff picture, you will probably get a historically low TV rating because of it being two teams not many follow. I think NBC would take any other game that has any potential of significance over a “snoozer” that many would see this game as.

  7. As for Week 15, this year will test our theory on how much weight the Cowboys name carries in the world of NBC and the NFL….stay tuned for the results 😛

  8. Cory:

    Jaguars-Titans I suspect will be for the AFC South and possibly the #1 seed in the AFC. It’s New Year’s Eve so you’re going to get whatever rating for SNF you’re going to get no matter what since many people will be at New Year’s Eve parties. That game likely trumps all others UNLESS Raiders-Chargers is winner-take-all for the AFC West (which could very well be in place before the Raiders take the field) Raiders have such a huge national fan base that they will easily flood the stadium in Carson (to where the NFL should consider consulting with USC about moving that game to the LA Coliseum where it would at least not be as much of a “home” game for the former LA Raiders) that if that game is a defacto playoff game,

    Packers-Lions is possible, but by then the Pack could be out of the picture for the second Wild Card (I have both Wild Cards coming out of the South in the NFC).

    As said, Bengals-Ravens is a longshot right now as the Bengals have to beat the Steelers on Monday first and then win at least two of the next three to be in the mix.

    As for Panthers-Falcons, the only way I see that being flexed is where that game is also moved to Saturday Night because Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Peach Bowl Officials likely will make clear it otherwise has to be played at 1:00 PM due to the Peach Bowl taking place at 12:30 on New Year’s Day.

  9. I meant in the last post Raiders-Chargers in Week 17 could be winner-take-all for the AFC West BEFORE the Raiders take the field in Philly against the Eagles Christmas Night where the Eagles game is completely meaningless.

  10. What I would do with Week 15 is do a protection override and move Pats-Steelers to SNF with Rams-Seahawks moved to CBS at 4:25 AND Cowboys-Raiders on FOX at 4:05 as noted above, with as compensation for CBS losing Pats-Steelers next season, CBS getting a prime time game on Thanksgiving Eve with the teams playing that game that Wednesday getting a bye week ahead of that game. That would be the first game of Week 12 next season.

  11. I doubt Thanksgiving Eve will ever happen unless the TV contracts get renegotiated and the players agree for it. How would that fit into the schedule? Would a team play the Sunday before? Would they have to have a bye the Sunday before and would they then play the Sunday after? I think the logistics of a Wednesday game would be a nightmare.

  12. Well all, with the Cowboys stomping the Skins tonight and a likely Raiders victory over the Geno Smith (good God, really?!?!?!?!) led Giants, the apocalypse is not going to happen and we are stuck with Dallas @ Oakland for SNF on Week 15. This is now only the 2nd time that we saw no flex on SNF for a whole season. Oh well.

  13. Actually, there is another way to do it that I think would make the NFL and all broadcast partners happy, bending the flex rules to solve this problem:

    Broncos-Colts on Thursday becomes an NFL Network-only game (that game is scheduled for NBC).

    The Saturday games are both moved up an hour to 3:30 PM ET (Bears-Lions) and 7:25 PM ET with NBC getting the 7:25 PM ET game (starting then so to keep Lorne Michaels happy since Saturday Night Live would likely still start on time with a 7:25 PM ET kickoff).

    Cowboys-Raiders, the current Sunday night game is moved to Saturday at 7:25 PM while still airing on NBC (and NFL Network and Amazon Prime).

    Chargers-Chiefs, current scheduled for 8:25 PM on NFL Network that Saturday night becomes a FOX game at 1:00 PM ET Sunday.

    Eagles-Giants becomes the “pinned” game on FOX at 4:05 PM ET with CBS still allowed to air Pats-Steelers in New York since the Jets and Giants are both currently scheduled for 1:00 and NYC would likely complain if both NY teams play at 1:00.

    Rams-Seahawks becomes the SNF game without NBC actually losing a game.

    That would solve the problem and the NFL has bended the flex rules before.

  14. Walt, I do not see precedence in ten years of a game moving a day from Saturday to Sunday or vice versa. At this time of year, I highly doubt it would happen on such short notice. Fans know the time of game can change but day of game is a different story. You are telling fans going to the Raiders game instead of going to the game on Sunday to go on Saturday is very different than instead of going at 8:25pm ET vs. 4:25pm ET (or telling Chiefs fans instead of the game Saturday 8:25pm ET it is now Sunday 1:00pm ET). You may think these are easy changes for TV but for fans paying hundreds of dollars for tickets it isn’t as easy.

