Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 8

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 in recent years and Week 15 this year – 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 2018 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 22):

  • Tentative game: Kansas City @ Las Vegas
  • Prospects: 7-1 v. 4-3. Still the top two teams in the division, the Raiders still account for the Chiefs’ one loss, and 4-3 would be good enough to make the expanded playoffs depending on tiebreakers, but still doesn’t feel like quite as attractive a matchup as you might hope.
  • Likely protections: Titans-Ravens (CBS) and Cowboys-Vikings, Packers-Colts, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: CBS’ listed protection comes with the caveat that this game only falls in this week because of being postponed earlier in the season. Assuming they were allowed to protect it (or bothered to do so because I struggled to find an unprotected week, or even a week without an obvious protection, for CBS, so it could be any of their singleheaders), Eagles-Browns and Packers-Colts are the main options with Dolphins-Broncos a dark horse.
  • Analysis: At 5-2 v. 5-2, Packers-Colts is the standardbearer here with Titans-Ravens at best matching it. The best case scenario would be for either game to stand at 6-2 v. 6-2 with Chiefs-Raiders sitting at 8-1 (or 7-2) v. 4-4, particularly if Denver wins to tie for second in the AFC West. That would be a scenario where I’m not sure Packers-Colts would beat the tentative game bias, but I wouldn’t want to rule it out. However, as I write this Fox’s feature window is slated to give Cowboys-Vikings a full national audience, and as difficult as it is to dislodge the Cowboys from any featured window, 2-6 v. 2-5 isn’t exactly what you would normally consider feature material, NFC East tire fire aside. Given the remaining appeal Chiefs-Raiders retains in its own right, if the league really wanted to give Packers-Colts a larger audience I think they’d move it to the late doubleheader window with Cowboys-Vikings anchoring the early slot. I could be wrong, and even if that happens Titans-Ravens could be unprotected and make a run for the Sunday night slot, but as it stands…
  • Final prediction: Kansas City Chiefs @ Las Vegas Raiders (no change).

Week 12 (November 29):

  • Tentative game: Chicago @ Green Bay
  • Prospects: 5-3 v. 5-2. After last year’s disappointing campaign, the Bears are back to their form from two years ago, and these two teams retain a significant lead over the rest of the division. NBC could end up airing the other half of this rivalry in Week 17 to decide the division.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Bucs (CBS) and Cardinals-Patriots, Niners-Rams, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games, though the NFC East tire fire means the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game isn’t taking away any teams with winning records, and in fact Ravens-Steelers accounts for the only two teams above .500 playing on Thanksgiving. Titans-Colts, which could decide the AFC South, is the best unprotected game, but that’s essentially the same implications as Bears-Packers, Titans-Colts doesn’t have as much name value, and CBS is already losing the first half of that matchup to Thursday Night Football. Niners-Rams is next best with Saints-Broncos a dark horse.

Week 13 (December 6):

  • Tentative game: Denver @ Kansas City
  • Prospects: 3-4 v. 7-1. Continues to be worryingly lopsided, as the Chiefs might have the division on lockdown by the time this week comes around.
  • Likely protections: Eagles-Packers (CBS) and Football Team-Steelers or Rams-Cardinals (FOX).
  • Other possible games: I don’t think the Browns have ever been flexed into a Sunday night game, but Browns-Titans has a good chance to do it, though Rams-Cardinals is emerging as strong competition if left unprotected, and Lions-Bears has an outside shot as well. Lobbyists-Steelers lurks as a dark horse depending on how the NFC East tire fire shakes out.

Week 14 (December 13):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Buffalo
  • Prospects: 7-0 v. 6-2. Last year this game was the beneficiary of a flex; this year it looks like it’ll pit two of the three best teams in the AFC.
  • Likely protections: Colts-Raiders if anything (CBS) and Saints-Eagles (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Assuming I have the protections right and Colts-Raiders is actually protected, Packers-Lions is the only game involving two teams even at 3-4 or better. Broncos-Panthers technically involves a team only half a game behind that, but the Broncos being at 3-4 themselves isn’t a great spot to be in; Snyders-Niners has the same NFC East factor going for it as last week.

