Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 13

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 16; and week 17. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games, as well as late-season Saturday games, are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturday of Week 16 this year and last – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in may receive the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 17, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. More rarely, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and last year was the first time it showed such a game. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET.

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

Week 11 (November 17):

  • Selected game: Chicago @ LA Rams.

Week 12 (November 24):

  • Selected game: Green Bay @ San Francisco.

Week 13 (December 1):

  • Selected game: New England @ Houston.

Week 14 (December 8):

  • Selected game: Seattle @ LA Rams.

Week 15 (December 15):

  • Selected game: Buffalo @ Pittsburgh.

Week 16 (December 22):

  • Tentative game: Kansas City @ Chicago
  • Prospects: 8-4 v. 6-6. The Bears are still a ways off from the playoffs, but they’ve clawed back to enough respectability for the game to keep its spot given the games this slate has lost to Saturday.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Browns if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Eagles (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Saints-Titans is the only game on the Sunday slate involving two teams over .500…
  • Analysis: …and it’s decently lopsided and involves a team with virtually no name value. Best case is probably 10-3 v. 8-5 with Chiefs-Bears falling to 8-5 v. 6-7, all of which actually has a decent shot to happen. That would create two games with identical record gaps with Saints-Titans being two games better than Chiefs-Bears, with the Bears probably lacking a realistic shot at the playoffs, but it also sets up a potential Titans-Texans division title game whose prospects may depend on the Sunday night game (if Saints-Titans were flexed in), which is never fun (though Niners-Seahawks or, much less likely, Steelers-Ravens would almost certainly be picked ahead of it if possible). If all of the necessary results happen that might be enough for a game with better name value to overcome the tentative game bias, but the lack of name value of the Titans and the market size of the Bears leads me to lean in favor of the game keeping its spot even in that circumstance.
  • Final prediction: Kansas City Chiefs @ Chicago Bears (no change).

Week 17 (December 29):

  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Steelers-Ravens, Titans-Texans, Bears-Vikings, Niners-Seahawks.

26 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 13

  1. As a Titans fan, I would love to see our game in Week 16 get flexed to SNF…and I also think that unless the Bears get eliminated, there is not much of a chance of that happening. I can’t imagine anything other than Niners-Seahawks Week 17 at this point, as those two teams are virtual locks for playoff spots already. Not to mention that rivalry has been reborn again.
    I feel like NBC would always be happy to pick any team over the Titans for their SNF games, haha.

  2. Judd:

    With the Vikings losing Monday night, if the Bears win Thursday, that WILL result in Chiefs-Bears remaining UNLESS the Eagles and Cowboys are guaranteed to be within one game of each other when the decision has to be made AND FOX can be convinced to give up its protection of Cowboys-Eagles so the NFL can do a “make-up flex” to the Eagles due to why they were flexed out in Week 12, Chiefs-Bears stays though FOX might actually prefer to take that game and “dump” Cowboys-Eagles on SNF.

    I suspect the NFL is hoping the Bears win Thursday because it makes it easier as then they could guarantee the Eagles two early SNF home games next season plus being allowed in either of the next two seasons to have seven appearances in prime time instead of the normal six (not counting Week 17) if warranted due to the circumstances of why SEA-PHI was flexed out of SNF in Week 12 as not doing so and keeping SEA-PHI on SNF would have created unintended consequences that could have created problems well beyond the NFL and sports for that matter (see earlier posts that detail such for those who did not see such).

  3. And I still think what will come out of what happened with Weeks 12-13-14 (because under normal circumstances, 49ers-Saints probably gets flexed to SNF but the NFL I suspect would have been slammed by the Seahawks owners if they were flexed out again) is the NFL where its a situation where a game that normally would not be flexed needs to be moved in the overall best interests of the NFL as a whole, such games move from Sunday to Monday night with ESPN getting an additional doubleheader (6:30/9:55 if both games are in the Eastern Time Zone, 7:00/10:25 ET otherwise) with the network that entirely loses a game due to such a move is compensated with a Week 1 Thursday game the following year (and the opening game on NBC shifted to Wednesday or even Tuesday if BOTH FOX and CBS have that situation happen to them with in that scenario Week 1 compensation games on Wednesday and Thursday following the opening game on Tuesday) with FOX/NFLN in that scenario also getting a Week 2 Thursday night game from teams who played mid-week in Week 1 so there is an extra Thursday night game in Week 16 (and in turn, the NFLN-only games shifted to Weeks 3-4).