  15. As for the problem with the two New York teams at the same time, if you move Eagles-Giants to 4:05pm you would block Patriots-Steelers from New York which is bad. But you can cross flex Jets-New Orleans to 4:05pm on FOX which would still allow New York to get NE-Pitt (NO would get screwed but they are a tiny market). The CBS New Orleans market would lose one of the Saints games but they just had a huge one crossflexed to them with the Saints-Rams one last week so they shouldn’t complain.

    Then I think the Cowboys-Raiders and Rams-Seattle switch SHOULD happen. Why? Besides the fact Eagles fans hate the Cowboys? Right now the Bay Area isn’t getting the Patriots-Steelers game anyway since Titans-49ers is airing the same time on CBS. If the Rams-Seahawks stays on FOX at 4:05pm then Seattle is screwed out of NE-Pitt. Switch the games and Dall-Oak moves into that slot on FOX. Who loses Pats/Steelers? The Bay Area! Well they’re not getting the game anyway! But now Seattle gets the big AFC game! So you’ve gained a market for your marquee game.

    Summarizing: NYJ-NO and Dall-Oak to 4:05pm on FOX, Rams-Sea to 8:25pm on NBC, NFL I expect a check in the mail.

  16. In addition to moving the Jets-Saints to 4:05pm, assuming the NFL won’t budge on the Cowboys, they can move Titans/49ers to FOX at 4:05pm. In this scenario, while San Fran still can’t air NE-Pitt, Tennessee can (won’t mean much in the grand scheme but Patriots/Steelers fans in Tennessee will be happy and they won’t miss their Titans).

  17. Schmolik:

    Yes, there would be inconveniences if days were switched, however, a large part of this particular issue is that the NFL never anticipated the Rams being this good.

    The reasons I make the moves I do is because no one outside of the Rockies and Indy are going to care about Broncos-Colts (few thought both teams would be this bad), which is why I change that game to an NFL Network-only game on Thursday and let NBC have what was supposed to be an NFL Network-only spot on Saturday (again, moved up to 7:25 to accommodate Saturday Night Live as SNL is a new episode) with Raiders-Cowboys moved there, Chargers-Chiefs becoming FOX’s main game on Sunday and Rams-Seahawks moved to SNF with Eagles-Giants moved to the “pinned” spot at 4:05 (and CBS getting a blackout exemption that allows Pats-Steelers to air on CBS in New York opposite Giants-Eagles). This keeps the Cowboys on NBC (albeit also on NFL Network and Amazon Prime) while Rams-Seahawks is out of the “pinned” spot.

  18. Schmolik:

    I do have where the NFL has moved a game before, before the “flex” rules in fact:

    In 2001, after 9/11 when the World Series was pushed back a week, the NFL actually had to move a game from Sunday up to Thursday because that Sunday wound up being Game 2 of the World Series: Giants-Redskins was supposed to be the Sunday Night game on ESPN and that got moved to 4:05 PM because the Giants played the preceding Monday Night with another game moved to Thursday Night (I forget which) since that night had no World Series game (back then, the NFL did NOT schedule a Sunday Night game the day of Game 2 or 5 of the World Series). There are precedents that would allow the NFL to make such moves when needed.

  19. Precedence being 9/11, precedence being Hurricane Harvey earlier this season causing Miami/Tampa Bay moving from Week 1 back to November. I highly doubt moving games now just to get a few more TV viewers are in the same category as natural disasters and 9/11!

  20. Schmolik:

    True, but this appears to be an unprecedented situation where such moves are warranted for TV. TV viewership is paramount and I think the NBC would do far better with Cowboys Raiders and Rams-Seahawks in some combination on Saturday and Sunday night as opposed to leaving Broncos-Colts on Thursday and either keeping Cowboys-Raiders on Sunday or swapping it for Rams-Seahawks (or the three-way flex noted where Rams-Seahawks goes to CBS, Cowboys-Raiders to FOX and Pats-Steelers to NBC).

  21. Rejoice Rejoice Raiders fans this will be a great Sunday Night game it’s worth watching I Will watch Cowboys Raiders On December 17. it’s going to be good. As For week 17 My 1st choice I Hope will be Raiders Chargers but my 2nd Choice will be Jags Titans But I Hope it won’t be Packers Lions this year Because NBC Dosen’t want to air The Packers 2 Weeks in a row Because ESPN Already aired the first meeting Last month in Green Bay.

  22. Andrew:

    As long as Jags-Titans is for the AFC South AND a 1st round bye (both very possible), I suspect NBC would take that game as it’s New Year’s Eve and I doubt the ratings needed would move much with a “more attractive” game in the slot.

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