Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Number of Primetime Appearances Per Team for the 2021 Season and Protection Predictions

So yeah, I’m running very late with this post, taking it down to the very last minute (literally, I’m starting writing it just five hours before the bulk of the Week 6 slate starts, and I haven’t even updated the Flex Scheduling Primer), I don’t really have a good reason for it, and I’m not particularly happy about it. The main reason I kept putting it off was wanting to talk about the impact of the NFL’s new TV agreements and 17-game schedule on flex scheduling, even though what we know raises more questions than answers. So as I present this to you about 40 minutes into the Week 6 early slate I’m going to talk about those developments, and list each team’s count of primetime appearances, and bring you at least a rudimentary form of the Week 5 post I should have given you earlier in the week.

Starting with the new TV agreements, here are the main points affecting flex scheduling (ignoring things like the playoffs, the fate of TNF, and the various other games going to various streamers):

  • Though it was initially reported that CBS would keep its AFC-centric package while Fox kept its NFC-centric package, it later came out that there would be a compromise form of the unconferenced schedule: CBS and Fox would pick a handful of teams from their respective conference they would show a minimum number of games from, and the rest would be a free-for-all. These appearance minimums will likely have the effect of restricting crossflexes and primetime flex scheduling for the teams involved, but who knows how; CBS’ press release contained the line “CBS will also gain increased rights to protect games from being flexed to other networks and time slots”, but for all I know that’s just referring to those appearance minimums (and it sounds like firm numbers for those haven’t even been decided on; the folks at the 506 forums seemed to think each network would “request” a variable number of games of a variable number of teams each season). But if the details aren’t reported by the time the new deal kicks in it may be nearly impossible to make meaningful predictions, and considering that the teams selected for protection of this sort aren’t likely to be reported, it may well be substantially more difficult anyway.
  • Monday Night Football is not only picking up flex scheduling but is doing so on similar terms to what NBC started off with: starting Week 12 (only a week later than NBC) and being picked 12 days in advance, not the month or more that Saturday flex scheduling had been using. With Monday night games mostly still being on ESPN only, I would imagine NBC would still be a bigger priority and MNF flexing would generally only apply to absolute stinkers, but it could still make weeks where both NBC and ESPN have potentially flexible games all the more difficult to process, and between this and the above bullet point I may end up considering a large-scale format change for the Flex Schedule Watch (and frankly I may have to shift the focus from trying to predict games to simply identifying games that might get flexed). There’s also a change to MNF that affects this season; more on this below.
  • While this part hadn’t been voted on by the owners at the time it was reported, according to SI’s Albert Breer SNF games will now explicitly be able to be flexed in six days in advance in Weeks 15-17, presumably in addition to Week 18. (Far from suggesting it didn’t necessarily pass, the fact it needed to pass the owners’ vote made me wonder whether the earlier six-day flex window was tied to the expanded season and would come into effect this year, but judging from NBC’s SNF schedule press release it doesn’t look like it, not that that’s stopped the league from doing it anyway.) The fact that NBC put flex scheduling beginning in Week 5 in the sub-headline of their press release on the new deals may imply that the distinction between early and late flexes may be dissolved, but that may be me reading too much into that; Breer stated that SNF games can be flexed in 12 days in advance in “Weeks 5-14”, but of course that’s technically the case now.

Two changes have more immediate impact on this season: the move to a 17-game schedule, and the addition of a Saturday doubleheader simulcast across ABC and ESPN in the new Week 18. Considering how tight things have gotten with regards to having a viable SNF game in Week 17, including one year where NBC went without a game at all, giving ABC and ESPN not one but two games that week feels iffy. While the league would have more options for Saturday night games before the bulk of games on Sunday than for the Sunday night game after the Sunday slate, the options will still be pretty limited to games that don’t run the risk of taking away the motivation for teams playing on Sunday to play for the win, especially if teams don’t see the point of playing for seeding outside winning the division and the single first-round bye in each conference. In situations where there are multiple SNF-ready games it would work (though I think that’s only happened once or twice), and it would also work in situations like last year with a game that’s win-and-in, lose-and-out for only one team (where the game to determine the beneficiary of that team losing could move to Saturday), and there are the occasional games where the only teams not playing that are affected by the outcome could still have something to play for regardless of the result (the sorts of games that have occasionally wound up in the 1 PM ET timeslot), but I don’t know that it’ll be enough (especially if teams that play on MNF Week 17 can’t be moved to Saturday Week 18, and sorting out all the situations involved is part of why I’m taking extra time to edit the Flex Scheduling Primer). It might have been better to adopt the idea one of my commenters had, to play every game in each conference at a particular time and split each conference’s games two to each network partner, split regionally on each broadcast network with the game not airing on broadcast locally airing on a sister cable network (perhaps with CBS’ extra game airing on NFL Network).

