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

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

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

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

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 6 Picks

Week 6 (October 13):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ LA Chargers
  • Prospects: 0-3 v. 2-2. As with last year’s early flex, I was surprised this game was picked to begin with, simply because I thought the league would stay far, far away from featuring a game at tiny Dignity Health Sports Park with mostly visiting fans in the stands in primetime, with it even more likely to be an effective Steeler home game given the Steelers’ national fanbase. Ben Roethlisberger’s injury makes this all the more of a chintzy proposition, and the case for flexing this game out would have been more straightforward had the Chargers lost and the tentative came in to this post with one win between the teams. Instead, it’s possible the Chargers aren’t chopped liver but this isn’t necessarily a blowout in the making either (especially given, again, the lack of home-field advantage and the possibility the Steelers still win Monday night), making this a telling experiment in just how hopeless a game needs to be to pull the early flex, especially given the lack of games not involving 2-2 teams.
  • Possible alternatives and their records: CBS: Texans (2-2)-Chiefs (4-0), Saints (3-1)-Jaguars (2-2). FOX: Seahawks (3-1)-Browns (2-2), Eagles (2-2)-Vikings (2-2), 49ers (3-0)-Rams (3-1).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: The Steelers have a chance to put a win on the board, which could be critical for the tentative’s chances to keep its spot.
  • Predicted protections: Texans-Chiefs (CBS). For Fox, see below.
  • Analysis: Niners-Rams is clearly the best game on the current slate in terms of records, would be the most straightforward game to swap out for another game in LA, and is currently mired in 4:05 singleheader purgatory. (With byes and a London game on NFL Network, both CBS and Fox have only three games in the early slot, so flexing in any other game could require moving the only East Coast game currently in the late time slot – Cowboys-Jets, itself a game of questionable value with the Jets nursing their own 0-3 record, albeit one pitting the biggest market against the biggest name – to the early slot and crossflexing Niners-Rams to CBS to serve as the new main doubleheader game.) The question is whether the league can “convince” Fox not to protect it; it’s not clear it would be Fox’s first choice to protect in any case, as they might lean more towards their third-best game in Eagles-Vikings that involves their two most favorite divisions. What could be a bigger problem is that the return match at Levi’s Stadium is one of the games that could move to Saturday in Week 16, and that would, presumably, count as the Rams’ sixth primetime appearance. That might preclude the league from adding a potential seventh. (Also, we have seen the league be reticent to take away both halves of a division matchup from the normal Sunday afternoon partner, but as mentioned any other flex might require this game to be crossflexed to CBS anyway, and in any case Fox would still produce the Week 16 game on NFL Network and presumably distribute it to its own stations.)

    So the question becomes whether a 3-1 v. 2-2 game beats 1-3 or 0-4 v. 2-2. (Well, unless CBS wants to protect Cowboys-Jets even with the Jets playing as poorly as they are and let the league flex in Texans-Chiefs, though that would max the Chiefs out on primetime appearances.) Whether the Steelers win Monday night could make all the difference there: one scenario produces a tentative only one game worse on each side than the best alternatives involving a Steelers team only a game out of the division lead even at 1-3, while the other is an 0-4 team without its biggest star that just handed the Bengals their first win of the season (though the Steelers were at least competitive in their first full Big Ben-less game at Levi’s Stadium). In terms of which game gets flexed in, Seahawks-Browns is clearly the more attractive game (especially with the Saints still dealing with their own star quarterback’s injury, and being a much less attractive name without their star quarterback than the Steelers) but that would max the Seahawks out on primetime appearances; on the other hand, it’s not clear we’re going to have another flex the entire rest of the season. If we do, though, there’s a very real possibility Vikings-Chargers Week 15 gets flexed out for Seahawks-Panthers; the Chiefs play the winless Broncos that week, so if the NFL is willing to max a team out (and Niners-Rams isn’t an option; the Rams play the Cowboys in the current main DH game on Fox that week, so that’s a mortal lock to be protected if the Rams aren’t already maxed out) Texans-Chiefs could be the safer bet.

    I should note that Athletic Bay Area writer Steve Berman apparently wrote on Friday that Niners-Rams was “highly likely” to be flexed in. I don’t have an Athletic subscription, I’m not willing to give iTunes my payment information as would be necessary to sign up for the Athletic’s free trial on their mobile app or give the Athletic payment information I don’t intend to use, and in any case I don’t want to start the only free trial I’d ever get to read one article I probably wouldn’t get much from, so I don’t know if that was based on inside information or was pure speculation, but if the former it at least suggests the Week 16 situation doesn’t completely override the prospect of flexing in Niners-Rams (and it’s not like the league has a history of looking that far ahead anyway).

  • Final prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Los Angeles Chargers (no change) (if the Steelers win tonight), Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs (if the Steelers lose tonight and CBS protects Cowboys-Jets), Seattle Seahawks @ Cleveland Browns (if the Steelers lose tonight and the NFL wants to keep Rams-Niners as an option to flex to NFLN Week 16), San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams (if the Steelers lose tonight and the NFL doesn’t care about the Week 16 return match being on NFLN or is willing to bend their own rules to let it happen).

I actually accomplished something this month!

I updated my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer page for the new season!

What do you mean I only did it over the course of the last hour if not half-hour of the month and I still may make some further edits at some point?

