Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 9

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):

  • Selected game: Kansas City @ Las Vegas. I’m assuming, anyway; the NFL’s press release doesn’t call it a “final” Week 11 schedule, but it does move Packers-Colts to the late slot of Fox’s doubleheader as I suspected might happen. If Cowboys-Vikings doesn’t move it’ll be interesting to see the regional split and which game gets Buck and Aikman.

Week 12 (November 29):

  • Tentative game: Chicago @ Green Bay
  • Prospects: 5-4 v. 6-2. 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; Niners-Rams is next best with Saints-Broncos and Cardinals-Patriots as dark horses.
  • Analysis: The gap between the Bears and Packers feels bigger than it is; the Bears are only a half-game out of the wild card but don’t have anywhere near the buzz of the Bucs or the NFC West teams, and if the way the Vikings played against the Lions is any indication of how they’ll play with Dalvin Cook healthy they may end up passing the Bears for second in the division. By contrast, the one-game gap between the Titans and Colts belies the importance of their series, with the first game coming this Thursday night; with the Texans and Jaguars having as many wins between them as the Colts have losses, there’s less of a risk of an interloper coming in, so this series really does feel like it’ll decide the division if either team (especially the Titans) sweeps it. Still, Titans-Colts doesn’t have anywhere near the name value of the Bears-Packers rivalry, and CBS would not be happy about losing both halves of the divisional matchup to different primetime packages. Best case scenario for Titans-Colts is probably 6-3 v. 6-3 with a Colts win Thursday, while Bears-Packers going to 7-2 v. 5-5 raises the prospect of the Packers putting the division on lockdown and would mean the Vikings picked up a road win over the Bears that moved them to 4-5 and might suggest they really are the second best team in the division with Cook healthy. Still, for the reasons mentioned above I don’t think the league would pull the flex even in that circumstance, and I certainly don’t think they’d flex in a 5-5 Niners team either. But neither would I be completely surprised if they did flex in Titans-Colts in that best-case scenario; I just don’t think it fits their past history when CBS can probably send it to a good chunk of the country (though not New York or Los Angeles) as their early DH anchor.
  • Final prediction: Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers (no change).

Week 13 (December 6):

  • Tentative game: Denver @ Kansas City
  • Prospects: 3-5 v. 8-1. Continues to be worryingly lopsided, as the Chiefs might have the division on lockdown with a win over the Raiders in that Sunday night game.
  • 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 if Rams-Cardinals is unprotected it might have the edge, and Lions-Bears lurks as a dark horse. Lobbyists-Steelers and Giants-Seahawks could also have outside chances depending on how the NFC East tire fire shakes out.

Week 14 (December 13):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Buffalo
  • Prospects: 8-0 v. 7-2. Last year this game was the beneficiary of a flex; this year it could pit two of the three best teams in the AFC.
  • Likely protections: Colts-Raiders if anything (CBS) and Saints-Eagles (FOX).
  • Other possible games: I’ve been neglecting Chiefs-Dolphins as an option, but assuming I have the protections right and Colts-Raiders is actually protected, the next-best options are Vikings-Bucs and Packers-Lions, both involving 3-5 teams. Snyders-Niners and Cardinals-Giants have the same NFC East factor going for it as last week.

Week 15 (December 20):

  • Tentative game: San Francisco @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 4-5 v. 2-7, 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 at this point might affect Lions-Titans and Bills-Broncos more than 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), with Patriots-Dolphins and Bears-Vikings also having outside shots.

Week 16 (December 27):

  • Tentative game: Tennessee @ Green Bay
  • Prospects: 6-2 v. 7-2 with both teams strong enough to win their respective divisions and potentially at least reach their respective conference championship games.
  • 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 is notable for involving two teams above .500, with Niners-Cardinals and Bucs-Lions involving teams not too far behind the mark. 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, with Giants-Ravens as a dark horse given the situation in the NFC East.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Falcons-Bucs, Bidens-Eagles, Vikings-Lions, Steelers-Browns, Packers-Bears, Dolphins-Bills, Seahawks-Niners, Cardinals-Rams, Raiders-Broncos.

20 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 9

  1. (Repost from Week 8 Watch)

    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. 🙂

  2. (Repost from Week 8 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(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

  3. Hi, Jeff. This is Brian Inman sending you a message about Sunday Night Football and the playoff possibility of the Minnesota Vikings this season. I saw an article about there’s a possibility of the Minnesota Vikings make it to the playoffs this season. Not a when, but an if, IF the Packers clinch the NFC North division as the playoff seed number 2 or 3 and the Vikings barely clinch the playoff berth wild card in 2nd place with either 9-7 or 10-6 as the playoff seed number 6 or 7, I could see the rematch Vikings vs. Packers at Lambeau Field on primetime Sunday Night Football NBC on the playoffs wild card round.

  4. Howdy Brian,

    The Vikings are indeed trending in the right way. They are now up to 3-5 and are playing the, teetering, 5-4 Bears on Monday Night Football. Win that one and they getting within striking distance of the 7 seed. It will be interesting. Even though my Pack beat the Vikings in Week 1, they lost last time by 6 and it wasn’t even that close, so I definitely don’t want to meet them in the playoffs.