(Incidentally, among the games that would have moved to Saturday are last year’s Cowboys-Giants game and the aforementioned “multiple SNF-ready games” situation where Fox wound up with Bears-Packers for the NFC North. You can see why CBS and Fox might not have been happy about this, on top of ABC muscling its way into the Super Bowl rotation with just five regular season games.)

Outside of that, the main impact of the expanded schedule is that teams are now allowed a seventh primetime appearance; there is also now an explicit rule that teams can be scheduled for no more than three games on each of SNF and MNF at the start of the season (presumably most teams will only max out on one or the other with a sixth game on TNF). It’s not entirely clear from the link whether this starts with the new deal or right away, but we can infer the answer from how the schedule plays out over the next two years, which brings us to the table of each team’s current number of appearances across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network for the season, useful for determining what games can be flexed into or out of Sunday night for my Flex Schedule Watch. Recall the old appearance limits are six primetime games for three teams, five for everyone else, and four NBC appearances; the question of whether the old or new limits apply is… inconclusive, as the Packers, and only the Packers, have six primetime appearances counting their Christmas day game against the Browns, and this wouldn’t be the first time the league has given one or two teams a full six-game slate of primetime appearances (and notably, the Packers are also the only team with two SNF games in the late flex period, not counting the Saints’ Thanksgiving game). In the “Flexible” column, a plus sign indicates SNF games in the Week 5-10 early flex period; if it’s in parenthesis it indicates a game in Week 5-7 where it’s too late to be flexed. Note that the Jets and Falcons may have a second appearance each from their London game on NFL Network, and two games will move to Saturday in Week 15 (the following two Saturdays are Christmas and New Year’s respectively, so you can understand why the league wouldn’t have flexible games on those days), chosen from five pre-selected options, increasing the counts for the teams involved; the options are NYJ/MIA, WAS/PHI, LV/CLE, CAR/BUF, and NE/IND.

Team PT App’s On NBC Flexible
GB 6 3 2
KC 5 3 0+1(+1)
TB 5 3 1
SF 5 3 1(+1)
DAL 5 3 1+1
LAR 5 2 0+1
BAL 5 2 1
NO 5 2 1
SEA 5 2 1(+1)
PIT 5 2 1(+1)
BUF 4 2 0(+1)
CHI 4 2 1
MIN 4 2 1+1
IND 4* 1 0(+1)
CLE 4* 1 1
NE 3* 1 0
LV 3* 1 0+1
TEN 3 1 0+1
WAS 3* 1 1
LAC 3 1 1
NYG 3 0 0
ARI 3 0 0
PHI 2* 0 0
MIA 2* 0 0
All others 1* 0 0

Finally, a quick and dirty rundown of where the late flex slate, plus early flex games involving sub-.500 teams, stand through five weeks (records don’t include the Thursday night or London games). I reserve the right to change my predicted protections later when I’m less sleep-deprived:

