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.
Last year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. CBS and Fox were able to protect one game every week each but had to leave one week each unprotected and had to submit their protections after only four weeks.
Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night, and by all appearances, CBS and Fox can’t protect anything. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.
Here are the rules from the NFL web site:
- Begins Sunday of Week 11
- In effect during Weeks 11-17
- Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
- The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
- The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
- No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
- The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
- Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
- The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
- Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
- NFL schedules all games.
- Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 18):
- Tentative game: Chicago @ Seattle
- Prospects: Uh-oh. Seattle is 3-1 but Chicago is 1-3.
- Other possible games: Redskins @ Cowboys; Panthers @ Packers. That the NFL’s biggest rivalry did not merit a preliminary pick on Sunday night does not bode well; however, either could prove a very, very significant matchup. Panthers-Packers is currently riding on how the Panthers do the next few games. Look out for dark horses like Steelers-Jets and Browns-Ravens.
Week 12 (November 25):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ New England
- Prospects: In trouble. The Eagles need to get off the schnozz to avoid getting flexed out.
- Other possible games: Could we see Bucs-Redskins here? It’s a 5-11 matchup in the latest NBC Power Rankings. It all depends on whether both teams are for real. Too many teams have other commitments on Thanksgiving or Monday night to really endorse any other games.
Week 13 (December 2):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: Very much in trouble. The Steelers loss hurts itself, but the Bungles look dismal.
- Other possible games: Jaguars-Colts, Seahawks-Eagles (though looking less and less likely), and a true dark horse: Texans-Titans
Week 14 (December 9):
- Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Baltimore
- Prospects: Alarm bells going off. If the Ravens continue to disappoint this could be flexed out.
- Other possible games: Steelers-Patriots was mentioned last week and still looks very strong. But don’t count out Cowboys-Lions, Bucs-Texans, or Cardinals-Seahawks.
Week 15 (December 16):
- Tentative game: Washington @ NY Giants
- Prospects: Better but still not promising. The Giants need to keep up the hot pace. The exciting finish of their last game works in their favor.
- Other possible games: Eagles-Cowboys could be in trouble if the Eagles keep struggling. Jaguars-Steelers now looks to be the favorite. Seahawks-Panthers remains in it but has its own problems.
Week 16 (December 23):
- Tentative game: Tampa Bay @ San Francisco
- Prospects: Could be better than might have been thought before the season. However, it is a 5-vs.-16 matchup in the NBC Sports Power Rankings, so it could be lopsided.
- Other possible games: Texans-Colts, Packers-Bears (in trouble but an appealing matchup regardless of respective records), Ravens-Seahawks (current tentative favorite) – with Jets-Titans a potential dark horse, though one that’s fading.
Week 17 (December 30):
- Tentative game: Kansas City @ NY Jets
- Prospects: The Chiefs may prove to be better than anticipated, but unless the Jets follow suit this could turn out to be a terrible matchup, especially given the competition.
- Other possible games: Steelers-Ravens, Titans-Colts, Cowboys-Redskins, Packers-Lions, with Panthers-Bucs and Jaguars-Texans dark horses. All of the four favorites involve teams currently 12th or better in the NBC rankings. Playoff positioning watch begins after Week 9.