Category Archives: Football

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 9

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):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-4 v. 6-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of. The Packers haven’t won since Aaron Rodgers went down, but those games were against good, playoff-worthy teams. The Lions are a little more concerning as they were 3-4 before the game, but the Packers would need to lose to the 3-5 Bears for this game to be in serious jeopardy.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games. That said, if they were bigger-name teams and if it weren’t for the Chiefs already being maxed out on primetime appearances, I might have named Bills-Chiefs as a candidate for protection, and if it weren’t for the latter, the quality of the tentative, and how long it would make the trip from the Thanksgiving night game in Washington, it’d at least be under consideration for a move to Sunday night. In lieu of that, the league’s only options involving only teams at or above .500 are Saints-Rams, which depends on a night game at the Coliseum the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend being an option, or Dolphins-Patriots, which may or may not have been protected. Panthers-Jets might sneak in if I was wrong about Fox’s protection (Bucs-Falcons was also somewhat viable at the time).
  • Analysis: For reasons I lay out below, Saints-Rams may well be a viable option. USC’s season would be over except for a possible Pac-12 Championship Game trip, which I believe would be at Levi’s Stadium. It would pit a big market, albeit one that’s lukewarm towards having their own NFL team (let alone two), against a name team in its own right, and two division leaders at what’s currently 6-2. It’s an iffier proposition than in two weeks, but if it looks like the Packers are going into freefall without Aaron Rodgers, it’d be hard for the league not to make the flex. Panthers-Jets and Dolphins-Pats would result in less unplanned travel from Washington, but would need the weaker AFC East teams to win (and the Dolphins have a Monday night tilt with the Panthers). If the Packers lose, expect me to have a convoluted prediction in my Last-Minute Remarks.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 8-1 v. 5-3, a skosh lopsided but the Seahawks are still very much in the playoff mix.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Saints is the only game involving only teams above .500. Vikings-Falcons and Rams-Cardinals might also be viable, but it’d be very hard for them to overcome the tentative game bias under the circumstances.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-5 v. 6-2. The Ravens aren’t quite out of the playoff race, but the Steelers may be pulling away with the division, and this rivalry doesn’t have the fire it used to.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants (FOX).
  • Other possible games: I didn’t look at the comments on my Week 7 post until I started putting this one together, so I didn’t see that 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”. The article is specifically in the context of Eagles-Rams, so I’m not sure how much that applies to Saints-Rams which would be more unbeatable, or even if the article being about Eagles-Rams itself implies that Saints-Rams can’t be flexed to primetime (regardless I have to assume the fact the article talks about it implies that Eagles-Rams wasn’t protected). As it stands Eagles-Rams may have to contend with a Vikings-Panthers game that’s nearly as strong record-wise, and if Saints-Rams gets flexed the NFL may want to stay away from flexing in a second Rams home game if it has another viable option. Of course all this assumes CBS didn’t protect Vikings-Panthers. Seahawks-Jaguars also remains an intriguing option, but I’m not even sure it would replace Eagles-Rams as Fox’s featured late game if Eagles-Rams were flexed in, the Jags have that little juice. But it’d still have more juice than the emerging dark horse Titans-Cardinals.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 5-3 v. 4-5, but again it would take the apocalypse hitting to dislodge a Cowboys game from Sunday night.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (confirmed) (CBS) and probably Packers-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Rams-Seahawks looks to be a very strong potential option. Dolphins-Bills and Cardinals-Trumps are dark horses.

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (3-5)
SOUTH
45-3
55-3
5-3
WEST
36-3
65-3
4-5
EAST
26-2
4-4
5-3 4-5
NORTH
16-2
4-5
4-5 4-5
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-4)
WEST
46-2
56-3
5-3
NORTH
36-2
65-3
2 teams at 4-4
SOUTH
26-2
5-3
6-3 3-5
EAST
18-1
5-3
  • 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.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 8

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):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 7-1 v. 4-3, but when it’s the Cowboys the records don’t matter, and these are the top two teams in the division.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Packers, with a possibility of Patriots-Raiders if that game in Mexico City could be flexed to primetime to begin with (CBS) and Rams-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Bengals-Broncos and Cardinals-Texans pit two 3-4 teams against each other, and Natives-Saints pits a 3-4 team against a 5-2 team. You’d have to take a below-.500 team if I’m right about the protections.
  • Analysis: The protected games, especially Rams-Vikings, are juicier, but it’s hard to imagine the league flexing out of a game featuring a Cowboys team above .500 (at that mark at worst) going up against what might be the best team in the league.
  • Final prediction: Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys (no change).