  • Week 8: Tentative: Cowboys (4-1) @ Vikings (2-3). Games between 3-2 or better teams: Bucs (4-1) @ Saints (3-2), which Fox will presumably protect as their featured late doubleheader game. Hey, just because I’m listing early flex games involving sub-.500 teams doesn’t mean they actually stand a chance in hell of being flexed out.
  • Week 10: Tentative: Chiefs (2-3) @ Raiders (3-2). Games between 3-2 or better teams: Saints (3-2) @ Titans (3-2), Panthers (3-2) @ Cardinals (5-0). Those games belong to CBS and Fox respectively, and there’s a bit more to say about this because it’s not clear that they’d automatically protect those games; CBS’ late doubleheader slot is slated to be anchored by Seahawks-Packers, which has lost a lot of luster with Russell Wilson injured (not the quarterback CBS was likely worried about this game missing when the schedule came out), but it’s not clear Saints-Titans has the star power for them to protect it, or move to the late slot, over Browns-Patriots. Frankly Saints-Titans isn’t a good enough game to flex into Sunday night over Chiefs-Raiders anyway; Panthers-Cardinals, a game involving a currently-undefeated team against a surprisingly strong foe potentially trapped in 4:05 singleheader purgatory, would be more interesting, but there isn’t another obvious game for Fox to protect unless Washington surges enough for Fox to consider protecting Bucs-Football Team. Still, keep an eye on this if the Chiefs continue to struggle the next two weeks.
  • Week 11: Tentative: Steelers (2-3) @ Chargers (4-1). Likely protections: Ravens-Bears (CBS); Cowboys-Chiefs or Packers-Vikings (FOX). Other possible games: Bengals-Raiders (a longshot for CBS’ protection), Saints-Eagles, Football Team-Panthers, Cardinals-Seahawks. Despite some decent options and a below-.500 team in the tentative, Steelers probably need to be significantly weaker for this game to lose its spot.
  • Week 12: Tentative: Browns (3-2) @ Ravens (4-1). Likely protections: Titans-Patriots, Steelers-Bengals, Chargers-Broncos, or nothing (CBS); Rams-Packers (FOX). Other possible games: Besides CBS’ unprotected games, Vikings-49ers. Two above-.500 teams and the only other such game that might be unprotected isn’t one that would set the world on fire; expect this game to keep its spot.
  • Week 13: Tentative: 49ers (2-3) @ Seahawks (2-3, no Wilson). Likely protections: Ravens-Steelers (CBS); Cardinals-Bears, Bucs-Falcons, or nothing (FOX). Other possible games: Besides Fox’s unprotected game(s), Chargers-Bengals, Broncos-Chiefs, and Football Team-Raiders. Cardinals-Bears and Chargers-Bengals both pit 3-2 teams against teams 4-1 or better, and there are two or three games involving 2-3 teams, so if the Seahawks go into the tank without Wilson this game could be very vulnerable.
  • Week 14: Tentative: Bears (3-2) @ Packers (4-1). Likely protections: Bills-Bucs (CBS); Cowboys-Football Team (FOX). Other possible games: Ravens-Browns, 49ers-Bengals, Raiders-Chiefs, Falcons-Panthers. Despite Ravens-Browns pitting two teams above .500, the NFL’s oldest rivalry for potential control of the NFC North isn’t losing its spot.
  • Week 15: Tentative: Saints (3-2) @ Bucs (4-1). Likely protections: Bengals-Broncos if anything (CBS); Packers-Ravens or Seahawks-Rams (FOX). Other possible games: Titans-Steelers and Falcons-49ers (assuming any attractive games that can be moved to Saturday will be). If the Saints stay even decent this game should keep its spot.
  • Week 16: Tentative: Football Team (2-3) @ Cowboys (4-1). Likely protections: Ravens-Bengals, Bills-Patriots, Steelers-Chiefs, Broncos-Raiders, or nothing (CBS); Bucs-Panthers, Bears-Seahawks, or nothing (FOX). Other possible games: Rams-Vikings. After last year we can’t say for certain that a Cowboys game will never be flexed out, and this game has the distinct possibility of becoming lopsided, but Ravens-Bengals and Broncos-Raiders are the only games that don’t involve a team at 2-3 or worse, and I don’t know that either is worth flexing out the Cowboys for, especially if you’re picking behind CBS.
  • Week 17: Tentative: Vikings (2-3) @ Packers (4-1). Likely protections: Chiefs-Bengals or Broncos-Chargers (CBS); Rams-Ravens or Cardinals-Cowboys (FOX). Other possible games: Panthers-Saints, Falcons-Bills, Eagles-Football Team. Has the potential to get lopsided, and Fox has two games pitting teams with no more than one loss each, so a flex could be a distinct possibility. Even if the Vikings stay respectable, the league might still pull the flex if none of the teams in Fox’s potentially protected games catch up to the number of losses the Vikings have now, to avoid one of the games ending up subject to the vagaries of regionalization in the early window. Of course, minimizing the possibility of the Week 18 SNF game depending on the Week 17 result could also come into play.