Week 15 (December 15):

  • Tentative game: San Francisco @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 4-4 v. 2-6, but with the NFC East tire fire the Cowboys are still within striking distance of the division race, and it might be a sign of the apocalypse if they were ever flexed out of Sunday night.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Saints (CBS) and Seahawks-Football Team, Eagles-Cardinals, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Assuming the games that have been set aside for a potential move to Saturday can’t be protected, which mostly affects Panthers-Packers. Regardless, Fox’s unprotected game(s) are probably the best options just because of the NFC East tire fire (and you already have that division’s most attractive team).

Week 16 (December 22):

  • Tentative game: Tennessee @ Green Bay
  • Prospects: 5-2 v. 5-2 with both teams strong enough to win their respective divisions and maybe compete for a first-round bye.
  • Likely protections: Colts-Steelers, Rams-Seahawks, or nothing (CBS) and Eagles-Cowboys (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Among the games chosen for a potential move to Saturday, Dolphins-Raiders and Niners-Cardinals both involve two teams at or above .500, with Bucs-Lions not far behind. Nonetheless, CBS’ unprotected games (as this is the most likely week for them to leave unprotected) are still the best options if the Titans and/or Packers collapse.

Week 17 (December 29):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9. For the record, the NFC East games are Cowboys-Giants and Bidens-Eagles, and the latter might turn out to pit the top two teams in the division.

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

  1. As said all along, it looks like if we have a flex-out, it will be Week 13 with Broncos-Chiefs. 49ers-Cowboys in Week 16 could be flexed out as it looks like the Eagles are about to take control of the NFC East (they can actually get to .500 after their bye) as they continue to get healthy.

  2. it looks like were stuck with Ravens Pats Because it was suppose to be flexed out yesterday but no because of election day. i’m sick of the patriots.

  3. Yeah, Andrew! I was really hoping the Patriots game would get flexed out and the Bills-Cardinals flexed in for Week 10 SNF. Seems like a much more exciting matchup to me.

    I’m hoping the Colts Packers gets flexed into SNF Week 11, as the Colts have literally ZERO Sunday or Monday night games and they are a division leader! Ugh!

  4. (Repost from Week 7 Watch)

    Hi all,

    My current Week 11 preferences for Sunday Night Football are:(start of the main flex period):

    #1 – Titans(5-2) @ Ravens(5-2) <—huge revenge game for the Ravens…hmm
    #2 – Packers(5-2) @ Colts(5-2)
    #3 – Chiefs(7-1) @ Raiders(4-3) <—looking more lopsided now, but the Raiders spanked the Chiefs in Week 5, so there's that and I doubt the NFL really wants to take 2 games away from the Raiders and their new stadium.

    My current Week 12 preferences for Sunday Night Football are:(start of the main flex period):

    #1 – Chiefs(7-1) @ Buccaneers(6-2) <—marquee matchup between Mahomes & Brady
    #2 – Bears(5-3) @ Packers(5-2) <—tentative and currently for division lead and Thanksgiving weekend means less chance of being flexed out
    #3 – Titans(5-2) @ Colts(5-2) <—huge AFC South matchup, but other than the Saints and now Buccaneers, NBC hates the other 6 South division teams
    #4 – 49ers(4-4) @ Rams(5-3)

    Current Records for Tentative Week 13 Sunday Night Football matchup:

    Broncos(3-4) @ Chiefs(7-1) <—Broncos could doom this game and that's looking more likely and Chiefs by keeping on winning are lessening the chances this game stays as well, but if the Broncos get to .500 the NFL won't hose the Chiefs

    Current Records for Tentative Week 14 Sunday Night Football matchup:

    Steelers(7-0) @ Bills(6-2) <—I still like a Dec. 13th SNF game in Buffalo (brrrrr….)

    Current Records for Tentative Week 15 Sunday Night Football matchup:

    49ers(4-4) @ Cowboys(2-6) <—Cowboys means no moving this, plus some good(?)
    games are going to move to Saturday, lessening the chances even more of a flex. Ugh!!!

