Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 16; and week 17. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games, as well as late-season Saturday games, are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturday of Week 16 this year – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in receives the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 17, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. In theory, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and NBC has never shown them. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET.

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

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 16; and week 17. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games, as well as late-season Saturday games, are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturday of Week 16 this year – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in receives the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 17, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. In theory, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and NBC has never shown them. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET.

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

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 7 Picks

Week 7 (October 21):

  • Tentative game: LA Rams @ San Francisco
  • Prospects: 5-0 v. 1-4. It’s surprising to me that the Niners received not one but two SNF games to begin with; typically a team with high hopes and an exciting offense keyed by a young star play-making quarterback but coming off a mediocre season gets a couple of MNF games but doesn’t really get the SNF treatment unless they’re the biggest of big names like the Giants or Cowboys (thinking of the Panthers in Cam Newton’s sophomore season). The Niners are a big-market team with a lot of history and a sizable fanbase, but outside the Jim Harbaugh era haven’t been relevant this century. In any case, with Jimmy Garoppalo out for the season look for the Niners’ other SNF game to be flexed out, and with their opponents for this game being one of the league’s two unbeatens and with the Niners coming off handing the last winless team in the league their first win, this sure looks like the sort of potential disaster that would call for the first early flex.
  • Possible alternatives and their records: CBS: Bengals (4-1)-Chiefs (5-0), Patriots (3-2)-Bears (3-1), Cowboys (2-3)-Redskins (2-1). FOX: Saints (3-1)-Ravens (3-2), Browns (2-2-1)-Buccaneers (2-2).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: Well, the Saints are playing, but I’m not sure the outcome would mean much for the value of their game.
  • Predicted protections: Cowboys-Indians (CBS). For Fox, see below.
  • Analysis: This is going to be an interesting case study in the league’s thought process regarding the early flex, and possibly in whether I have the league’s rules wrong. Earlier in the week a Saints beat writer tweeted to “look for the Saints-Ravens game to be possibly flexed to NBC“. That surprised me, because by my reckoning the Eagles are maxed out on primetime appearances with their London game on NFL Network, meaning Saints-Ravens would be the only game Fox would need to protect (as opposed to Panthers-Eagles). Despite only having one loss between them Bengals-Chiefs does not really have the sort of name value the league would like, but after a Twitter conversation with a Bears fan earlier in the week I was leaning towards Pats-Bears as the most likely option, though it would max the Pats out on primetime appearances. Possibly relevant here is that most of the early flex period falls in October and thus overlaps with the baseball playoffs, and just as the league tended to schedule teams in markets that weren’t particularly baseball hotbeds for at least the first few years it went up against the World Series (the Saints-Colts game that gave birth to the early flex to begin with pitted two teams from markets without MLB teams), so the league may be reticent to risk putting a Patriots game against a potential ALCS Game 7 at Fenway. (Also relevant is that next week’s SNF game pits the Pats and Chiefs, which would make the league reticent to put in either significant CBS game and so have either team on SNF in consecutive weeks.)

    On Sunday the same beat writer wondered whether “the Ravens just messed this up“, so it’s possible this was always predicated on the game being 4-1 v. 4-1 and the league wanting to rescue the game from singleheader purgatory, as it’s currently scheduled as a 4:05 ET game even though it could conceivably move to 1. (If it were moved to 1, Browns-Bucs or Lions-Dolphins could replace it at 4:05; Panthers-Eagles or Vikings-Jets would result in big NFC East markets being blacked out from seeing Cowboys-Indians, and the former means there’s only so much distribution Saints-Ravens would gain by moving to 1. But if it were moved to Sunday night, Rams-Niners would conveniently slot in to replace it at 4:05.) Given some of the constraints I identified, if the league were to shy away from flexing in Saints-Ravens or Fox stood its ground on keeping it, honestly the most likely outcome in that scenario might be this game keeping its spot; it is a rivalry game pitting two big markets, after all. (If I’m wrong about the Eagles being maxed out, Panthers-Eagles seems iffy with the Eagles below .500 and not looking like last year’s Super Bowl team regardless of who’s at quarterback.) I’m sorely tempted to forego a prediction at all, but:

  • Final prediction: New Orleans Saints @ Baltimore Ravens (assuming Fox is convinced to relinquish its right to protect it, no change otherwise).

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Preliminary Thoughts and Changes for the Season

A week ago I received a tweet asking if the Week 5 Sunday night game might be our first ever early flex. I didn’t actually read the tweet in detail, only seeing the notification of it on my phone, but seeing it and the mountains of notifications I was receiving put me into a panic mode, as I had fallen way behind on substantial changes I was planning to make to the Flex Schedule Watch this year. It took me all week to prepare the most substantial part of the changes and bring me to the point where I could even start to look at the situation.

The game in question? The Cowboys at the Texans.