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 6-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of, even if the Packers go into the tank without Aaron Rodgers. The Packers would need to lose to the Lions this week, and then the Bears in the last week before the decision needs to come down, to put this in serious jeopardy.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games. That said, if they were bigger-name teams and if it weren’t for the Chiefs already being maxed out on primetime appearances, I might have named Bills-Chiefs as a candidate for protection, and if it weren’t for the latter, the quality of the tentative, and how long it would make the trip from the Thanksgiving night game in Washington, it’d at least be under consideration for a move to Sunday night. In lieu of that, the league’s only options involving only teams at or above .500 are Saints-Rams, which depends on a night game at the Coliseum the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend being an option, or Dolphins-Patriots, which may or may not have been protected.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 7-1 v. 5-2, about as good as could be hoped for at the moment.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Saints and Vikings-Falcons are the only games involving only teams above .500.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-4 v. 6-2. The Ravens have snapped their losing skid, but the Steelers might be starting to run away with the division, and this rivalry doesn’t have as much fire as it used to.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants or (less likely) Eagles-Rams (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Did CBS leave Vikings-Panthers unprotected? If so, it’d be hard to beat. Is it possible for the Coliseum to host a Sunday night game in mid-December, after college football season is over but in the midst of USC finals, and would the NFL be okay with the Eagles having back-to-back Sunday night games? If so, that becomes an option, though if NBC were as desperate for it as one of my commenters thinks they’d have it scheduled to begin with (yes, no one thought the Rams would be this good, but still). But even without those two games, keep an eye on Seahawks-Jaguars. Would the NFL flex out of a game involving a rivalry that still has some resonance and a team with a fanbase far outside its home market for one involving a team most people are only aware of because they’re surprised they’re still in Jacksonville? Wait and see.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 3-5, but again 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: If one of the teams in the tentative weren’t the Cowboys, Rams-Seahawks would be another reason not to flex in Eagles-Rams the previous week, with Dolphins-Bills a bit behind. Texans-Jaguars, Bengals-Vikings, and Cardinals-Trumps are worth keeping an eye on as games involving teams at 3-4.

Week 17 (December 31):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Could ESPN Kill Thursday Night Football?

In 1987, ESPN achieved something of a holy grail for the cable industry, picking up a half-season package of Sunday night NFL games, paid for with the imposition of a surcharge on the fees cable operators paid them. In 1998, ESPN picked up the full season of Sunday night games, paid for by the negotiation of clauses with distributors ramping up the fees paid to ESPN every year. This was the start of the process that resulted in ESPN charging every cable subscriber over $7 a month, far more than any other national cable network, and a key component in ESPN’s ability to acquire top-of-the-line sports rights such as the biggest college football bowl games.

In 2005, Disney was outmaneuvered in its efforts to renew both ESPN’s Sunday night package and ABC’s Monday night package, as the NFL struck a deal with NBC to move the league’s marquee primetime package to Sunday night in order to institute flexible scheduling that would ensure good, competitive games late into the season. Disney was left paying as much as it had for both of its previous packages for a single package for airing on ESPN. Ever since, ESPN has paid nearly twice as much as the broadcast networks for a package not much better, if at all, than the marginally-attractive matchups it had been getting on Sunday night. ESPN executives have chafed at this, claiming that for the amount it pays it should be getting matchups at least on par with the broadcast networks; to be sure, part of the fee pays for ESPN’s ability to use highlights across its myriad of programs, but that’s only a fraction of it, maybe no more than a fifth. But when the time came to renew the deal, after nearly a decade of knowing what Monday Night Football had become with the move to cable, ESPN ponied up nearly two billion dollars a year, once again close to double what each of the broadcast networks were paying. ESPN’s package of NFL games may be weak, but they’re a big part of what makes ESPN so valuable to cable operators, what makes it such a must-have for sports fans, and without it ESPN not only becomes a lot less valuable, but that same package of games becomes a tool an FS1 or NBCSN can use to instantly establish near-parity with ESPN.

