Category Archives: NFL

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 14

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-8)
WEST
47-6
58-5
7-6
SOUTH
39-4
67-6
8-5
EAST
210-3
7-6
7-6 7-6
NORTH
111-2
6-7
CLINCHED 6-7
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-7)
SOUTH
49-4
59-4
9-4
WEST
39-4
68-5
8-5
NORTH
210-3
8-5
2 tied at 7-6 7-6
EAST
111-2
7-6
CLINCHED 7-6
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Bengals-Ravens, Jaguars-Titans, Saints-Bucs, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Cowboys-Eagles, Raiders-Chargers, Chiefs-Broncos, Cardinals-Seahawks. Some of these percentage chances are going to come off as high, but I couldn’t bring myself to put the percentage chances of Jags-Titans above 40 percent, yet all the other games either require a lot of things to break in their favor, are of a type the NFL would probably prefer to avoid (especially if Jags-Titans is an option), or in the case of Panthers-Falcons, have logistical issues that could completely preclude a move to Sunday night even if things break their way. (It didn’t help I actually miscalculated the numbers at first and had everything add up to 110 percent, with Jags-Titans reluctantly bumped up to 50.)
  • Chances of Jaguars-Titans: 40 percent. NBC would absolutely take any other game if it met the standard for being flexed into Sunday night, especially with it being very likely the loser of this game still gets a wild card spot, but nothing is a sure thing and unless the Titans fall off the face of the earth (or at least just lose one more game than the Jags over the next two), or win their next two while the Jaguars lose their next two, this has a very good chance to at least be a fallback option, and the league might actually prefer it to some of the options below.
  • Chances of Raiders-Chargers: 15 percent. There are two scenarios where this game becomes a Sunday night possibility: either the Chiefs lose enough that the winner of this game wins the division, or it becomes a win-and-in, lose-and-out game for the wild card. On the first front, the Chiefs beat the Chargers the first time they met (the second time is this weekend) and split with the Raiders. If the Chargers win this weekend the Chiefs will enter the last week with a 3-2 division record, same as the Chargers, while the Raiders enter at 2-3 and having already lost the first game to the Chargers; in that scenario the Chargers might then have to lose to the Jets just so the tiebreaker between the teams isn’t decided by strength of victory, and that would still probably require a Chiefs loss to the Dolphins. On the wild-card front, the Raiders have losses to both the Bills and Ravens while the Chargers beat the Bills, but the teams are all currently tied for the last wild-card spot so it wouldn’t take much slippage by the Bills and Ravens to make this game for the wild card.
  • Chances of Packers-Lions: 10 percent. This is the game NBC would pick every day of the week, but the problem is that both teams are a game out of the playoffs and have to navigate the traffic of the NFC South teams and the Seahawks, not to mention the Cowboys. The Packers have wins over Seattle and Dallas but lost to the Falcons; they play the Panthers this week in what increasingly sounds like Aaron Rodgers’ return. The Lions lost to both NFC South teams but won the first game over the Packers.
  • Chances of Chiefs-Broncos: 10 percent. For reasons described here, if the Chiefs and Chargers split their next two (the winner of that game losing the next and vice versa) while the Raiders win both, this game would decide whether or not the Chiefs win the division regardless of the result of the other game. Probably the Chiefs would need to lose their next two for Raiders-Chargers to be a division title game.
