Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 8

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):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 7-1 v. 4-3, but when it’s the Cowboys the records don’t matter, and these are the top two teams in the division.
  • 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: Bengals-Broncos and Cardinals-Texans pit two 3-4 teams against each other, and Natives-Saints pits a 3-4 team against a 5-2 team. You’d have to take a below-.500 team if I’m right about the protections.
  • Analysis: The protected games, especially Rams-Vikings, are juicier, but it’s hard to imagine the league flexing out of a game featuring a Cowboys team above .500 (at that mark at worst) going up against what might be the best team in the league.
  • Final prediction: Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys (no change).

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 6-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of, even if the Packers go into the tank without Aaron Rodgers. The Packers would need to lose to the Lions this week, and then 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: 7-1 v. 5-2, 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 and Vikings-Falcons are the only games involving only teams above .500.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-4 v. 6-2. The Ravens have snapped their losing skid, but the Steelers might be starting to run 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: 4-3 v. 3-5, 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. Texans-Jaguars, Bengals-Vikings, and Cardinals-Trumps are worth keeping an eye on as games involving teams at 3-4.

Week 17 (December 31):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

14 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 8

  1. A lot is going to depend on how the Ravens do the next couple of weeks concerning Week 14, but if Eagles-Rams has potentially the #1 seed in the NFC in play, I can see the NFL “strongly suggest” to FOX to let NBC have that game and take Ravens-Steelers, especially since it would be a rare chance for FOX to have the Steelers in the main national window and possibly by itself at 4:25 PM on FOX with Cowboys-Giants moved to 1:00 PM ET (something Giants season ticket holders would want actually).

    As for Week 15, a lot has to play out, especially with Ekiziel Elliott’s suspension as Cowboys-Raiders right now would be Elliott’s first game back from that suspension. If the Cowboys start that suspension 0-5 and are 4-8 when that decision has to be made, especially if the Raiders continue to fall down there is a good chance of Rams-Seahawks being flexed to SNF since that is a 4:05 PM ET Game.

    Yes, it would mean two straight weeks of the Rams being flexed in and the Eagles being on SNF three times in four weeks (with the Rams also potentially being flexed into SNF three times in four weeks if the Week 12 game against the Saints is ALSO flexed into SNF), but with the top two quarterbacks in the 2016 draft on between them five times in as many weeks (including the Week 14 game against each other and that becoming six times in as many weeks if Saints-Rams in Week 12 is also flexed in), I can see NBC quite happy with that.

    As for the others, there is NO WAY either Eagles game currently in the mix will be flexed out, especially if the Eagles win this week as expected against the Broncos as they will be 8-1 going into the bye and at worst 7-3 regardless when the Week 13 decision is due.

  2. Looks like we’re stuck with Denver next week. But the NFL doesn’t want to lose Tom Brady’s last scheduled SNF game.

    Nov. 19: At this point nobody knows whether or not Elliott will or won’t be suspended. At this point it’s Wentz’s first SNF game of the season and the Cowboys haven’t been on since the first game on so even if Zeke doesn’t play the ratings still will be high (might be even higher with all the attention). Maybe with all the anger between Goodell/NFL and Jerry Jones the NFL wants to punish the Cowboys by yanking the Cowboys off SNF but that would be punishing themselves. That game is going nowhere, Elliott or no Elliott. I would say I’m sick of seeing the Cowboys (they could have all their starters suspended but they’d still be on SNF) but not when they’re playing the Eagles!

    Nov. 26/Dec. 10: I don’t have a problem with showing the Steelers. I have a problem with showing the Aaron Rodgers less Packers. Similarly on Dec. 10, we’ve seen way too many Steelers/Ravens games although they did beat Miami 40-0 (although maybe that just means the Dolphins suck). I just think the Rams need to get on SNF and why do the Steelers need two SNF in three weeks against two lousy teams, one vs. an opponent we see on SNF every year when we can go the entire year without seeing the Rams not in prime time?