At the same time it was shaking up its existing primetime packages in 2005, the NFL carved out a package of late-season Thursday night games to air on its own network, hoping to turn NFL Network into a cash cow that could collect hefty subscriber fees directly for the league. The package grew until it eventually took up the whole season, both to coerce holdouts to carry NFL Network and to establish the worth of a package to sell to other parties. Initially, the league was thought to be selling part of the Thursday night package to another cable outlet like FS1, NBCSN, or TNT, any of which would be salivating over the prospect of using NFL games to increase their own worth to cable operators, but instead it ultimately sold the right to simulcast and produce half a season of games to broadcast networks while also selling the right to stream games to Twitter and later Amazon. Sure, Thursday night games meant teams would be playing on a short week, increasing the risk of injury and potentially resulting in sloppy games, and the league’s policy of making each team play on a short week exactly once during the season limited the package’s ability to show marquee matchups. But Thursday night was a place to collect another pound of flesh from TV partners and air the games that made NFL Network worth paying for for cable operators, as well as a place to experiment with new formats and partners. It wasn’t like there were any other places for them to do this. Sundays and Mondays were taken.

Things have changed quite rapidly over the past few years. Cord-cutting has taken off like a rocket as people increasingly turn to on-demand streaming services for their entertainment, undercutting the primacy of linear television. In the short term, this only increases the value of live sports as one of the few types of programming people will willingly watch live, without skipping commercials, and are willing to pay for cable packages to watch, but it also changes the very nature of linear television, as it’s becoming increasingly apparent that anything your network airs that isn’t live events is just filler between live events (as much as ESPN and Fox sometimes don’t seem to recognize this). In that context, highlight rights are considerably less valuable than they used to be.

ESPN and the NFL are also looking at a future where the cable bundle collapses and the NFL can’t simply sell whatever it offers for a billion dollars to whatever cable network pays for it, which is no doubt part of the reason why it sold TNF to broadcast networks and streaming services rather than cable networks. In this context, ESPN’s future is no longer in collecting as much money as it can off the back of every cable subscriber, but in converting itself into a service offering its wares direct to the consumer, and it has less to worry about from FS1 and NBCSN – who have benefitted ESPN more by keeping the cable bundle propped up than hurt it in any way, and which now become more untenable propositions both in general and for the league specifically – than it does from Amazon and its ability to synergize sports rights with its Prime service. A package of mediocre NFL games may be valuable to cable operators that can pass on the cost to all their subscribers and that NFL fans can watch at anytime after paying for the entire cable bundle, but a subscription service offered directly to consumers can best attract subscribers by covering certain sports comprehensively, or else a broad array of important sports events that can combine to make it a must-have service for sports fans, and that single mediocre NFL game each week isn’t going to fit the bill and certainly isn’t going to be worth two billion dollars.

In that context, it’s easy to see why, as James Andrew Miller, the man who literally wrote the book on ESPN, suggested in a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter, ESPN might be thinking about going without NFL rights when they next come up for renewal, for the first time since 1987. ESPN has been removing clauses conditioning its high subscription fees on its continued carriage of NFL games from its contracts with cable operators, which makes sense when you consider the gap in fees between ESPN and NFL Network (and the fact that TNT charges more than NFLN without football or really much of anything other than NBA basketball and select NCAA Tournament games), and freeing up two billion dollars a year of spending money allows them to pay for events that offer a larger tonnage of content and may be more likely to entice more people to sign up for an ESPN subscription service.

Meanwhile, faced with a second year of headlines of declining NFL ratings, networks have begun complaining to the NFL about oversaturation of games and games being taken out of the Sunday afternoon packages. They want to move all London games back to 1 PM ET and end the “breakfast football” games that kick off at 9:30 AM ET. And they want the league to cut the Thursday night package back to eight games. That latter point would be difficult for the league to acquiesce to; all eight games would need to be exclusive to NFL Network to meet the network’s own contractural agreements with TV partners, preventing them from selling the games to another partner or a streaming service and once again forcing them to produce the games themselves, and potentially irking cable operators seeing NFLN’s tonnage being reduced to what it used to be when it was having trouble finding partners. And there’s nowhere else for it to go; again, Sundays and Mondays are all tied up. Or are they?

If ESPN decides NFL games are no longer vital to their business, if they decide to go without the NFL in the next TV contract, because of market forces that mean the NFL can’t prop up the cable bundle or any particular cable network anymore, that opens up a package of games that the NFL likely can’t sell to ESPN or any outlet looking to imitate it, but can use for whatever other purpose the league wants. They can put half the games on NFL Network, at least as long as it remains a tenable proposition within the cable bundle, and sell the remaining half to broadcast networks as they do with TNF now, or to a streaming service like Amazon, potentially selling the full season once the cable bundle completely collapses. Without ESPN preventing the NFL from doing whatever they want with MNF, the league could turn Mondays into the experimental night Thursdays are now, potentially doing away with Thursday games entirely except for opening night, Thanksgiving, and the week after Thanksgiving when both teams can be taken from the Thanksgiving games and play on a full week’s rest, curbing concerns about the league wearing players into the ground to collect a pound of flesh it’s becoming increasingly difficult to collect.