  • Chances of Panthers-Falcons: 5 percent. Same deal as Raiders-Chargers, essentially, except that the Saints look much stronger than the Chiefs at the moment (and at the least, their sweep of the Panthers means the Panthers needs to be at least a game ahead of them to qualify as a division title game) and both teams, especially the Panthers, would need to move back considerably for only one of them to make the playoffs. (In any case, as one of my commenters points out, moving this game to Sunday night would leave the stadium only about 13 hours of overnight turnaround for the Peach Bowl the next day, making even a move to the late afternoon iffy.)
  • Chances of Bengals-Ravens: 5 percent. The Ravens would hold tiebreakers over both the Raiders and Chargers, so if all three go into the final week tied this might be the choice if the Chiefs have already clinched the AFC West.
  • Chances of Bills-Dolphins: 5 percent. These two teams play two of the last three weeks against one another. If the Dolphins win the first one this game’s chances likely depend on the rest of the AFC regressing enough that this is a winner-in game; if the Bills win the game’s chances depend on this being win-and-in, lose-and-out for the Bills under similar circumstances to Chiefs-Broncos and Bengals-Ravens (though if the Bills proceeded to lose out and the Dolphins won out the Dolphins would still win the divisional tiebreaker). But that’s not as clear as with the Ravens or Chiefs; the only West team the Bills have played was a loss to the Chargers, while the Raiders have played two more conference games than the Bills and lost both.
  • Chances of Cardinals-Seahawks: 5 percent. If the teams involved retain their current relative positions, the Seahawks would lose tiebreakers to the Packers or Lions with a loss. The Cardinals have an outside shot of making the playoffs themselves, but that probably can’t be assured to be on the line entering Week 17.
  • Chances of Saints-Bucs: 3 percent. Technically this game is to Panthers-Falcons what Chiefs-Broncos is to Raiders-Chargers, but the circumstances in which it would be an option aren’t actually directly covered by that post. The Saints swept the Panthers so they would need to be tied with the Panthers. But the Falcons just won the first game between them so the Saints would need to win the second to even have a chance to win the tiebreaker with them, meaning the Saints would need to lose this week and the Falcons would need to win to get back to the two teams being even a game apart entering Week 17. Supposing that happened and the Falcons and Bucs won Week 17, we’d have a three-way tie the Saints would win by virtue of sweeping the Panthers while the Falcons split with both teams. But could this game still be an option if the Saints and Panthers were tied while the Falcons were a game back after sweeping the Saints? The three-way tie then would win the division for the Falcons by virtue of a 3-1 head-to-head record to the Saints’ 2-2 and the Panthers’ 1-3. Even then a lot is likely to depend on what other games are available and what the wild card situation is, and the NFL would likely prefer to avoid this sort of situation in favor of one where both teams have something to play for.
  • Chances of Cowboys-Eagles: 2 percent. Cowboys or no Cowboys, for this to happen the Cowboys would need to win out, the Packers and Lions would need to both split, the Falcons would need to lose out, and none of the other scenarios can happen, because this game has two things going against it: it would put both games of a division rivalry on NBC (the second time this would have happened with the NFC East) and it would involve a team likely to be resting up for the playoffs, which isn’t the case for any of the other “only matters for one team” games. (Even if the Eagles enter Week 17 not yet having clinched their seed, there’s no way to guarantee their seed would still be undetermined heading into Sunday night. It would arguably be better if they had clinched their seed because then they have nothing to play for anyway.)