  4. If The Cowboys Beat The Bears Thursday Night Then Chiefs Bears Could Be Flexed Out And Saints Titans Could Be Flexed In That’s if I’m Right

  5. The problem with Chiefs-Bears is that there’s a very high probability that, before the game kicks off, the Chiefs will have already clinched the AFC West, but be locked out of contention for a bye week because Baltimore and New England are too far ahead. So all they’d have left to play for is getting the #3 seed as opposed to the #4 seed…..which doesn’t seem like a huge amount of motivation.

    That’s much less likely to happen with New Orleans and Tennessee. Tennessee will probably still be in the mix (but not clinched yet) for a playoff spot, if not the division title. And New Orleans will most likely still be in a battle with whoever’s leading the NFC West for the #1 seed in the NFC.

  6. Hello all,

    Here’s my take on what my rankings would have been for Week 15 and my current rankings for Weeks 16 and 17.

    Week 15:

    #1 – LAR(7-5) @ Dal(6-6) <—my #1 because the Rams won on Sunday combining with the Vikings losing on Monday made them 1 game apart and because the Cowboys are only 1 game up on the Eagles

    #2 – Hou(8-4) @ Tenn(7-5) <—a battle for 1st in the AFC South, but if Tennessee wins this game, there's a decent chance their game gets flexed in on Week 17 due to 49ers/Seahawks needing to play at same time as the Saints

    #3 – Buff(9-3) @ Pitt(7-5) <—the winner and announced on Sunday Night Football this past week. I personally wanted this game because I believe the Bills have earned the Sunday Night Football spotlight. It is a battle of the current Wild Card teams, so it definitely matters and the Steelers want to win to get to within 1 game of the Bills. Just based on playoff implications, I had this ranked 3rd.

    #4 – Chi(6-6) @ GB(9-3) <—only because both teams are .500 or better, but my Packers are out of Primetime games, except for Week 17 and they won't be on then.

    Minn(8-4) @ LAC(4-8) <—the tentative that mercifully was replaced

    My current rankings for Week 16:

    #1 – KC(8-4) @ Chi(6-6) <—the tentative and my current #1 because of the Chiefs on the surge and the Bears now within 2 of the 6 seed in the NFC, but will fall out if the Bears lose on Thursday to the Cowboys

    #2 – NO(10-2) @ Tenn(7-5) <—seems a big lopsided and the Saints have locked up the NFC South, but with Sea/SF also both at 10-2, they have plenty to play for in reality. Tennessee will be noted as for real or not with this game. Bears lose on Thursday and this will be my #1 and only choice.

    My current rankings for Week 17:

    #1 – SF(10-2) @ Sea(10-2) <—a great choice for SNF, but the Saints could stymie this from being moved due to all of them currently being 10-2. If this is only to decide the #1 and #5 seeds and nothing else, this will clearly be the choice. We'll know more as the coming weeks play out

    #2 – Tenn(7-5) @ Hou(8-4) <—has best chance to replace my #1, at the moment

    #3 – Chi(6-6) @ Minn(8-4) <—if somehow the Bears get closer and make this game a win and in for 6 seed/lose and out for golf, then this might be in

    #4 – Pitt(7-5) @ Balt(10-2) <—if all other teams have to play at same time and these teams don't have to play at same time as others, due to playoff implications, then this could become the choice

    This week will be huge for Week 17. It's also possible that too much will be on the line for playoff positioning and teams must play at the same time and we get a redo of 2017 and no Week 17 SNF game.

    Others, please weigh in, and tell me your odds of no SNF game on Week 17. I will put it at 22%, at the moment.

