Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 9

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):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-4 v. 6-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of. The Packers haven’t won since Aaron Rodgers went down, but those games were against good, playoff-worthy teams. The Lions are a little more concerning as they were 3-4 before the game, but the Packers would need to lose to the 3-5 Bears for this game to be 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. Panthers-Jets might sneak in if I was wrong about Fox’s protection (Bucs-Falcons was also somewhat viable at the time).
  • Analysis: For reasons I lay out below, Saints-Rams may well be a viable option. USC’s season would be over except for a possible Pac-12 Championship Game trip, which I believe would be at Levi’s Stadium. It would pit a big market, albeit one that’s lukewarm towards having their own NFL team (let alone two), against a name team in its own right, and two division leaders at what’s currently 6-2. It’s an iffier proposition than in two weeks, but if it looks like the Packers are going into freefall without Aaron Rodgers, it’d be hard for the league not to make the flex. Panthers-Jets and Dolphins-Pats would result in less unplanned travel from Washington, but would need the weaker AFC East teams to win (and the Dolphins have a Monday night tilt with the Panthers). If the Packers lose, expect me to have a convoluted prediction in my Last-Minute Remarks.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 8-1 v. 5-3, a skosh lopsided but the Seahawks are still very much in the playoff mix.
  • 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 only game involving only teams above .500. Vikings-Falcons and Rams-Cardinals might also be viable, but it’d be very hard for them to overcome the tentative game bias under the circumstances.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-5 v. 6-2. The Ravens aren’t quite out of the playoff race, but the Steelers may be pulling away with the division, and this rivalry doesn’t have the fire it used to.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants (FOX).
  • Other possible games: I didn’t look at the comments on my Week 7 post until I started putting this one together, so I didn’t see that the general manager of the Coliseum is now on record saying that “there are no restrictions on the venue playing host to a Sunday night game”. The article is specifically in the context of Eagles-Rams, so I’m not sure how much that applies to Saints-Rams which would be more unbeatable, or even if the article being about Eagles-Rams itself implies that Saints-Rams can’t be flexed to primetime (regardless I have to assume the fact the article talks about it implies that Eagles-Rams wasn’t protected). As it stands Eagles-Rams may have to contend with a Vikings-Panthers game that’s nearly as strong record-wise, and if Saints-Rams gets flexed the NFL may want to stay away from flexing in a second Rams home game if it has another viable option. Of course all this assumes CBS didn’t protect Vikings-Panthers. Seahawks-Jaguars also remains an intriguing option, but I’m not even sure it would replace Eagles-Rams as Fox’s featured late game if Eagles-Rams were flexed in, the Jags have that little juice. But it’d still have more juice than the emerging dark horse Titans-Cardinals.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 5-3 v. 4-5, but again it would take the apocalypse hitting to dislodge a Cowboys game from Sunday night.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (confirmed) (CBS) and probably Packers-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Rams-Seahawks looks to be a very strong potential option. Dolphins-Bills and Cardinals-Trumps are dark horses.

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
5-3 4-5
4-5 4-5
NFC Playoff Picture
2 teams at 4-4
6-3 3-5
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Jaguars-Titans, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Cowboys-Eagles, Cardinals-Seahawks.