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 13

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Selected game: Dallas @ Oakland.

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-7)
WEST
46-6
58-4
2 teams at 6-6
SOUTH
38-4
67-5
8-4
EAST
210-2
6-6
6-6 6-6
NORTH
110-2
6-6
7-5
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-6)
SOUTH
49-3
58-4
8-4
WEST
39-3
68-4
8-4
NORTH
210-2
7-5
2 tied at 6-6
EAST
110-2
6-6
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Jaguars-Titans, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Raiders-Chargers.
  • Preliminary analysis: NBC is dreading the possibility of getting a Jags-Titans division title game, with the loser likely to still make the playoffs (if the game doesn’t just determine home field for a rematch the next week), on New Year’s Eve, which might get the lowest ratings for the Week 17 SNF game in the all-division-games era, if not since the start of the package. The Chiefs’ freefall, though, is opening up the possibility that Raiders-Chargers could serve as at least a marginally more attractive division title game, one with the loser likely to be out. Games for wild-card berths between the Panthers and Falcons as well as between the Bills and Dolphins (and not even listed here, the Bengals and Ravens) seem unlikely. NBC’s dream game would be Packers-Lions for a wild card spot, but that would require teams in the AFC South and West to regress.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 12

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Selected game: New England @ Denver.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Dallas.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Selected game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Seattle.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Selected game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh. Regarding the changes that were made, for many the headline is “Fox would rather have Seahawks-Jaguars in the late slot than Cowboys-Giants”, but in fact the move indicates the opposite of what it seems to, serving as a testament to how much of a draw Cowboys-Giants still is even in the early slot. Cowboys-Giants now gets to anchor an early slate where the best worse team across all the games is Tampa Bay at 4-7, only two games better than the Giants, and salvage good or at least acceptable ratings for the early slot with two name teams that can pop a rating no matter what. Meanwhile, Seahawks-Jags isn’t being moved to the late slot to be Fox’s new feature game, but to serve as the undercard to Eagles-Rams, inflating ratings in Jacksonville and the Pacific Northwest and serving as a backup if Eagles-Rams gets out of hand, and given the mediocrity of the early slate might have actually gotten better distribution had it remained early; I suspect it was only chosen as the game to move late to keep the Seahawks from having to play at 10 AM in their normal time zone (the Niners have to do the same thing, but Houston is in Central time, not on the Atlantic coast, and the Niners almost want to lose at this point). I bring all this up because it has bearing on the Week 15 flex.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 5-6 v. 5-6, but as usual it would take the apocalypse hitting to dislodge a Cowboys game from Sunday night, and Oakland, at least, is still in playoff contention.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (CBS) and probably Packers-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Rams-Seahawks would be a good choice to flex in under more ideal circumstances. Any other games would involve going to teams below .500, and Cardinals-Trumps is the only game that stays with teams at 5-6 or above.
  • Analysis: If there is an argument for the league flexing in Rams-Seahawks, it’s the fact that right now it’s pinned to the 4 PM ET timeslot on the singleheader network when the doubleheader network’s protected game will in all likelihood determine home field in the NFC. Fox’s own protected game could feature the return of Aaron Rodgers so while Rams-Seahawks would be an attractive game to show in the home markets of teams with CBS early games, it’s probably not worth diluting Packers-Panthers distribution and undermining the CBS feature game to broaden Rams-Seahawks’ reach. The NFL has stepped in to broaden the distribution of potentially under-distributed singleheader-network games (especially those otherwise pinned to 4:05) before, most notably with the “protection override” of Chiefs-Broncos a few years ago (even Saints-Rams being crossflexed to CBS this past week arguably falls in this category, though it’s also precisely the situation for which the crossflex was developed regardless of original timeslot). But the Cowboys have never been flexed out of Sunday night, even when circumstances would absolutely warrant it with any other team, and  with a game that still has playoff meaning (certainly for the Raiders), NBC would scream bloody murder at losing a Cowboys game even when swapping two potentially 5-7 teams for an 8-3 v. 7-4 divisional clash featuring the big (but lukewarm) Los Angeles market.

    Notably (especially if you want to stick to the crossflex era), the league had a somewhat similar situation in Week 12 of 2014, and kept a matchup between the top two teams in the NFC West, the Cardinals at Seahawks, 8-1 v. 6-3 at the time the decision had to be made (with the Cardinals holding the league’s best record), in the late time slot of the Fox singleheader playing second fiddle to the 7-2 Lions at the 7-2 Patriots, while keeping CBS’ late slot anchored by a much more mediocre Dolphins-Broncos contest that stood at 5-4 v. 7-2, worse than either of those Fox games. The game the league kept on NBC that time involved a Cowboys team with a much less disappointing season (the problem was lopsidedness, not overall mediocrity), their opponents the Giants were and are a bigger draw in their own right than the Raiders, and all else being equal the Rams can probably pop a bigger rating than the Cardinals, but given the league’s other history with Cowboys SNF games color me skeptical that they’ll pull the trigger now.

  • Final prediction: Dallas Cowboys @ Oakland Raiders (no change).

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-7)
WEST
46-5
57-4
2 teams at 5-6
SOUTH
37-4
66-5
7-4
EAST
29-2
6-5
6-5 5-6
NORTH
19-2
5-6
6-5 5-6
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-6)
SOUTH
48-3
58-3
8-3
WEST
38-3
67-4
7-4
NORTH
29-2
7-4
6-5 6-5
EAST
110-1
2 teams at 5-6
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Jaguars-Titans, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Cardinals-Seahawks.