    Go Pack Go this week at Lambeau vs the Redskins

  7. Jeff:

    What I could see happening if there are too many possibilities in Week 17 is a last-minute restructuring where ALL of the broadcast partners get one game in a conference at 3:00 PM and the other at 8:15 PM (so CBS can show “60 Minutes” to most of the country at its regular time) if what you describe is possible to avoid NBC getting screwed for the second time in three years. The picking order would be:

    NBC-1

    CBS/FOX-2/3

    ABC-4 (ABC is involved here since it is owned by Disney and to keep elected officials happy).

    ESPN-5 (also airing on LivWell, home markets game airs on ABC with game otherwise on ABC airing on ESPN/LivWell in such areas)

    NFLN-6 (also airing on FOX DT-2 channel MOVIES or DT-4 Channel BUZZR, game in home markets airs on FOX with FOX game on NFLN/MOVIES/BUZZR in those markets).

    CBS for CBSSN and FOX for FS1-7/8 (CBSSN game also airs on DECADES, CBS’s DT-2 channel, FS1 game airs on whichever of MOVIES or BUZZR is not airing NFLN game, such games in home markets air on CBS or FOX with games otherwise airing on such airing on the cable/DT-2/4 outlets).

    This type of last week scheduling is something that should happen anyway as I’ve noted in the past. You would have one conference at 3:00 and the other conference at 8:15 (later start time from what I noted previously to avoid any possibility of fines against CBS from the FCC for failing to air “60” at its scheduled time in most of the country given the demos for “60” being who they are).

  8. Jeff:

    I see this as a fair compromise, especially since the last week Sunday Ticket I believe is free to all anyway plus I suspect especially if as suggested we see two additional weeks added to the season the last week (Week 19) could wind up being this format in future years with Week 18 becoming the “double-doubleheader” week UNLESS as I have also suggested Week 1 (because of that week being otherwise on Labor Day weekend) winds up being all prime-time games with NBC getting their opener on Tuesday, CBS getting their Week 1 DH on Wednesday (7:30/10:55 PM ET) and FOX getting their Week 1 DH on Thursday (more likely 7:20/10:45 ET there) while ESPN gets their opening DH to start Week 2 on Wednesday with NBC getting TNF in Week 2, the normal Sunday-Monday otherwise and Week 3 TNF being between teams that played Wed-Thurs in Week 2.

  9. My favorite thing about this website is “FREE SPEECH.”
    The worst thing about this website…see above.

    Week 16:NO and TN
    Week 17: #1 any game where winner moves on and loser goes home
    #2 SF and Sea

  10. Karl:

    Bears win tonight and I suspect KC-CHI stays on SNF unless the Eagles subsequently win Sunday and FOX is convinced to let the NFL do a “make-up flex” for the Eagles due to the circumstances of what happened in Week 12 (most likely giving FOX exclusive Thursday night games in Weeks 1 & 2 next season (NBC in that scenario opening on Wednesday, Week 2 TNF being between teams that played Wed-Thurs in Week 1) as compensation and TNF because of that extended to Week 16).

  11. Maybe a .0000001 % of that happening Walt, mlb has primetime games on Thursdays in September now, and please get over this make up flex idea, you cant just say “hey screw you FOX” and take away Cowboys Eagles

  12. Walt, Jesus man are you drunk when you make these comments?! Make up Flex?! No such thing! The NFL does not owe any team anything when they flex it out so that whole concept is just stupid. Also it was pretty much confirmed that fox has protected the week 16 contest between the eagles and cowboys so that won’t be getting flexed in. Also there is no NFL on Wednesday!!!

    I think everybody should just ignore Walt’s stupid comments and maybe he will stop flooding the comments section with his useless babble

  13. Now for a more serious comment and I do actually agree with Walt that tonight’s game determines if week 16 will get a flex game or not. If they win tonight it probably stays as is. Since FOX protected PHI-DAL there really aren’t a lot of intriguing options to flex in. NO-TEN is about the only decent option and would probably still be better than the original game.