    So obviously to get the Rams onto prime time the Steelers lose a SNF game. Nothing personal against them, it’s the Packers and Ravens. If Aaron Rodgers is still playing, of course we don’t touch that game. At the very least, move Cowboys-Giants to 1pm so more people can see Wentz-Goff at 4:25pm instead of just Philly and Los Angeles. Or how about make Eagles-Rams the featured 4:25pm game instead of Giants-Cowboys that week? You think there’s any chance Aikman does the Eagles-Rams game instead of the Giants-Cowboys that week? Yeah right. But again, no matter what, I’m going to see Goff and the Rams.

  3. Well, I took some time to look at the standings and decided to throw in some guesses for the Week 17 Sunday Night Football game. Currently there’s only 4 matchups with teams at .500 or above. My #1 choice is Jack(4-3) @ Tenn(4-3). This will likely be for the AFC South title, now that DeShaun Watson tore his ALL. Pretty horrible break for Houston. My #2 is Carolina(5-3) @ Atlanta(4-3). My #3 is Buffalo(5-2,now 5-3) @ Miami(4-3). My #4 is Dallas(4-3) @ Philadelphia(7-1).

    That’s it for now folks. Go Pack Go!!! And here’s to a fun rest of Week 9. ????????????????????

  4. Jaguars-Titans looks the most logical candidate for Week 17 if it’s guaranteed to be for the AFC South, especially if the loser is out.

    Panthers-Falcons I don’t think can be put on SNF because officials at Mercedes-Benz Stadium have to get the stadium ready for the Peach Bowl at 12:30 PM on New Year’s Day.

  5. Nobody outside of Jacksonville wants to see the Jaguars! Just because it’s a winner take all game doesn’t mean I want to watch. Jacksonville-Tennessee would probably be the lowest rated SNF game of the season even if it is winner take all. Of course being on New Year’s Eve doesn’t help (the College Football Playoff lucked out this year is Rose Bowl-Sugar Bowl year so that the playoffs are on New Year’s Day). The only way Jax-Tenn is the SNF game is if there is no other choice. I remember when Seattle won the NFC West at 7-9 (Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman weren’t even on that team although Marshawn Lynch was) and their game was on SNF because it was a winner take all. I thought the game was so pathetic I refused to watch.

    Dall-Phil would be for the NFC East if Elliott can avoid suspension and Philly doesn’t run away from Dallas. In that scenario it could also be winner wins East loser is wild card, similar to last year with Packers-Lions (I say that since the Eagles are 7-1 but we were 7-1 a few years back and missed the playoffs at 10-6. It may also be a game where Dallas is fighting for the last playoff spot and the Eagles just want to keep them out of the playoffs?)

    I think Buffalo and Miami would obviously be for a wild card since New England will win the division. Again, nobody really cares to see either team and Miami just traded their top running back to the Eagles.

    Atlanta/Carolina could be for a wild card or even the division if the Saints fade/fall to the pack. That could get interesting and Matt Ryan/Cam Newton are QB’s worth watching. But there’s the issue of the Peach Bowl too.

    This is one of those NFL’s going to get screwed no matter what since it’s New Year’s Eve anyway.

  6. What the NFL ought to do in the future if New Year’s falls on a Monday is have the final day be Saturday and yield Sunday to the College Bowl games. It’s always awkward when the NFL has to play on New Year’s Eve.

    This is also why I proposed making the last week where all ganes in each conference are at the same time with no SNF game and all games airing between the various TV partners plus a couple of extra on cable (with DT-2 OTA airings of cable games) with one conference at 3:00 PM ET and the other at 6:45 PM ET. That would eliminate that issue and NBC could be compensated for losing the final Sunday with a new, Wednesday-after-Thanksgiving game hosted on an alternating basis by the Jets and Giants tied to the tree lighting in Rockerfeller Plaza that would be at halftime of such game.

  7. Well:

    After the early games its safe to say the Eagles will NOT be Flexed out of SNF in weeks 11 or 13 and I suspect with the Rams romping as they are, I think the NFL is going to “strongly suggest” to FOX they give up Eagles-Rams to NBC and take Ravens-Steelers and if necessary give concessions to FOX to make it happen.