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 14 Picks

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 5-5 v. 9-2. Not terrible, exactly, and the Ravens actually came into the week tied for the second wild card (if Vikings-Panthers is flexed in I could see Ravens-Steelers being CBS’ lead game), but still a bit lopsided and the Steelers-Ravens rivalry has seen better days.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants (FOX).
  • Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Eagles (10-1)-Rams (8-3), Vikings (9-2)-Panthers (8-3), Seahawks (7-4)-Jaguars (7-4).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: Will the Ravens be 6-5 and tied for the second wild card, or will they fall to a 4-6 Texans team at home and potentially set up the Steelers needing only a win to clinch the division, if they haven’t clinched it already?
  • Analysis: Ravens-Steelers is likely to have immediate playoff implications for both teams, and I continue to hold that it’s hard to imagine it losing its spot if the Ravens win (even if they lose the game is really only in jeopardy because the alternatives are strong enough to overcome the tentative game bias), but if they lose things get interesting, not only in regards to the question of whether it loses its spot at all but what game it gets replaced with. The general manager of the Coliseum is on record saying that “there are no restrictions on the venue playing host to a Sunday night game”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the league would be so quick to take Eagles-Rams with Vikings-Panthers sitting there as an alternative. It’s worth noting that Fox has the doubleheader and could make Eagles-Rams its lead late game without any game time changes, while Vikings-Panthers was crossflexed to CBS, and while the league could conceivably “undo” the crossflex to get it a wider audience CBS would likely want another game to be crossflexed back at the very least (as they’d be left with five games with only three of them in the early slot), assuming such a thing is even possible at all; flexing it into Sunday night not only means Ravens-Steelers doesn’t get caught up in the crossflex rules but actually takes a crossflex off the board without replacement (which could be important, as all seven Fox-to-CBS crossflexes have been used). The Jaguars continue to be potential ratings poison, and if Eagles-Rams got flexed in Fox could always go back to their original plan, as a Cowboys game, even against the woeful Giants, is always better than most alternatives.
  • Final prediction: Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers (no change) (if the Ravens win Monday night), Minnesota Vikings @ Carolina Panthers (if the Ravens lose Monday night, CBS didn’t protect it, and previously crossflexed games can be moved to Sunday night), Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams (if the Ravens lose Monday night and Vikings-Panthers is protected or can’t be moved to Sunday night for other reasons).

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 11

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Selected game: New England @ Denver.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Dallas.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Selected game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Seattle.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 5-5 v. 8-2. Not terrible, exactly, and the Ravens are actually tied for the second wild card, but still a bit lopsided and the Steelers-Ravens rivalry has seen better days.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The general manager of the Coliseum is now on record saying that “there are no restrictions on the venue playing host to a Sunday night game”, but Vikings-Panthers remains a game the league (if not NBC) might prefer to Eagles-Rams even without the Eagles’ one-loss status, if CBS didn’t protect it. Seahawks-Jaguars remains a game that would be a strong option if one of the teams wasn’t the Jags.
  • Analysis: The Ravens play on Monday night against a beatable Texans team and if they win (and possibly even if both they and the Steelers lose) it’s hard to imagine this game losing its spot. But if the game becomes more lopsided, 9-2 v. 8-3, as either Eagles-Rams or Vikings-Panthers could be, would be very difficult to pass up, even though Ravens-Steelers would still have playoff implications for both teams.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 5-5 v. 4-6, but as usual it would take the apocalypse hitting to dislodge a Cowboys game from Sunday night.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (CBS) and probably Packers-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Rams-Seahawks would be a good choice to flex in under more ideal circumstances. Any other games would involve going to teams below .500, and Dolphins-Bills, Cardinals-Trumps, Texans-Jaguars, and even Bengals-Vikings aren’t that appealing even then; certainly they wouldn’t overcome the tentative game bias even if the Cowboys weren’t involved.