  14. Don’t think the Bears win last night will really affect the Week 16 decision at all, Chiefs-Bears was a virtual lock to remain on SNF anyway. Saints-Titans isn’t a matchup with national appeal unless both teams are at or near the top of their respective conferences.

    Tough to remember a year where the Week 17 seemed this obvious this many weeks away. Assuming the game is for the NFC West title as we all expect, I think the only way 49ers-Seahawks wouldn’t be flexed to Sunday night is if the NFL decides they didn’t want to take both matchups away from FOX this year. Given that the NFL took both Giants-Cowboys matchups away from FOX in 2011, though, I don’t think that’ll wind up being a factor.

  15. Spencer:

    Chiefs-Bears is a lock anyway now that the Bears actually are still in contention for a Wild Card berth. Before the Bears faltered, there was virtually no chance of it being flexed out.

    With regard to “make up flexes,” the only reason I considered that a possibility was because of the extreme circumstances involved with why GB-SF was moved to SNF when under normal circumstances FOX would have kept that game AND DAL-NE, in this case by flipping the DH. The political climate we are now in is why the NFL could not “do the right thing” and do a reverse DH of DAL-NE at 1:00 and GB-SF headlining the regional games at 4:45 (which the NFL did do several times in the 1980’s, most notably in 1987 that I remember vividly because one of the reverse DHs had the Giants in the regional slot at 4:00 playing what turned out to be the last home game for the then-St. Louis Cardinals on CBS. Doing so likely leads to CBS being massively fined by the FCC for failure to air “60 Minutes” when it is supposed to be as THAT particular audience would file a ton of complaints against CBS to the FCC over that and IMO even Trump might try to “stick it” to the NFL by issuing an immediate Executive Order reinstating the old “prime time access” laws that restricted 7:00-8:00 PM/6:00-7:00 PM CT on Sundays to news or children’s programming. That would have resulted in unintended consequences and why IMO the NFL owes both the Seahawks and Eagles “make up flexes” this season or if not early season make up Sunday night games next season that could include perhaps if neither wins the Super Bowl the opening Sunday night game if at home or their home opener otherwise and that not count against normal limits due to the circumstances of this particular flex out.

    As said, this is why the NFL IMO likely adds a “Sunday Night to Monday Night” flex option that would only be used if situations like we had in Weeks 12-14 this season occur where ESPN on such weeks gets what is an unscheduled doubleheader on short notice and the network losing a game entirely because of it getting as compensation the following season a Week 1 Wednesday or Thursday prime time game (with NBC getting their opener the night before such compensatory prime time games), with FOX/NFLN also getting a Week 2 Thursday night with teams from the mid-week Week 1 games so TNF gets extended to Week 16 (this would only be allowed to be used up to two times per season). That’s how I handle it.

  16. I believe that the NFL will make more changes to the TV polices like no longer no longer requiring the singleheader network to carry a late game when the local team is playing early on the doubleheader network next season. Also, i believe that the requirement that a late single game not go to 50 percent of the country to protect the doubleheader network will be eliminated, in order to there be more flexibility.

  17. Walt, That comment was the biggest waste of time ever. I want my minutes back that I spent reading it! GB-SF was moved because it was battle for top seed at the time. Trump has nothing to do with this topic at all in any shape or way and also has no direct power over the NFL to do anything you just mentioned so I’m not sure why you felt the need to mention him. NFL mid-afternoon slot has started at 4:25 for quite a while now no reason to assume that it will go back. As far as the Sunday to Monday flex very unlikely! Not sure the league will be able to get that done(at least not this next CBA) especially if they want to expand the season.

  18. Spencer:

    In the ’80s, DAL-NE would have been moved to 1:00 and still been the main DH game with ALL save one of the regional games on the SH network moved to 4:00 (now 4:25). In this case, reversing the DH would have had the SH games likely been pushed back to 4:25 and FOX’s regional games headlined by GB-SF in this case to 4:45 to assure DAL-NE ends before the regional games started, and that’s where all the unintended consequences would have happened that forced the moves that were made in order for FOX to keep both DAL-NE and GB-SF.