12 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Number of Primetime Appearances Per Team for the 2021 Season and Protection Predictions

  1. My thoughts on this:

    Since Week 17 is almost always going to fall around the New Year’s Holiday and be impacted by the College Football Playoff, perhaps in 2022 and beyond ABC/ESPN gets their Saturday flex in Week 16 (in years where Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, that flex can be shifted to Monday and give ESPN a tripleheader on the day after Christmas, which is the observered holiday for Christmas in those years).

    Week 18 as I have noted many times should have it where ALL games in one conference are at 3:00 PM and the other are either at 7:30 or 8:15 PM, depending on whether or not CBS is required to air “60 Minutes” at 7:00 PM ET to satisfy FCC requirements on all networks for the 7:00-8:00 PM hour that technically is still supposed to be news or children’s programming). I don’t think the NFL without going back to either a Labor Day weekend start or as I would do it the mid-week ahead of that weekend can add a 19th Week that I would do with a second bye week tied to mid-week games due to the fact you have the Winter Olympics every four years. While the International Olympic Committee may have been cool with having the Super Bowl during the Olympics in 2022 because Beijing’s dates could not have been changed under any circumstances, for 2026 and beyond I suspect the IOC will demand the NFL NOT have ANY playoff games during the Olympics, insisting on there being a three-week gap in such years between the conference title games and Super Bowl that encompasses the Olympics (though perhaps with the IOC agreeing in exchange for that starting and finishing the games one day earlier with the closing ceremonies on Saturday instead of Sunday to accommodate the NFL), The IOC is the ONE organization that can force that on the NFL by demanding countries who want furture Olympics not do business with the NFL unless the NFL agrees to the IOC’s terms. Otherwise, I would simply add a 19th week with everything the same otherwise and Week 19 being “all games in a conference at the same time, split up as follows for those who did not see my earlier posts:

    NBC gets first pick for each time slot

    FOX/CBS have between them picks 2-3 for each time slot (one gets second pick for the 3:00 PM ET slot, the other gets second pick for the 7:30 or 8:15 PM ET slot), the second pick goes to the network losing a pick to Amazon Prime in each slot.

    ABC gets the fourth pick for each time slot

    ESPN gets the fifth pick for each time slot (game also airs on LivWell, ABC’s DT-2 channel or LAFF, ABC’s DT-3 channel)

    Amazon Prime gets sixth pick with the caveat these games are made free to all whether they are a prime member or not. This game is produced in each time slot by the network that has second pick and also airs on a DT-2/3/4 channel, most likely MOVIES or BUZZR, the DT-2 and DT-4 channels respectively for FOX (in some markets, such games can air on COZI-TV, NBC’s DT-2 channel or NBCLX, NBC’s DT-3 Channel).

    CBS/FOX then between them get picks 7-8 for each time slot (network having third pick also has pick 7 and whoever picks second gets the remaining game). These games would air on CBSSN AND DECADES, CBS’s DT-2 Channel AND FS1 AND whichever of MOVIES/BUZZR DOES NOT air the Amazon Prime game.

    That is how I would handle it.

  2. Failed to note in the first post that in this scenario, the schedule would be adjusted in Olympic years to acommodate the games, with if such is 19 weeks, in those years the season starts the Tuesday before Labor Day with NBC getting their prime time opener while CBS on Wednesday Night and FOX on Thursday Night would get doubleheaders with Game 1 at 7:20 PM ET and Game 2 at 10:45 PM ET (there would be no ESPN game in Week 1 due to US Open Tennis in this scenario).