    Current Records for Tentative Week 16 Sunday Night Football matchup:

    Titans(5-2) @ Packers(5-2) <—looking good, plus some good(?) games are going to
    move to Saturday, lessening the chances even more of a flex

    No tentative game for Week 17 & scheduled games are:

    Dolphins(4-3) @ Bills(6-2)
    Jets(0-8) @ Patriots(2-5)
    Ravens(5-2) @ Bengals(2-5-1)
    Steelers(7-0) @ Browns(5-3)
    Jaguars(1-6) @ Colts(5-2)
    Titans(5-2) @ Texans(1-6)
    Chargers(2-5) @ Chiefs(7-1)
    Raiders(4-3) @ Broncos(3-4)
    Cowboys(2-6) @ Giants(1-7)
    Redski…(2-5) @ Eagles(3-4-1)
    Packers(5-2) @ Bears(5-3)
    Vikings(2-5) @ Lions(3-4)
    Saints(5-2) @ Panthers(3-5)
    Falcons(2-6) @ Buccaneers(6-2)
    Cardinals(5-2) @ Rams(5-3)
    Seahawks(6-1) @ 49ers(4-4)

    Go Pack Go this week in Week 9 in Santa Clara, CA vs. the 49ers. 🙂

  5. (Repost from Week 7 Watch)

    Week 15 and Week 16 each have 5 games that can be moved to Saturday from Sunday. The NFL can choose to move a minimum of 2 games and up to 3 games each of these weeks.

    Here’s how things currently look for these Week 15 and Week 16 Saturday games.

    Week 15 potential Saturday games(has to be decided by end of Week 11 at latest):

    Texans(1-6) @ Colts(6-2) <—no
    Panthers(3-5) @ Packers(5-2) <— Panthers keep losing this won't move
    Bills(6-2) @ Broncos(3-4) <— Broncos keep winning and getting lucky PI calls to win, then this could be moved
    Jets(0-8) @ Rams(5-3) <—no
    Lions(3-4) @ Titans(5-2) <—best chance to be moved, based on records after Week 8

    I only see 2 of these 5 moving at the moment.

    Week 16 potential Saturday games(has to be decided by end of Week 12 at latest):

    Dolphins(4-3) @ Raiders(4-3) <—definitely would be moved, based on records after Week 8
    Broncos(3-4) @ Chargers(2-5) <—nah
    Buccaneers(6-2) @ Lions(3-4) <—if they want a 3rd game to move, this would be it
    49ers(4-4) @ Cardinals(5-2) <—definitely would be moved, based on records after Week 8
    Browns(5-3) @ Jets(0-8) <—no

    It's possible that 3 of these 5 move.

    We'll see how these things pan out as the next few weeks move forward and we get more clarity. However, in this COVID influenced NFL season, anything can change at any time, as the very short notice of a Week 7 SNF change has proven.

    I just hope that we can all stay healthy, get a vaccine ASAP and get back to normal ASAP, and get the 2020 NFL season completed as mostly scheduled.

    Jeff

  6. Ok.
    Just checked myself in the link in a first post. GB have 5 prime time games but have W15 CAR game as potential Saturday move(and it is by far one of the best games among available for move). And if that counts as prime time too then they would be maxed out and then GB-IND can’t be flexed

  7. Hi all,

    My current Week 11 preferences for Sunday Night Football are:(start of the main flex period): – I had these decided after the Sunday games, but didn’t get to come on here and post this. I should have because today was the day that the NFL made their change in the Week 11 schedule. Chiefs/Raiders stayed as Sunday Night Football and that’s no surprise. However Packers/Colts moved from 10AM PST/1PM EST to 1:25PM PST/4:25PM EST.

    #1 – Titans(6-2) @ Ravens(6-2) <—huge revenge game for the Ravens…hmm, nope didn't happen
    #2 – Packers(6-2) @ Colts(5-3) <—got flexed from early to late
    #3 – Chiefs(8-1) @ Raiders(5-3) <—looking more lopsided now, but the Raiders spanked the Chiefs in Week 5, so there's that and I doubt the NFL really wants to take 2 games away from the Raiders and their new stadium. And no surprise that they kept this game

    My current Week 12 preferences for Sunday Night Football are:

    #1 – Chiefs(8-1) @ Buccaneers(6-3) <—marquee matchup between Mahomes & Brady
    #2 – Bears(5-4) @ Packers(6-2) <—tentative and Thanksgiving weekend means less chance of being flexed out
    #3 – Titans(6-2) @ Colts(5-3) <—huge AFC South matchup, but other than the Saints and now Buccaneers, NBC hates the other 6 South division teams

    My current Week 13 preferences for Sunday Night Football are:

    #1 – Rams(5-3) @ Cardinals(5-3) <—huge game in the NFC West
    #2 – Browns(5-3) @ Titans(6-2) <—NBC hates the Titans, so won't happen