The competitive concerns motivating ESPN to keep paying up for MNF haven’t completely eased; ESPN wouldn’t want to walk away from the NFL only to pave the path for Amazon to become a competitor for sports rights. But I continue to believe that no entity that doesn’t at least control a linear television platform can truly be a player for major sports rights, and while Amazon has a lot more going for it than most Internet outlets, it’s not immune to those fundamental forces. At the very least, if ESPN continues to control a linear outlet it has a major asset to offer to sports entities, and if Amazon were to find its way onto one, and spend as prodigiously on sports rights as media companies have over the past decade, it would risk losing some of the advantages Prime has over cable networks if not recreate the worst excesses of the cable bundle. ESPN can handle creating a new competitor in Amazon while freeing up funds to maintain its supremacy in other ways, the NFL gets to continue raking in money from whatever revenue streams are available even if they aren’t as big, and players and fans could potentially find themselves in a world without Thursday Night Football and all the excesses and problems it represents and perpetuates. Everyone wins.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 7

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):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Prospects: 5-2 v. 3-3. The Broncos aren’t playing as well as they might have looked to start the season, but this’ll still be difficult to beat.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Colts if anything (CBS) and probably Cowboys-Falcons (FOX). (Texans-Rams likely does not need to be protected, to avoid trying to host a night game at the LA Coliseum, though this isn’t really known for certain; this also affects other Rams home games below.)
  • Other possible games: Saints-Bills is the best option in terms of records, while Vikings-Skraelings and Texans-Rams are a bit more lopsided.
  • Analysis: Right now Vikings-Skraelings and Texans-Rams have the exact same pair of records as the tentative, and even if the Broncos lost and each of the two teams in one of those games won (and the Rams are on bye this week), it’s doubtful it would overcome the tentative game bias. At 4-2 v. 4-2, Saints-Bills isn’t much of an improvement either, especially given how the Bills aren’t a name team. 6-2 v. 3-4 or 5-3 v. 3-4 is the sort of point when you start thinking about pulling a flex, but in a season where the league is as flat as it is it’s about as good as could be hoped for; I’m not sure 5-2 v. 5-2 with less name teams, or even Vikings-Skraelings at 6-2 v. 4-3, is going to get it done. (It also doesn’t help that the Broncos play on Monday night.) I could understand if the NFL pulls the flex, but I’d still probably be pretty surprised.
  • Final prediction: New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos (no change).

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 6-1 v. 3-3, but when it’s the Cowboys the records don’t matter.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Packers, with a possibility of Patriots-Raiders if that game in Mexico City could be flexed to primetime to begin with (CBS) and Rams-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: If the league needed an excuse to keep a lopsided Cowboys game, the fact that Natives-Saints is the only unprotected game involving two teams at or above .500 would do it.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 5-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of, even if the Packers go into the tank without Aaron Rodgers. And the next two weeks, the Packers are on bye and hosting the Lions; they’d need to lose that game and then lose to the Bears in the last week before the decision needs to come down to put this in serious jeopardy.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games. That said, if they were bigger-name teams and if it weren’t for the Chiefs already being maxed out on primetime appearances, I might have named Bills-Chiefs as a candidate for protection, and if it weren’t for the latter, the quality of the tentative, and how long it would make the trip from the Thanksgiving night game in Washington, it’d at least be under consideration for a move to Sunday night. In lieu of that, the league’s only options involving only teams at or above .500 are Saints-Rams, which depends on a night game at the Coliseum the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend being an option, or Dolphins-Patriots, which may or may not have been protected.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 6-1 v. 4-2, about as good as could be hoped for at the moment.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Saints is the best alternative at the moment, with Vikings-Falcons, Broncos-Dolphins, and Texans-Titans being dark horses.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 3-4 v. 5-2. Starting to become concerningly lopsided and the Steelers might be running away with the division, and this rivalry doesn’t have as much fire as it used to.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants or (less likely) Eagles-Rams (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Did CBS leave Vikings-Panthers unprotected? If so, it’d be hard to beat. Is it possible for the Coliseum to host a Sunday night game in mid-December, after college football season is over but in the midst of USC finals, and would the NFL be okay with the Eagles having back-to-back Sunday night games? If so, that becomes an option, though if NBC were as desperate for it as one of my commenters thinks they’d have it scheduled to begin with (yes, no one thought the Rams would be this good, but still). But even without those two games, keep an eye on Seahawks-Jaguars. Would the NFL flex out of a game involving a rivalry that still has some resonance and a team with a fanbase far outside its home market for one involving a team most people are only aware of because they’re surprised they’re still in Jacksonville? Wait and see.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 3-3 v. 3-4, but again 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: If one of the teams in the tentative weren’t the Cowboys, Rams-Seahawks would be another reason not to flex in Eagles-Rams the previous week, with Dolphins-Bills a bit behind and Texans-Jaguars continuing to lurk as a dark horse.