I really do think I’m going to get back into Steven Universe this week, if only because Cartoon Network is airing a marathon of every episode leading up to the movovie this weekend, even though I have to wake up at 8:30 to catch one of the episodes that’s been holding me back from finishing my Season 2 recap post.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Number of Primetime Appearances Per Team for the 2019 Season

Here are each team’s number of appearances across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network for the season, useful for determining what games can be flexed into or out of Sunday night for my Flex Schedule Watch. Recall the appearance limits are six primetime games for three teams, five for everyone else, and four NBC appearances. In the “Flexible” column, a plus sign indicates SNF games in the Week 5-10 early flex period. Note that the Bucs, Panthers, Jaguars, and Texans may each have one more appearance than I’m crediting them for, as each have games in London airing on NFL Network, and three of the following games will move to Saturday Week 16 on NFLN, increasing their counts: HOU/TB, BUF/NE, DET/DEN, OAK/LAC, or SF/LAR.

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Number of Primetime Appearances Per Team for the 2019 Season

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 15

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 15

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 14

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 14

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 16 Picks

Week 16 (December 23):

  • Tentative game: Kansas City @ Seattle
  • Prospects: Uh-oh. The Chiefs won and the other three AFC division leaders all lost, meaning not only could the Chiefs lock up the AFC West with a Thursday-night win over the Chargers, they would need only one loss each by the Patriots and Texans to sew up the #1 seed before Sunday night. For much of the season, particularly the last few weeks, it looked like how much these two teams still had to play for would outweigh the lack of market size and chance for the Seahawks to catch the Rams for the division compared to Eagles-Rams the previous week, but now this game looks to be in some real danger.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Saints (CBS, confirmed) and probably nothing, but if something, Bucs-Cowboys or Vikings-Lions (FOX). (This assumes Fox couldn’t protect any of the games singled out for a potential move to Saturday before the season.)
  • Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Texans (9-4)-Eagles (6-7), Bucs (5-8)-Cowboys (8-5).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: It would really help the tentative for the Seahawks to win and keep the game from getting further lopsided. A Seahawks loss would make the game more lopsided than Texans-Eagles while putting the Seahawks only a game ahead of the Eagles.
  • Analysis: The biggest point in the tentative’s favor has always been the lack of viable alternatives; the strongest game on paper, Texans-Eagles, is only even a viable option if I’ve been wrong about the London game maxing the Eagles out on primetime appearances, and the second choice, Bucs-Cowboys, may well have been protected. Both games involve teams below .500, and the Bucs’ loss might foreclose them being any sort of real factor in the playoff race (were it not for the Lions they’d be losing a tiebreaker to the freaking Giants whose season was thought to be a disaster); meanwhile the Cowboys need only one win or losses by both Philadelphia and Washington to clinch the NFC East, and while they could catch the Bears for the three seed, nonetheless they might end up not having much more to play for than the Chiefs. Texans-Eagles remains a real concern, though. Even with the Chiefs potentially having nothing to play for, it’d be hard to justify flexing out Chiefs-Seahawks for a game with teams each two games worse than their respective teams in the tentative and where the better team is only a game better than the tentative’s worse team, but if the Seahawks lose? The league would have to seriously think about it… if it weren’t for the possibility that the Eagles’ Week 17 trip to the nation’s capital could decide a wild card spot, potentially conditional on the result of the Texans-Eagles game. Even then, though, I’m not sure the league would be thinking that far ahead, or if they are that it’d be worth the risk of putting on a Chiefs team already resting for the playoffs.
  • Final prediction: Houston Texans @ Philadelphia Eagles (if the Eagles aren’t maxed out on primetime appearances and the Seahawks lose tonight), Kansas City Chiefs @ Seattle Seahawks (no change) (if either of those scenarios doesn’t hold up).
  • Actual selection: Kansas City Chiefs @ Seattle Seahawks (no change). This doesn’t necessarily mean the Eagles are maxed out after all; besides the Week 17 scheduling considerations I already mentioned, Chiefs-Seahawks might have to go to the late game of the CBS doubleheader, where Steelers-Saints is already supposed to be the showcase game and Chiefs-Seahawks would take away from that by being another matchup between playoff teams.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 13

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 13

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 15 Picks

Week 15 (December 16):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ LA Rams
  • Prospects: 5-6 v. 11-1. The Eagles got off the schneid but this game is still worryingly lopsided (and now will mark Rams games in consecutive weeks).
  • Likely protections (CBS protections confirmed): Patriots-Steelers (CBS) and Packers-Bears (FOX).
  • Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Cowboys (7-5)-Colts (6-6), Dolphins (6-6)-Vikings (6-5-1).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: The league would feel a lot better about this game keeping its spot if the Eagles can get back to .500 and in a tie a game back of the division lead and a half-game back of the wild card.
  • Analysis: The Colts’ loss to the strug-ga-ling Jaguars takes a lot of the shine off that game, and while the Cowboys’ win is good for it given that the two teams entered the week with the same record, heading into the week I figured a Colts loss was the result Cowboys-Colts could least afford to suffer. I still don’t see Dolphins-Vikings getting flexed in over Cowboys-Colts, and the Cowboys’ win takes away a lot of what’s at stake for the Eagles tonight and (considering the opposition) makes them look like a potentially dangerous playoff team, but I still can’t shake the feeling Eagles-Rams would still be a game Fox would want to feature despite being in the late singleheader spot, especially given the Packers’ struggles. An Eagles loss might put them too far back in traffic and below .500 to really justify keeping that game, but a win might mean making Cowboys-Colts the featured singleheader game might be the best it can hope for under the circumstances.
  • Final prediction: Dallas Cowboys @ Indianapolis Colts (if the Eagles lose tonight), Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams (no change) (if the Eagles win tonight).