    Broncos(3-5) @ Chiefs(8-1) <—Broncos could doom this game and that's looking more likely and Chiefs by keeping on winning are lessening the chances this game stays & if the Broncos lose to the Raiders this week I think this game will be flexed out

    Current Records for Tentative Week 14 Sunday Night Football matchup:

    Steelers(8-0) @ Bills(7-2) <—I still like a Dec. 13th SNF game in Buffalo (brrrrr….)…lock in my book

    Current Records for Tentative Week 15 Sunday Night Football matchup:

    49ers(4-5) @ Cowboys(2-7) <—Cowboys means no moving this, plus some good(?)
    games are going to move to Saturday, lessening the chances even more of a flex. Ugh!!!…This game gets worse and 2020 has been so bad that this might be the season that Morgan's "apocalypse" happens and the Cowboys get flexed out.

    Current Records for Tentative Week 16 Sunday Night Football matchup:

    Titans(6-2) @ Packers(6-2) <—looking good, plus some good(?) games are going to
    move to Saturday, lessening the chances even more of a flex

    No tentative game for Week 17 & scheduled games are:

    Dolphins(5-3) @ Bills(7-2)
    Jets(0-9) @ Patriots(3-5)
    Ravens(6-2) @ Bengals(2-5-1)
    Steelers(8-0) @ Browns(5-3)
    Jaguars(1-7) @ Colts(5-3)
    Titans(6-2) @ Texans(2-6)
    Chargers(2-6) @ Chiefs(8-1)
    Raiders(5-3) @ Broncos(3-5)
    Cowboys(2-7) @ Giants(2-7)
    Redski…(2-6) @ Eagles(3-4-1)
    Packers(6-2) @ Bears(5-4)
    Vikings(3-5) @ Lions(3-5)
    Saints(6-2) @ Panthers(3-6)
    Falcons(3-6) @ Buccaneers(6-3)
    Cardinals(5-3) @ Rams(5-3)
    Seahawks(6-2) @ 49ers(4-5)

    Go Pack Go this week in Week 10 at Lambeau vs the Jaguars. 🙂

  8. Week 15 and Week 16 each have 5 games that can be moved to Saturday from Sunday. The NFL can choose to move a minimum of 2 games and up to 3 games each of these weeks.

    Here’s how things currently look for these Week 15 and Week 16 Saturday games.

    Week 15 potential Saturday games(has to be decided by end of Week 11 at latest):

    Texans(2-6) @ Colts(6-3) <—no
    Panthers(3-6) @ Packers(6-2) <— Panthers keep losing this won't move & they lost in Week 9 to Chiefs, but could move due to Packers being involved
    Bills(7-2) @ Broncos(3-5) <— hmmm…might move by default
    Jets(0-9) @ Rams(5-3) <—no no no
    Lions(3-5) @ Titans(6-2) <—best chance to be moved, based on records after Week 9. Still sucks though

    I only see 2 of these 5 moving at the moment and if the NFL could make none move, they would. Horrible options now.

    Week 16 potential Saturday games(has to be decided by end of Week 12 at latest):

    Dolphins(5-3) @ Raiders(5-3) <—definitely would be moved, based on records after Week 9. I says this is a near lock now
    Broncos(3-5) @ Chargers(2-6) <—nah nah nah
    Buccaneers(6-3) @ Lions(3-5) <—Less likely now
    49ers(4-5) @ Cardinals(5-3) <—definitely would be moved, based on records after Week 9. Pretty much a move to Saturday by default
    Browns(5-3) @ Jets(0-9) <—no

    It's looking like 2 of the 5 will move now, not 3.

    We'll see how these things pan out as the next few weeks move forward and we get more clarity. However, in this COVID influenced NFL season, anything can change at any time, as the very short notice of a Week 7 SNF change has proven.

    I just hope that we can all stay healthy, get a vaccine ASAP(looking more promising as of 11/09/20) and get back to normal ASAP, and get the 2020 NFL season completed as scheduled.

    Jeff

  9. Late in the 11/15 Sunday night Ravens vs. Patriots, I saw a NBC graphic touting the next several Sunday night games feature divisional games. Which means unless the apocalypse happens the 11/29 Bears vs. Packers remains on Sunday night. I also think Mike Tirico will be filling in for Al Michaels that night.

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