I don’t know how many times I have to say this: if the Cowboys and their opponents have two wins between them and the Game of the Century is sitting there unprotected, maybe the league flexes out of a Cowboy game, but I’m not sure I would bet on it even then. Certainly they’re not going to burn the first-ever early flex on America’s Team, no matter how disappointing both Texas teams are. Neither was the undefeated Chiefs against Brady and the Patriots in any real doubt. (Oh, and only a handful of those notifications were actually about Cowboys-Texans.)

Rams-Niners Week 7 is more interesting, though; I’m surprised the Niners have multiple NBC appearances to begin with as I would have tagged them as more of a Monday night team unless and until Jimmy Garoppalo could prove himself to maintain his performance at the end of last season over the course of a whole season, and with him being out for the year and the Niners sitting at 1-3 to the Rams’ 4-0, most of the attraction the game had may be gone. It is a rivalry game between two big, multi-team markets but everyone knows how lukewarm LA has been to the return of the NFL. CBS is likely to protect Cowboys-Indians no matter what so if the Chiefs and Bengals both win it would certainly be attractive with only one loss between them, though probably not big enough names for the league to pull the early flex. Fox’s best games of Panthers-Eagles and Saints-Ravens would be more intriguing if the Eagles weren’t maxed out on primetime appearances (see below).

On to the changes to the flex schedule watch, where I was planning to institute the biggest changes to the structure of the Watch since I started it over a decade ago. My intention was to take all the information previously contained in my post-opening spiel, as well as other bits and pieces of information gleaned over the years, and present it in a coherent fashion on a single static page. That page ended up rambling on for over 3300 words, so it’s likely I’m going to continue providing a Cliffs Notes version of the page at the beginning of each post, but it’s likely to look completely different from the spiels I’ve given in the past.

In accordance with the new page, I’m also going to provide a table of primetime appearances in a single post at the beginning of the season, possibly shortly after the schedule release in future seasons. Recall the appearance limits are six primetime games for three teams, five for everyone else, and four NBC appearances. The Eagles have one SNF game in the main flex period so they could be flexed in if that game were flexed out. In the “Flexible” column, a “+1” indicates that the team has an SNF game in the Week 7-10 period, in other words, vulnerable to an early flex but not in Week 5 or 6 where any decision has likely already been made. This also doesn’t count the games that could potentially move to NFL Network on Saturday Week 16.

Team PT App’s On NBC Flexible
6 3 1+1
5 3 0+1
5 3 0+1
5 3 1+1
5 3 2
5 2 0+1
5 2 1
5 2 1+1
5 2 1+1
5 2 2
4 2 1+1
4 1 0
4 1 0
4 1 1
4 0 0
3 2 0
3 1 1
3 0 0
3 0 0
2 1 0
2 1 0
2 1 0
2 0 0
2 0 0
2 0 0
All others 1 0 0

Oh, and see here for why things might look different around here. I invite your comments on a potential future course of action on this post (assuming things actually do look different and the comments here are working), or alternately on Twitter.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 15

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 (6-8)
WEST
48-6
58-6
7-7
SOUTH
310-4
68-6
8-6
NORTH
211-3
8-6
CLINCHED 7-7
EAST
111-3
CLINCHED
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-7)
SOUTH
410-4
510-4 ALL OTHER TEAMS
ELIMINATED
10-4
WEST
310-4
69-5
8-6
NORTH
211-3
8-6
CLINCHED 8-6
EAST
112-2
8-6
CLINCHED
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Bills-Dolphins, Jaguars-Titans, and near as I can tell, that’s it.
  • Jaguars-Titans will be picked if: The Jaguars lose AND the Titans win. The good news is that the Titans might have to win just to make the playoffs; the bad news is that the Jags have already clinched a playoff spot and this game needs another Niners upset and the Titans to upset the Rams to happen at all. For NBC, the good news is they might not be stuck with this game; the bad news is that they lose this game as a potential fallback option. The Jags could have a shot at a first-round bye with a win, and the Titans could be fighting for their playoff lives with a loss, but there’s no way to guarantee either team would have something to play for by the time Sunday night comes around.
  • Bills-Dolphins will be picked if: The Bills lose AND the Ravens lose AND the Chargers lose AND the Dolphins win AND the Bills have clinched the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Ravens AND the Jags-Titans scenario doesn’t happen. This would create a situation where the Dolphins could potentially make the playoffs with a win, but more importantly, the tiebreaker they’d have over the Bills would eliminate them from the playoffs, making this close to a win-and-in, lose-and-out game for the Bills. However, the league would probably prefer to maximize what the Dolphins have to play for, so might only pick this game if the Dolphins are completely out of the playoffs win or lose.
  • Panthers-Falcons might be picked if: The Falcons beat the Saints AND the Panthers win AND neither of the other scenarios happen. As mentioned last week, the Peach Bowl will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 12:30 the following day, making it unlikely the game even can be moved even to the late afternoon unless it’s moved to, say, the Georgia Tech campus (as is the turnaround time is similar to what the Big 12 title game would have faced if it was played the day after Indians-Cowboys the week after Thanksgiving, and that wound up getting it played early Saturday afternoon instead). Theoretically they can pull it off if they need to – there were multiple times this year that the Coliseum hosted a USC game on Saturday and a 1:05 or 1:25 PM local-time Rams game on Sunday, and I don’t know if a grass field is harder or easier to turn around than FieldTurf – but it’s not likely to make anyone happy even before considering that’s going from college to an NFL game, not the other way around and not when dealing with a major bowl game, which may have bigger logistical issues to deal with. Still, the fact I haven’t seen any actual reporting about the ability or lack thereof to play Panthers-Falcons later in the day might make me cautiously optimistic, though of course that also means there’s nothing saying it is possible like there was for Eagles-Rams.