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-6)
WEST
46-4
56-4
2 teams at 4-6
SOUTH
37-3
65-5
6-4
EAST
28-2
5-5
5-5
NORTH
18-2
3-7
5-5 3-7
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-6)
WEST
47-3
57-3
6-4
SOUTH
38-2
66-4
7-3
NORTH
28-2
6-4
6-4 6-4
EAST
19-1
5-5
5-5 5-5
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Jaguars-Titans, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Cowboys-Eagles, Cardinals-Seahawks.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 10

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Selected game: New England @ Denver.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Dallas.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Selected game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 8-1 v. 6-3 and a matchup between two teams in the thick of the playoff mix.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Saints and Vikings-Falcons are the only games involving only teams above .500.
  • Analysis: At the same time it announced a crossflex for Week 12, the league also announced it was moving Panthers-Saints to become Fox’s lead national game this week, and listed a “final schedule” for both weeks, implying Eagles-Seahawks isn’t going to be flexed out no matter what. Of course it’s not like either game was going to overcome the tentative game bias anyway, not when the teams involved are this good (the best-case scenario for a flex is Panthers-Saints at 8-2 v. 7-3 with Eagles-Seahawks at 8-2 v. 6-4), but this allows me to make next week’s post right after the Monday night game ends.
  • Final prediction/actual selection: Philadelphia Eagles @ Seattle Seahawks (no change).

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-5 v. 7-2. The AFC is shoddy enough that the Ravens are only a game out of the wild card, but this game is looking pretty lopsided with the Steelers running away with the division, and the Ravens-Steelers rivalry can’t carry a game by itself anymore.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants (FOX).
  • Other possible games: As mentioned last week, the general manager of the Coliseum is now on record saying that “there are no restrictions on the venue playing host to a Sunday night game”. Still, if Vikings-Panthers is unprotected the league may want to make good neighbors with USC and the Coliseum’s neighbors and take Vikings-Panthers even with a slightly worse pair of records, especially with the Eagles on SNF the previous week and the Rams having an outside shot at being flexed in next week (if the Cowboys’ invulnerability to being flexed out somehow disappears). Seahawks-Jaguars remains a game involving a good pair of records but a team in the Jaguars the league and networks may instinctively blanch at the prospect of featuring.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 5-4 v. 4-5, but as usual it would take the apocalypse hitting to dislodge a Cowboys game from Sunday night.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (CBS) and probably Packers-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Rams-Seahawks would be a good choice to flex in under more ideal circumstances. Any other games would involve going to teams below .500, and Dolphins-Bills and Cardinals-Trumps aren’t that appealing even then; certainly they wouldn’t overcome the tentative game bias even if the Cowboys weren’t involved.

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (3-6)
SOUTH
46-3
56-3
6-3
WEST
36-3
65-4
4-5
EAST
27-2
4-5 3-7
5-4 4-5
NORTH
17-2
4-5
4-5 4-6
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-5)
WEST
47-2
57-3
6-3
NORTH
37-2
66-3
2 teams at 5-4
SOUTH
27-2
5-4
7-3 5-4
EAST
18-1
5-4
5-4 5-4
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Jaguars-Titans, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Cowboys-Eagles, Cardinals-Seahawks.

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 12 Picks

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 5-4 v. 7-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of. For the Packers, beating the Bears on the road without Aaron Rodgers likely saves this game from being flexed out.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Saints (7-2)-Rams (7-2) and Dolphins (4-4)-Patriots (7-2).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: The Dolphins are trying to make Dolphins-Patriots a matchup of two teams with records above .500, but with identical records to the tentative.
  • Analysis: As mentioned earlier, any notion of flexing out this game depended on the Packers losing to the Bears and painting a picture of a Packers team in freefall.
  • Final prediction: Green Bay Packers @ Pittsburgh Steelers (no change).

