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 even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why 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 4:15 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. 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.
- In the past, three teams could 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. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; ten teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Packers, Bears, 49ers, Steelers, and Saints don’t have games in the main flex period, and all have games in the early flex period. I don’t know if both of the games scheduled for 12/20 count towards the total, or only the one in primetime. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 17 (December 28):
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THE WINGS (7-7)
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NFC SOUTH WINGS
- Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
- Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Lions-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Bills-Patriots, Bengals-Steelers (with the first three being most likely). Sadly for any chance of seeing Johnny Manziel in primetime this season, on top of his bad play the Browns’ conference record is atrocious, especially compared to the Chiefs and Chargers, essentially eliminating Browns-Ravens as a guaranteed win-and-you’re-in game for the Browns, though there’s an off chance it’s a loser-out game for the Ravens.
- Lions-Packers will be selected if: The Packers win OR the Lions and Cowboys lose. If the Lions were to win and the Packers lose the Lions would cinch the conference tiebreaker; both teams hold tiebreakers over Philly so there is pretty much no way for this to be a loser-out game, but either team, with a win, would cinch a first-round bye contingent on winning the division. Even if a first-round bye isn’t guaranteed to be on the line, however, this game would probably still be flexed in with a Lions loss and a Cowboys win if any of the other scenarios fail to play out.
- Panthers-Falcons will be picked if: The Panthers win AND the Falcons beat the Saints AND the Lions-Packers scenario doesn’t happen. The Saints winning on Monday night and the Falcons losing Sunday actually isn’t a disaster for this game’s chances; the Falcons would tie the Saints in the standings and hold a head-to-head sweep with a win, but the Panthers do need to hold up their end of the bargain, as a loss would leave them dependent on what the Saints do against the Bucs. Both the NFL and NBC really hope this doesn’t happen.
- Chargers-Chiefs will be picked if: The Chiefs beat the Steelers AND the Chargers win AND the Ravens win AND the Lions-Packers scenario doesn’t happen. Though neither team is in position right now, their respective conference records have them in such good shape for cross-division tiebreakers it could actually hurt this game’s chances for the loser to be out; if the Steelers and Ravens both lose out, the Chiefs would still hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Steelers, and the Bills’ conference record is even worse than that of the Browns so they would be a nonfactor in this scenario.
- Bengals-Steelers will be picked if: The Bengals lose AND the Chiefs beat the Steelers AND the Chargers win AND (the Ravens win AND the Lions-Packers scenario doesn’t happen) OR (the Lions win AND the Packers lose AND the Panthers-Falcons scenario doesn’t happen). If the Ravens lose either week, this game is for the division with the loser falling behind the Chiefs-Chargers winner, but if the Steelers lose out, they could easily still make the playoffs if the Ravens also lose out and the Chiefs beat the Chargers, and a Browns win this week doesn’t help that because they split the season series with the Steelers (with both also splitting with the Ravens), would finish with the same division record (ahead of the Ravens), and lose the common games tiebreaker. For the Bengals, the problem is all the more acute because tiebreakers don’t factor into it at all; in the wild card race, they can only fall behind the Chiefs, Chargers, or Bills if those teams win out, or the Ravens if they pick up at least one win. Division winner versus 6 seed might still be attractive to NBC, but not if the division winner would hold the 4 seed, or worse, if the game just determines home field for a rematch the following week. So this game actually has a better shot if it’s not guaranteed to be for the division, because that ensures that the loser will fall to third in the division on top of falling behind the Chiefs-Chargers winner. (UPDATE 12/18: Just realized the Bengals are playing on Monday night, making this all the more unlikely and possibly dependent on the Steelers winning. This game may be just plain out unless there are no other options.)
- Bills-Patriots might be picked if: The Bills win AND the Steelers beat the Chiefs AND the Ravens and Chargers lose AND the Lions win AND the Packers lose AND the Panthers-Falcons situation doesn’t happen. Even then, the Patriots have already locked up the division and a lot would depend on what the Broncos and Colts do; this game would probably need the Patriots to lose and the Broncos to win, and a Colts win would be nice as well. But if all this happens, the Bills would lose a tiebreaker to the Chiefs-Chargers winner with a loss, while the worst-case scenario with a win would be going to strength of victory against the Ravens. All told, chances are NBC will continue its streak of airing all NFC matchups since Week 17 went to all-division matchups in 2010.