    As for Trump getting involved, you really don’t realize the level of his vendetta against the NFL that dates back to 1986 (and more recently 2014 when he tried to buy the Bills) when he tried to force an NFL-USFL merger. Reinstating the old “prime time access” laws just to “stick it” to the NFL is exactly IMO what he would likely do if the FCC received the level of complaints against CBS that I think they would have gotten had CBS been forced to either air “60 Minutes” as I think would have happened in the afternoon at 3:00 PM/2:00 CT in most of the country (and in the overnight in New York because of CBS having to do a “double singleheader” in NYC of NYG-CHI (1:00) and OAK-NYJ (4:25) so both DAL-NE AND GB-SF could be shown in New York and Chicago) OR where “60” would run past 9:00 PM ET as the audience that watches “60” is mostly over 70 and is the ONE audience that as it is likely complains to the FCC about “60” being delayed to 7:30 PM ET on CBS DH weeks as many of them are the types who get to bed by 8:30 in a lot of cases and are early risers. That audience is also a big part of the core that put Trump over the top and also have been boycotting the NFL anyway over kneeling so Trump would IMO take advantage of that to “stick it” to the NFL not realizing the unintended consequences of doing such beyond sports.

    Like I said, what happened this year in Weeks 12-14 is why I think as early as next season (and if not, next CBA that begins in 2021) we will see a “Sunday night to Monday night flex” option added (where ESPN gets an unscheduled DH and the network that loses a game is compensated with a Week 1 Wednesday or Thursday prime time game the following season and NBC’s season opening game moved up accordingly) that would only be used where we had games like SEA-PHI (Week 12), NE-HOU (Week 13) and SEA-LAR (Week 14) should never have been flexed out of SNF for a better game but in the case of SEA-PHI had to be because of the unintended consequences of not doing so noted. On the surface, networks would not want to say it’s that (going for the more simple option) but my experiences have shown that usually, it’s something like I said that proves to be correct in the end because if for example (not to say this would actually happen) wealthy donors of an elected official had wanted a “Sunday night experience” of SEA-PHI and were upset that it were moved to the afternoon, the first thing that elected official would do, even if just to satisfy such donors is argue to the NFL that DAL-NE could have been moved to 1:00 and the doubleheader reversed (again, this is just an example to point out where arguments would go) especially given under normal circumstances SEA-PHI would not be moved.

    That’s why up until the Bears won Thursday I felt the NFL might have had to yank FOX’s protection of Cowboys-Eagles, citing the circumstances of the Week 12 flex-out even if they had to give FOX a Week 1 Thursday prime time game next season with NBC’s opener moved up to Wednesday to do it just to give the Eagles a “make-up flex” to satisfy certain fan groups who were not pleased with the flex-out because under normal circumstances it would NOT have been flexed out.

  19. Walt please just get over this reverse DH and thinking that a bunch of 60 year olds are gonna complain over 1 schedule change that was never even going to happen in the first place! And also Go Cardinals day :/

  20. Bill:

    All I’ll say is I know the type of people who would complain to the FCC over “60 Minutes” even for one week having to be moved to the afternoon (and in NYC, overnight) to accommodate a reverse DH that was not on the original schedule as I dealt with those types for 30+ years. Many of them as it is complain on CBS DH weeks when “60 Minutes” is delayed to 7:45-8:00 PM ET/6:45-7:00 PM CT by football but those would be much higher if it was a week “60” was scheduled to be on at 7:00 but had to be either moved to 3:00 PM/2:00 CT in most areas or delayed to 7:45-8:00 PM ET by singleheader games likely pushed back to 4:25 PM ET or later just so FOX could keep BOTH DAL-NE (1:00) and GB-SF (4:45). It’s a MUCH larger crowd than you seem to think it is and these are also the voters who in many cases put Trump over the top.

  21. Bill:

    I rarely if ever watch “60.” My point is the size of those who would actually complain about “60” not airing when its supposed to is much larger than you and others seem to realize.

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