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 9

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Selected game: New England @ Denver.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Dallas.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-4 v. 6-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of. The Packers haven’t won since Aaron Rodgers went down, but those games were against good, playoff-worthy teams. The Lions are a little more concerning as they were 3-4 before the game, but the Packers would need to lose to the 3-5 Bears for this game to be in serious jeopardy.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games. That said, if they were bigger-name teams and if it weren’t for the Chiefs already being maxed out on primetime appearances, I might have named Bills-Chiefs as a candidate for protection, and if it weren’t for the latter, the quality of the tentative, and how long it would make the trip from the Thanksgiving night game in Washington, it’d at least be under consideration for a move to Sunday night. In lieu of that, the league’s only options involving only teams at or above .500 are Saints-Rams, which depends on a night game at the Coliseum the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend being an option, or Dolphins-Patriots, which may or may not have been protected. Panthers-Jets might sneak in if I was wrong about Fox’s protection (Bucs-Falcons was also somewhat viable at the time).
  • Analysis: For reasons I lay out below, Saints-Rams may well be a viable option. USC’s season would be over except for a possible Pac-12 Championship Game trip, which I believe would be at Levi’s Stadium. It would pit a big market, albeit one that’s lukewarm towards having their own NFL team (let alone two), against a name team in its own right, and two division leaders at what’s currently 6-2. It’s an iffier proposition than in two weeks, but if it looks like the Packers are going into freefall without Aaron Rodgers, it’d be hard for the league not to make the flex. Panthers-Jets and Dolphins-Pats would result in less unplanned travel from Washington, but would need the weaker AFC East teams to win (and the Dolphins have a Monday night tilt with the Panthers). If the Packers lose, expect me to have a convoluted prediction in my Last-Minute Remarks.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 8-1 v. 5-3, a skosh lopsided but the Seahawks are still very much in the playoff mix.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Saints is the only game involving only teams above .500. Vikings-Falcons and Rams-Cardinals might also be viable, but it’d be very hard for them to overcome the tentative game bias under the circumstances.

Week 14 (December 10):

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

Week 15 (December 17):

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

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (3-5)
SOUTH
45-3
55-3
5-3
WEST
36-3
65-3
4-5
EAST
26-2
4-4
5-3 4-5
NORTH
16-2
4-5
4-5 4-5
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-4)
WEST
46-2
56-3
5-3
NORTH
36-2
65-3
2 teams at 4-4
SOUTH
26-2
5-3
6-3 3-5
EAST
18-1
5-3
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Jaguars-Titans, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Cowboys-Eagles, Cardinals-Seahawks.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 8

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Selected game: New England @ Denver.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 7-1 v. 4-3, but when it’s the Cowboys the records don’t matter, and these are the top two teams in the division.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Packers, with a possibility of Patriots-Raiders if that game in Mexico City could be flexed to primetime to begin with (CBS) and Rams-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Bengals-Broncos and Cardinals-Texans pit two 3-4 teams against each other, and Natives-Saints pits a 3-4 team against a 5-2 team. You’d have to take a below-.500 team if I’m right about the protections.
  • Analysis: The protected games, especially Rams-Vikings, are juicier, but it’s hard to imagine the league flexing out of a game featuring a Cowboys team above .500 (at that mark at worst) going up against what might be the best team in the league.
  • Final prediction: Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys (no change).

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 6-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of, even if the Packers go into the tank without Aaron Rodgers. The Packers would need to lose to the Lions this week, and then the Bears in the last week before the decision needs to come down, to put this in serious jeopardy.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games. That said, if they were bigger-name teams and if it weren’t for the Chiefs already being maxed out on primetime appearances, I might have named Bills-Chiefs as a candidate for protection, and if it weren’t for the latter, the quality of the tentative, and how long it would make the trip from the Thanksgiving night game in Washington, it’d at least be under consideration for a move to Sunday night. In lieu of that, the league’s only options involving only teams at or above .500 are Saints-Rams, which depends on a night game at the Coliseum the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend being an option, or Dolphins-Patriots, which may or may not have been protected.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 7-1 v. 5-2, about as good as could be hoped for at the moment.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Saints and Vikings-Falcons are the only games involving only teams above .500.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-4 v. 6-2. The Ravens have snapped their losing skid, but the Steelers might be starting to run away with the division, and this rivalry doesn’t have as much fire as it used to.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants or (less likely) Eagles-Rams (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Did CBS leave Vikings-Panthers unprotected? If so, it’d be hard to beat. Is it possible for the Coliseum to host a Sunday night game in mid-December, after college football season is over but in the midst of USC finals, and would the NFL be okay with the Eagles having back-to-back Sunday night games? If so, that becomes an option, though if NBC were as desperate for it as one of my commenters thinks they’d have it scheduled to begin with (yes, no one thought the Rams would be this good, but still). But even without those two games, keep an eye on Seahawks-Jaguars. Would the NFL flex out of a game involving a rivalry that still has some resonance and a team with a fanbase far outside its home market for one involving a team most people are only aware of because they’re surprised they’re still in Jacksonville? Wait and see.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 3-5, but again it would take the apocalypse hitting to dislodge a Cowboys game from Sunday night.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (CBS) and probably Packers-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: If one of the teams in the tentative weren’t the Cowboys, Rams-Seahawks would be another reason not to flex in Eagles-Rams the previous week, with Dolphins-Bills a bit behind. Texans-Jaguars, Bengals-Vikings, and Cardinals-Trumps are worth keeping an eye on as games involving teams at 3-4.