  8. Did FOX protect Eagles-Rams in Week 13 or did they protect Cowboys-Giants? If FOX didn’t protect Eagles-Rams, there’s no concessions to make. Certainly if NBC does take Eagles/Rams from FOX they get Steelers/Ravens back (if that game is worth anything to FOX). The other issue is to USC/Coliseum as to allowing the game on Sunday night but someone at the Coliseum said it was fine. The fact that they asked lends me to believe that the Eagles/Rams game wasn’t protected (otherwise it would be a moot point). I have a feeling if the game wasn’t protected and it can be flexed at this point barring a sudden downturn by either team we will be seeing Wentz vs. Goff in prime time on Dec. 10 and we will be saved from Steelers-Ravens Part 20!

  9. Well, after today, unless the Packers fall apart the next couple of weeks I suspect the Rams could wind up being flexed into Sunday Night Football three times in four weeks:

    Week 12 at home against the Saints (with Packers-Steelers going to FOX and either Panthers-Jets or Bears-Eagles cross-flexed to CBS)

    Week 14 at home against the Eagles (with Ravens-Steelers to FOX)

    Week 15 in Seattle against the Seahawks (with Cowboys-Raiders to FOX), especially if the game is likely to have the NFC West on the line.

    The Eagles trip out west in weeks 13 & 14 could decide who wins the NFC West.

  10. Even with the Eagles and Rams doing well at the moment be careful of going overboard, I don’t think NBC is all of sudden going to switch over to “Sunday Night Football featuring the Eagles and Rams”. You might get their head to head match up in Week 14 flexed IF it is not protected by FOX and the two tentative Eagles games (Cowboys & Seahawks)will stay but I think that is all. Neither the Eagles nor Rams are a major ratings force and the Rams home market is luke warm to them at best. With the Steelers-Packers game being Thanksgiving weekend, I think it would be unlikely to be flexed out because of messing with a lot of people’s holiday plans-think about telling all the stadium personnel in LA on a 2 week notice they now have to work and cancel any travel or family plans they have. Plus the Steelers-Packers are ratings gold by themselves-now they are playing each other granted without Rodgers but they still will draw big combined.

  11. Cory:

    You forget with Eagles-Rams or Saints-Rams, it’s also about NBC being able to have all the stars of their shows at the LA Coliseum for a meet-and-greet ahead of the game and in the stands at the game. That to me was the main reason the networks for YEARS wanted teams in LA and with the Rams in contention for a division title and at worst a playoff berth, I suspect you will see a much different crowd this week against a Texans team they should beat to get to 7-2.

    Eagles are a big draw because of Carson Wentz, who has advanced to the mainstream of popularity in very short order. Eagles-Rams also is a battle of the two top picks of the 2016 draft.

    As for the Steelers games being moved, their season ticket holders would be very happy with Packers-Steelers becoming FOX’s main game at 1:00 PM (singleheader week for FOX) while Ravens-Steelers becoming FOX’s main game at 4:25 PM in week 14. FOX has a chance to get the Steelers twice and would gladly exchange the Rams games for the Steelers if asked by the NFL.

  12. I still think the mainstream Sunday Night Football viewer is not that hooked on Wentz and Goff yet that we would need to watch them week in and week out for the rest of the season. It would even be a tough sell to suggest the mighty Cowboys need that much Sunday Night exposure in such a short time span. I still stand by the “Name Teams” putting more butts on the couch than a streaking Eagles or Rams team would and its all about ratings for NBC.

  13. Good stuff schmolik, Walt, & Cory.

    As for Week 11, that has to be decided by tomorrow, there has been no change in schedule yet. That’s per …currently there are 8 early games and 3 later games slated. Rams @ Vikings could be flexed from early to late and cross-flexed to CBS for their game of the week, as it is their doubleheader. Currently they have Cincy @ Denver and New England vs. Oakland at Mexico City as their doubleheader games and maybe LA/Minny would make another good option. Though the NFL will probably leave well enough alone. We’ll know by tomorrow.

    Go Pack Go tonight at Lambeau vs the kittens. ????????????????????

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