Even if Panthers-Falcons can be moved to a later time slot, it’s still not guaranteed to happen and in fact the Saints are favored over the Falcons. That opens up the very real possibility that the NFL has no game that, by their usual standards, is suitable for the Sunday night Week 17 game – just about every game featuring a playoff team or contender will need to be played before or simultaneously with another game to ensure each team has as much to play for as possible, or at least to minimize the possibility of playoff positioning being determined by a team with nothing to play for, compounded by the potential of ratings going in the tank on New Year’s Eve. That could be instructive in terms of what the league prioritizes in such a situation. Here are some games to look for, and what scenarios might favor them, in very rough order of preference:

  • Cowboys-Eagles could be picked if: The Cowboys lose OR the Eagles win OR the Vikings lose. This at least eliminates the scenario where the Cowboys could make the playoffs by beating an Eagles team resting their starters, when the Eagles would have played their starters if they were playing before or simultaneously with the Vikings, or conversely where the Eagles can win home field by beating a Cowboys team eliminated from the playoffs, when the Cowboys would still be alive for the playoffs if they were playing before or simultaneously with the other NFC wild card contenders. This also assumes there’s no scenario where the outcome of this game affects tiebreakers but the Cowboys can’t actually win a tiebreaker. The theory for many of these is that, if all else fails, it’s okay for one team not to have anything to play for they otherwise would have as long as that doesn’t affect any races, especially if we’re just sacrificing a game to tank in the ratings against New Year’s Eve parties. One problem with this is that Raiders-Eagles is the Monday night game, which could hamstring the league’s ability to announce the game in a timely fashion and finalize the Week 17 schedule.
  • Jets-Patriots could be picked if: The Patriots and Steelers either both win or both lose. This would sort of create a cheat where the league assumes the Steelers will beat the lowly Browns and so forces the Patriots to defend their #1 seed. (Steelers-Texans is being played on Christmas on NBC, so this could run into much the same issue as Raiders-Eagles, but it’s not as acute and the game could still be announced on NBC itself as has been a semi-tradition.) If the Patriots win, Steelers lose, but the Jaguars win, the Patriots could still have to defend their #1 seed if the Jaguars go on to beat the Titans. One big problem with this is that New York is the home of what amounts to America’s New Year’s celebration; do we really want to make New Yorkers choose whether or not to watch the hapless Jets as the clock counts down to midnight?
  • Browns-Steelers could be picked if: The Browns lose. This is all about the trainwreck potential of the Browns going 0-16, and while the Steelers could be playing for playoff positioning, if their seed ends up getting locked in earlier in the day it’s fine as long as no one else is counting on them to win or lose. (I actually considered putting this game in the main section but decided against it because of the question of what the Steelers would have to play for.)
  • Packers-Lions could be picked if: The Lions win AND aren’t eliminated from the playoffs or face a scenario where their game determines who gets in without any chance of it being them. This is mostly about the Packers’ name value and relative quality even without Aaron Rodgers.
  • Saints-Bucs could be picked if: The Saints and Panthers both lose. If the Saints have already clinched the division, but are eliminated from a first-round bye, but can still affect whether they get the 3 or 4 seed, it’s not clear they’d care about that or even which wild card team they’d rather face.
  • Raiders-Chargers could be picked if: The Raiders lose OR the Titans win. If the Raiders enter Week 17 still in the playoff hunt, their playoff hopes need to still be alive when the game kicks off since it’ll still affect the Chargers’ playoff hopes, and with losses to the Bills and Ravens already in the bag that’s pretty likely.
  • Chiefs-Broncos could be picked if: The Chiefs lose AND the Chargers win. Two teams with passionate enough fanbases they’ll watch even if the Broncos are out of the playoffs and the Chiefs have a chance to have already clinched the division.
  • If all else fails, put Bengals-Ravens on if the Ravens are still alive and can’t affect who gets in without it being them. Or Bears-Vikings; the Bears suck but they’re still a big-market team and maybe Minnesota has a chance to steal the #1 seed. Or throw on two non-playoff teams in Texans-Colts or Trumps-Giants if you’d rather have that than subject America to the Bears (normally Trumps-Giants is preferable but having a game at MetLife Stadium that could end less than an hour before or even after midnight is even less palatable than having the Jets play that late).

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.