Week 17 (December 31):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Could ESPN Kill Thursday Night Football?

In 1987, ESPN achieved something of a holy grail for the cable industry, picking up a half-season package of Sunday night NFL games, paid for with the imposition of a surcharge on the fees cable operators paid them. In 1998, ESPN picked up the full season of Sunday night games, paid for by the negotiation of clauses with distributors ramping up the fees paid to ESPN every year. This was the start of the process that resulted in ESPN charging every cable subscriber over $7 a month, far more than any other national cable network, and a key component in ESPN’s ability to acquire top-of-the-line sports rights such as the biggest college football bowl games.

In 2005, Disney was outmaneuvered in its efforts to renew both ESPN’s Sunday night package and ABC’s Monday night package, as the NFL struck a deal with NBC to move the league’s marquee primetime package to Sunday night in order to institute flexible scheduling that would ensure good, competitive games late into the season. Disney was left paying as much as it had for both of its previous packages for a single package for airing on ESPN. Ever since, ESPN has paid nearly twice as much as the broadcast networks for a package not much better, if at all, than the marginally-attractive matchups it had been getting on Sunday night. ESPN executives have chafed at this, claiming that for the amount it pays it should be getting matchups at least on par with the broadcast networks; to be sure, part of the fee pays for ESPN’s ability to use highlights across its myriad of programs, but that’s only a fraction of it, maybe no more than a fifth. But when the time came to renew the deal, after nearly a decade of knowing what Monday Night Football had become with the move to cable, ESPN ponied up nearly two billion dollars a year, once again close to double what each of the broadcast networks were paying. ESPN’s package of NFL games may be weak, but they’re a big part of what makes ESPN so valuable to cable operators, what makes it such a must-have for sports fans, and without it ESPN not only becomes a lot less valuable, but that same package of games becomes a tool an FS1 or NBCSN can use to instantly establish near-parity with ESPN.

At the same time it was shaking up its existing primetime packages in 2005, the NFL carved out a package of late-season Thursday night games to air on its own network, hoping to turn NFL Network into a cash cow that could collect hefty subscriber fees directly for the league. The package grew until it eventually took up the whole season, both to coerce holdouts to carry NFL Network and to establish the worth of a package to sell to other parties. Initially, the league was thought to be selling part of the Thursday night package to another cable outlet like FS1, NBCSN, or TNT, any of which would be salivating over the prospect of using NFL games to increase their own worth to cable operators, but instead it ultimately sold the right to simulcast and produce half a season of games to broadcast networks while also selling the right to stream games to Twitter and later Amazon. Sure, Thursday night games meant teams would be playing on a short week, increasing the risk of injury and potentially resulting in sloppy games, and the league’s policy of making each team play on a short week exactly once during the season limited the package’s ability to show marquee matchups. But Thursday night was a place to collect another pound of flesh from TV partners and air the games that made NFL Network worth paying for for cable operators, as well as a place to experiment with new formats and partners. It wasn’t like there were any other places for them to do this. Sundays and Mondays were taken.

Things have changed quite rapidly over the past few years. Cord-cutting has taken off like a rocket as people increasingly turn to on-demand streaming services for their entertainment, undercutting the primacy of linear television. In the short term, this only increases the value of live sports as one of the few types of programming people will willingly watch live, without skipping commercials, and are willing to pay for cable packages to watch, but it also changes the very nature of linear television, as it’s becoming increasingly apparent that anything your network airs that isn’t live events is just filler between live events (as much as ESPN and Fox sometimes don’t seem to recognize this). In that context, highlight rights are considerably less valuable than they used to be.

