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: In big trouble. Seattle is 3-2 and Da Bears are 2-3.
- 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: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers do not fall far by losing to the Colts. Bucs-Redskins could well be the best game. 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, although Texans-Browns is a very dark horse.
Week 13 (December 2):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: Very much in trouble. The Steelers are back to looking like an elite team, but unless the Bungles pick up the pace this will be flexed out.
- Other possible games: Jaguars-Colts, with Texans-Titans as a dark horse. Seahawks-Eagles keeps fading. Giants-Bears has a fighting chance if the Bears can come back.
Week 14 (December 9):
- Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Baltimore
- Prospects: Back to looking like a strong game. But the Ravens need to stay consistent.
- Other possible games: Steelers-Patriots will give this game a lot of competition. But don’t count out Cowboys-Lions (now fading), Bucs-Texans, or Cardinals-Seahawks.
Week 15 (December 16):
- Tentative game: Washington @ NY Giants
- Prospects: Starting to look decent. Being in the same division as the Cowboys hurts, but these are two teams on fire and the thrilling finish of their last meeting will help write the storyline.
- Other possible games: Eagles-Cowboys is in big trouble. Jaguars-Steelers now looks to be the favorite. Seahawks-Panthers is also in trouble.
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 10-vs.-23 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 (could fall off if the Seahawks keep struggling) – with Jets-Titans a potential dark horse, though one that’s fading fast. There aren’t a lot of attractive matchups this week.
Week 17 (December 30):
- Tentative game: Kansas City @ NY Jets
- Prospects: Awful.
- Other possible games: Steelers-Ravens, Titans-Colts, Cowboys-Redskins, with Panthers-Bucs and Jaguars-Texans dark horses. All of the three favorites involve teams currently 12th or better in the NBC rankings. Lions-Packers fading. Playoff positioning watch begins after Week 9.