    Peace!

    Jeff

  5. More likely to be the Sunday Night game in week 12 on Thanksgiving weekend, Bears at Packers or Titans at Colts?

  6. Well Nick Foles left the game late with a shoulder injury on a cart. If I were the NFL, I would flex out the Bears Packers game out of week 12 in the SNF Slot on Thanksgiving weekend and replace it with Titans Colts match-up. The Bears don’t deserve to primetime with that garbage offense.

  7. Hi all,

    My current Week 12 preferences for Sunday Night Football are:

    #1 – Chiefs(8-1) @ Buccaneers(7-3) <—marquee matchup between Mahomes & Brady
    #2 – Titans(6-3) @ Colts(6-3) <—huge AFC South matchup, but other than the Saints and now Buccaneers, NBC hates the other 6 South division teams and this could be one hell of a game that decides the AFC South
    #3 – Bears(5-5) @ Packers(7-2) <—tentative and I believe will stay because NBC ran a promo last night showing that they will be doing this game.

    My current Week 13 preferences for Sunday Night Football are:

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

    Broncos(3-6) @ 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….yeah, this should be flexed out

    My current Week 14 preferences for Sunday Night Football are:

    #1 – Steelers(9-0) @ Bills(7-3) <—I still like a Dec. 13th SNF game in Buffalo (brrrrr….)…lock in my book and this is the tentative
    #2 – Colts(6-3) @ Raiders(6-3) <—intriguing matchup
    #3 – Chiefs(8-1) @ Dolphins(6-3) <—potential playoff matchup. Amazing to say that.

    Current Records for Tentative Week 15 Sunday Night Football matchup:

    49ers(4-6) @ 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. Please, please flex out this disaster for Week 15. There's only 1 good game to go if it isn't protected.

    Current Records for Tentative Week 16 Sunday Night Football matchup:

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

    Go Pack Go this week in Week 11 at Indy vs the Colts. 🙂

  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, which is after this upcoming week):

    Texans(2-7) @ Colts(6-3) <—no
    Panthers(3-7) @ Packers(7-2) <— Panthers ruined the chances here, so no
    Bills(7-3) @ Broncos(3-6) <— hmmm…might move by default, yep it will move
    Jets(0-9) @ Rams(6-3) <—no no no
    Lions(4-5) @ Titans(6-3) <—will be moved based on records after Week 10. Still sucks though.

    I only see 2 of these 5 moving and if the NFL could make none move, they would. Horrible options now. This has turned into horrible football game Saturday for the NFL.

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

    Dolphins(6-3) @ Raiders(6-3) <—definitely will be moved, It's a lock.
    Broncos(3-6) @ Chargers(2-7) <—nah nah nah
    Buccaneers(7-3) @ Lions(4-5) <—More likely now due to Lions win in Week 10.
    49ers(4-6) @ Cardinals(6-3) <—still gets nod over Bucs/Lions due to Kyler Murray factor
    Browns(6-3) @ Jets(0-9) <—no

    It's looking like 2 of the 5 will move now, not 3, but one never knows. Will be interesting to see.

    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 even more promising as of 11/16/20) and get back to normal ASAP, and get the 2020 NFL season completed as scheduled.

    Jeff

  9. Guesses:
    Week 12: Packers vs Bears (no change)
    Week 13: Rams vs Cardinals
    Week 14: Steelers vs Bills
    Week 15: Patriots vs Dolphins
    Week 16: Packers vs Titans

    Saturday Football week 15 and 16:
    I have no idea what NFL is looking for on the Saturday schedule.

  10. A bit late to this:

    NBC was already advertising Bears-Packers on SNF Week 12, so I doubt that game was going to be switched out. Plus, it’s still a traditional NFC North battle. That said, they did do an emergency switch already this season so they could still do it if players on either team come down with COVID.

    Week 13: Browns-Titans looks like the logical candidate to move to SNF. It would be the first time EVER the Browns were flexed INTO SNF.

    Week 14: No chance Steelers-Bills is flexed out. That could be a Divisional playoff preview.

    Week 15: Unless the NFC Tire Fire gets SO BAD where a FIVE win team makes it, Cowboys need to go 2-1 in their next three to keep that one on SNF.

    Week 16: Titans-Packers almost certain to stay.

    Week 17: Dolphins-Bills for the AFC East looks most logical at this point.

  11. Good stuff everyone. I like your outlooks Walt. No changes to any of the Week 12 schedule, as there’s nothing on nflcommunications.com about it.

  12. I also believe Mike Tirico will be calling the Sunday night week 12 Bears vs. Packers alongside Cris Collinsworth. Al Michaels gets the Thanksgiving week bye.

  13. I highly doubt it’ll be Mike Tirico filling in for Al Michaels on week 12 SNF Packers vs. Bears game at Lambeau Field. But I could see Mike Tirico announcing the Steelers vs. Ravens game at Heinz Field on Thursday night Thanksgiving night NBC.

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