ESPN and the NFL are also looking at a future where the cable bundle collapses and the NFL can’t simply sell whatever it offers for a billion dollars to whatever cable network pays for it, which is no doubt part of the reason why it sold TNF to broadcast networks and streaming services rather than cable networks. In this context, ESPN’s future is no longer in collecting as much money as it can off the back of every cable subscriber, but in converting itself into a service offering its wares direct to the consumer, and it has less to worry about from FS1 and NBCSN – who have benefitted ESPN more by keeping the cable bundle propped up than hurt it in any way, and which now become more untenable propositions both in general and for the league specifically – than it does from Amazon and its ability to synergize sports rights with its Prime service. A package of mediocre NFL games may be valuable to cable operators that can pass on the cost to all their subscribers and that NFL fans can watch at anytime after paying for the entire cable bundle, but a subscription service offered directly to consumers can best attract subscribers by covering certain sports comprehensively, or else a broad array of important sports events that can combine to make it a must-have service for sports fans, and that single mediocre NFL game each week isn’t going to fit the bill and certainly isn’t going to be worth two billion dollars.

In that context, it’s easy to see why, as James Andrew Miller, the man who literally wrote the book on ESPN, suggested in a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter, ESPN might be thinking about going without NFL rights when they next come up for renewal, for the first time since 1987. ESPN has been removing clauses conditioning its high subscription fees on its continued carriage of NFL games from its contracts with cable operators, which makes sense when you consider the gap in fees between ESPN and NFL Network (and the fact that TNT charges more than NFLN without football or really much of anything other than NBA basketball and select NCAA Tournament games), and freeing up two billion dollars a year of spending money allows them to pay for events that offer a larger tonnage of content and may be more likely to entice more people to sign up for an ESPN subscription service.

Meanwhile, faced with a second year of headlines of declining NFL ratings, networks have begun complaining to the NFL about oversaturation of games and games being taken out of the Sunday afternoon packages. They want to move all London games back to 1 PM ET and end the “breakfast football” games that kick off at 9:30 AM ET. And they want the league to cut the Thursday night package back to eight games. That latter point would be difficult for the league to acquiesce to; all eight games would need to be exclusive to NFL Network to meet the network’s own contractural agreements with TV partners, preventing them from selling the games to another partner or a streaming service and once again forcing them to produce the games themselves, and potentially irking cable operators seeing NFLN’s tonnage being reduced to what it used to be when it was having trouble finding partners. And there’s nowhere else for it to go; again, Sundays and Mondays are all tied up. Or are they?

If ESPN decides NFL games are no longer vital to their business, if they decide to go without the NFL in the next TV contract, because of market forces that mean the NFL can’t prop up the cable bundle or any particular cable network anymore, that opens up a package of games that the NFL likely can’t sell to ESPN or any outlet looking to imitate it, but can use for whatever other purpose the league wants. They can put half the games on NFL Network, at least as long as it remains a tenable proposition within the cable bundle, and sell the remaining half to broadcast networks as they do with TNF now, or to a streaming service like Amazon, potentially selling the full season once the cable bundle completely collapses. Without ESPN preventing the NFL from doing whatever they want with MNF, the league could turn Mondays into the experimental night Thursdays are now, potentially doing away with Thursday games entirely except for opening night, Thanksgiving, and the week after Thanksgiving when both teams can be taken from the Thanksgiving games and play on a full week’s rest, curbing concerns about the league wearing players into the ground to collect a pound of flesh it’s becoming increasingly difficult to collect.

The competitive concerns motivating ESPN to keep paying up for MNF haven’t completely eased; ESPN wouldn’t want to walk away from the NFL only to pave the path for Amazon to become a competitor for sports rights. But I continue to believe that no entity that doesn’t at least control a linear television platform can truly be a player for major sports rights, and while Amazon has a lot more going for it than most Internet outlets, it’s not immune to those fundamental forces. At the very least, if ESPN continues to control a linear outlet it has a major asset to offer to sports entities, and if Amazon were to find its way onto one, and spend as prodigiously on sports rights as media companies have over the past decade, it would risk losing some of the advantages Prime has over cable networks if not recreate the worst excesses of the cable bundle. ESPN can handle creating a new competitor in Amazon while freeing up funds to maintain its supremacy in other ways, the NFL gets to continue raking in money from whatever revenue streams are available even if they aren’t as big, and players and fans could potentially find themselves in a world without Thursday Night Football and all the excesses and problems it represents and perpetuates. Everyone wins.