    Especially if this scenario were made permanent, I would have it where Week 2 starts with a Wednesday doubleheader on ESPN (at 7:05 and 10:30 PM ET, US Open Tennis moves to ESPN2 that night), NBC getting a Thursday night game and then ESPN getting their regular Monday night game. Week 3 would be the first Amazon Prime Thursday night game that would have teams who played on Wednesday or Thursday in Week 2 playing each other, with in a 19-week season this way this being the first of the bye weeks directly tied to playing a mid-week game the following week.

    Such also would allow for NBC and the NFL to have “The NFL Holiday Kickoff,” a Wednesday-after-Thanksgiving game tied to the tree lighting in Rockerfeller Plaza that would have a 7:20 PM ET kickoff and a 45-minuite to 1-hour halftime for the tree lighting ceremony that would now be produced by the NFL. This game as I would do it usually would have the Jets and Giants alternate as the hosts at MetLife Stadium and occasionally have the teams play each other.

  3. Well all, it’s time to start looking at Flex Scheduling for Sunday Night Football. This happens from Weeks 5 through 18. Only 2 games can be flexed out from Weeks 5 through 10.

    Here’s my take on things so far.

    Week 8

    # 1 – Cowboys(5-1) @ Vikings(3-3)
    # 2 – Buccaneers(5-1) @ Saints(3-2)
    # 3 – Steelers(3-3) @ Browns(3-3)

    Tentative – Cowboys(5-1) @ Vikings(3-3) – can’t foresee this game being replaced and it’s now my preferred matchup for Week 8, as noted above

    Week 9

    # 1 – Titans(4-2) @ Rams(5-1)
    # 2 – Packers(5-1) @ Chiefs(3-3)
    # 3 – Browns(3-3) @ Bengals(4-2)
    # 4 – Vikings(3-3) @ Ravens(5-1)
    # 5 – Broncos(3-3) @ Cowboys(5-1)

    Tentative – Titans(4-2) @ Rams(5-1) – this will be the SNF game in Week 9 and is my current # 1

    Week 10

    # 1 – Chiefs(3-3) @ Raiders(4-2)
    # 2 – Vikings(3-3) @ Chargers(4-2)
    # 3 – Saints(3-2) @ Titans(4-2)
    # 4 – Panthers(3-3) @ Cardinals(6-0)

    Tentative – Chiefs(3-3) @ Raiders(4-2) – this game will stay put & is my current # 1 choice. Some good games here in Week 10.

    Week 11

    Tentative – Steelers(3-3) @ Chargers(4-2) – this has improved tremendously the last 2 weeks with Steelers wins and likely stays

    Week 12

    Tentative – Browns(3-3) @ Ravens(5-1) – if the banged up Browns continue to fall and the Ravens don’t lose……could this be in trouble?

    Week 13

    Tentative – 49ers(2-3) @ Seahawks(2-4) – With Wilson and Garappolo both out this game could be in some jeopardy, um yep… is getting in some trouble

    Week 14

    Tentative – Bears(3-3) @ Packers(5-1) – After last week’s 1st matchup in Chicago, this game will be going nowhere, especially since Aaron Rodgers “owns the Bears.”

    Week 15

    Tentative – Saints(3-2) @ Buccaneers(5-1) – this looks like a lock to stay put

    Also of note for this week’s games: 2 of a pre-selected 5 games will be played on Sat. 12/18/21 on NFL Network exclusively

    Panthers(3-3) @ Bills(4-2) – looking good
    Raiders(4-2) @ Browns(3-3) – looking good
    Patriots(2-4) @ Colts(2-4)
    Jets(1-4) @ Dolphins(1-5)
    Redskins(2-4) @ Eagles(2-4)

    The decision has to be made by the conclusion of the Week 11 games at the latest.

    Week 16

    Tentative – Redskins(2-4) @ Cowboys(5-1) – unless this game is a total mismatch and a much better alternative game is found, this stays put & I still feel this way

    Week 17

    Tentative – Vikings(3-3) @ Packers(5-1) – I can see the Vikings improving and making this game pretty secure in its spot and ditto after Week 6

    Week 18 (sounds so weird to say that)

    2 games will be moved from their preliminary Sunday slot to Sat. 01/08/22 and they’ll both be aired on ESPN/ABC. This is an interesting move to me. These 2 games and the SNF game will both be announced with the rest of the Week 18 schedule, at the conclusion of the Week 17 schedule (at the latest).

    Tentative – none of course

    Current Games and Records of each team

    Jets(1-4) @ Bills(4-2)
    Patriots(2-4) @ Dolphins(1-5)
    Steelers(3-3) @ Ravens(5-1) – might have a chance at a Nationally televised game
    Bengals(4-2) @ Browns(3-3) – currently looking good for a Nationally televised game
    Titans(4-2) @ Texans(1-5)
    Colts(2-4) @ Jaguars(1-5)
    Chiefs(3-3) @ Broncos(3-3) – I still believe the Broncos will keep this from being a Nationally televised game, uh huh
    Chargers(4-2) @ Raiders(4-2) – currently looking really good for a Nationally televised game
    Redskins(2-4) @ Giants(1-5)
    Cowboys(5-1) @ Eagles(2-4)
    Packers(5-1) @ Lions(0-6)
    Bears(3-3) @ Vikings(3-3) – could be an interesting option for 1 of the Saturday games
    Saints(3-2) @ Falcons(2-3)
    Panthers(3-3) @ Buccaneers(5-1) – currently looking good for a Nationally televised game, maybe
    Seahawks(2-4) @ Cardinals(6-0) – Wilson injury is going to hurt this
    49ers(2-3) @ Rams(5-1) – looking less likely now

    I currently have 5 games looking fairly good for the 3 Nationally televised games in Week 18. We’ll see how that progresses.

    Any thoughts anyone?

    Go Pack Go this week at Lambeau vs. the Redskins

  4. I just looked at and there’s no changes at all for the Week 8 schedule. So that means not 1 game has been flexed, cross-flexed, or changed in any way from the original schedule that was released in May.

  5. Hi, Jeff. Even though the Minnesota Vikings are playing better football with the 3-3 record, I predict the Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers game at US Bank Stadium on week 11 get flexed to 3:25 pm game on Fox with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman announcing that game.

  6. Brian, I could see that. That week we also have Cardinals-Cowboys (possibly for the 1 seed and the bye) and Chiefs-Bengals (possibly for a wildcard spot), both games could be a flex option.

  7. I enjoy your work as you track what games has the potential to get flexed into SNF slot each season. You probably don’t hear that enough.

    One thing I’ve been disappointed in this season has been the decision regarding the Sunday regional slate of games & how they’re viewed by the country (maps from the good folks at 506sports). Has this been a thing in recent years or is this unique to this season because of a lot things are happening this season?

    For instance

    Week 6: CBS doubleheader
    LAC at BAL featured Justin Herbert vs Lamar Jackson…. instead a lot of the country saw a struggling Chiefs team take on the [FOOTBALL TEAM] whose defense is not living up to expectations

    DAL at NE was the late doubleheader, Nantz & Romo on the call. Only because matchup of the last two NFL dynasties (NE 2000s & 2010s, DAL 1990s) and the aura of both teams

    LAC-BAL turned into a laugher, DAL-NE turned into one of the games of the early season. That’s kind of the roll of the dice with the schedule. The game may look good when the schedule comes out in the spring, but come the fall with injuries, teams exceeding expectations, teams going below expectations, that game might not look so good.

    Meanwhile Fox had regional. AZ at CLE, featured the NFL’s lone unbeaten. Instead that game was in 4:05PM ET purgatory & the top regional game was GB at CHI, an ok contest but… eh

    Week 7: CBS Doubleheader
    TN at KC is the top early game with CHI at TB is the late. Poor BAL at CIN. And poor Fox, their Week 7 slate is brutal. SNF is… okay… but the solution to this would be:

    CHI at TB, Fox 1PM ET
    KC at TN, CBS 4:25PM ET
    IND at SF, 4:05PM ET purgatory/backup CBS DH
    CIN at BAL, SNF

    I came across a piece in Sports Illustrated about why the NFL & Fox needs to stop pushing NYG-DAL games as its marquee game of the week and instead focus more on its rising stars instead of nostalgia. And I whole heartedly agree as a heathen Cowboys fan. If I want to watch them, I’ll adjust my VPN to Dallas-Fort Worth.

    What do you think will break the NFL of that habit & be a little more bold with its scheduling choices?

  8. Hi Brian,

    Nice to see you back and posting. In Week 11, as much as I’d like to see Packers/Vikings moved, it won’t happen. CBS and Romo/Nantz will be in Kansas City and broadcasting that to the majority of the country in that late slot that you mentioned.

    And hello Michael. I like your takes.

  9. My flex watch list through this week

    Week 8: DAL at MN
    Locked-In, likely wasn’t changing because 1. Cowboys, and 2. Vikings are the “Consult Doctor Before Watching This Team”

    Week 9: TN at LAR
    Division leaders, King Henry, won’t change
    1. CLE at CIN
    2. MN at BAL
    3. AZ at SF

    Week 10: KC at LV
    Pros: Mahomes, drama surrounding Raiders
    Cons: Chiefs not looking too good
    Can’t see it flexing out but…
    1. NO at TN
    2. MN at LAC
    3. CAR at AZ

    Week 11: PIT at LAC
    Well known team (Steelers) keeps it in the spot but better options are available
    1. GB at MN/BAL at CHI
    3. LV at CIN
    4. AZ at SEA (Russell Wilson Returns?, Cardinals still unbeaten?)

    Week 12: CLE at BAL
    Slim pickings due to Thanksgiving & Fox likely keeping LAR at GB in the late DH slot.
    1. MN at SF
    2. TB at IND
    3. TN at NE
    4. PIT at CIN
    5. LAC at DEN

    Week 13: SF at SEA
    Maybe the Seahawks can survive without Russell & 49ers get above .500 but starting to look iffy
    1. LAC at CIN
    2. AZ at CHI

    Week 14: CHI at GB
    Rodgers owns the Bears narrative as well as oldest rivalry in NFL keeps it in the slot
    1. CLE at BAL/LV at KC
    (yes, these are part of the SNF schedule, but SNF aired both DAL-NYG games in 2011)
    3. SF at CIN

    Week 15
    Saturday Games: CAR at BUF, LV at CLE
    SNF: NO at TB
    Defending champs, unpredictable Saints, probably stays
    Other options
    1. GB at BAL/SEA at LAR (Fox DH, depends which one they protect)
    3. (being generous) TN at PIT/ATL at SF

    Week 16: WSH at DAL
    I see this potentially getting flexed out but Cowboys could keep it. However… a better option is emerging in Week 17…
    1. BAL at CIN
    2. LAR at MN
    3. PIT at KC (potential elimination game)
    4. CHI at SEA
    5. TB at CAR

    Week 17: MN at GB
    Here’s where the better option emerges: AZ at DAL. Right now LAR at BAL is Fox late DH & still looking good. Fox can only protect one but NBC definitely wants AZ at DAL if the game determines NFC-1 (CAR-NYG 2008)
    1. AZ at DAL
    2. LAR at BAL
    3. KC at CIN
    4. NO at CAR
    5. A test pattern
    6. DEN at LAC
    7. ATL at BUF
    8. MIA at TN

    Week 18
    ABC-ESPN Saturday DH puts a new spin on things. SNF is the high profile spot as it’ll probably be used as a de factor play-in game while Saturday is used for determining division titles, win & in or lose and need help on Sunday
    SNF: CIN at CLE
    Saturday: CHI at MN, LAC at LV

    Contenders for these 3 Week 18 slots
    1. SF at LAR
    2. SEA at AZ
    3. CAR at TB
    4. PIT at BAL
    5. KC at DEN

  10. Excellent analysis Michael. I like it, except for the spot where you mentioned “Cardinals still unbeaten?” in your Week 11 posting. Me being a Packers fan and next Thursday Night Football is GB @ Ariz., needless to say I don’t want to see the Cardinals undefeated at that point. LOL 🙂

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