Week 17 (December 31):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

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 9 (November 5):

  • Tentative game: Oakland @ Miami
  • Prospects: 2-4 v. 3-2. Okay, not great, but not necessarily something worth burning the first-ever early flex on either.
  • Possible alternatives: With the Chiefs still maxed out on primetime appearances, expect CBS to protect Broncos-Eagles over Chiefs-Cowboys, and with their next-best available game being 3-3 v. 3-3, don’t expect them to be much of a factor for losing a game. For Fox, Falcons-Panthers (3-2 v. 4-2) and Washington-Seahawks (3-2 v. 3-2) are their best games.
  • Analysis: Let’s say both teams in the tentative lose to go to 2-5 v. 3-3, while all four of the potential Fox games win to create two games at 4-2 v. 5-2 and 4-2 v. 4-2. Does the NFL pull the early flex on the game Fox doesn’t protect? It’s certainly tempting, assuming there aren’t further restrictions than are already known to keep the NFL from using early flexes on any but the most catastrophically bad tentatives.

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 3-2, attractive enough to be difficult to beat.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Colts if anything (CBS) and probably Cowboys-Falcons (FOX). (Texans-Rams likely does not need to be protected, to avoid trying to host a night game at the LA Coliseum, though this isn’t really known for certain; this also affects other Rams home games below.)
  • Other possible games: Saints-Bills and Vikings-Skraelings are the best options, while Texans-Rams lurks a step or two behind.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 2-3, but when it’s the Cowboys the records don’t matter.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Packers, with a possibility of Patriots-Raiders if that game in Mexico City could be flexed to primetime to begin with (CBS) and Rams-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Natives-Saints is the only game between two teams above .500, with Cardinals-Texans pitting two teams at that mark.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 4-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of, even if the Packers go into the tank without Aaron Rodgers.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games. That said, if they were bigger-name teams and if it weren’t for the Chiefs already being maxed out on primetime appearances, I might have named Bills-Chiefs as a candidate for protection, and if it weren’t for the latter, the quality of the tentative, and how long it would make the trip from the Thanksgiving night game in Washington, it’d at least be under consideration for a move to Sunday night. Bucs-Falcons is also a game Fox might have protected if I was wrong about their protection, though it’s a bit iffier. Saints-Rams would be an option if a night game at the Coliseum was an option. That leaves only games involving teams at .500 (Panthers-Jets, Jaguars-Cardinals) unless CBS protected Broncos-Raiders to leave Dolphins-Patriots open.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 3-2, and if the Seahawks play more like the Seahawks of old from now on it’ll be very difficult to beat.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Vikings-Falcons, Panthers-Saints, and Broncos-Dolphins are the best options, with Rams-Cardinals a viable dark horse. Chiefs-Jets would at least be a dark horse if the Chiefs weren’t still maxed out and it weren’t a skosh lopsided. Lions-Ravens and Texans-Titans pit two 3-3 teams.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 3-3 v. 4-2 and for the AFC North lead if it were played today.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants or (less likely) Eagles-Rams (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Vikings-Panthers is a pretty strong potential matchup if CBS left it unprotected; only Eagles-Rams could really come on par with it, but neither is likely to overcome the tentative game bias at this point even if Coliseum night games were an option. Seahawks-Jaguars, Jets-Broncos, and Titans-Cardinals are dark horses.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 2-3 v. 2-4, but again 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 is the strongest game on the slate, with Dolphins-Bills a bit behind and Jets-Saints and Cardinals-Trumps dark horses. Texans-Jaguars is a bit further back than that as a battle of 3-3 teams, but would be for the AFC South lead if played today.

Week 17 (December 31):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

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):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Prospects: 3-2 v. 3-1, and the Patriots probably resemble the team with three wins more than the one with two losses.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Colts if anything (CBS) and probably Cowboys-Falcons (FOX). (Texans-Rams likely does not need to be protected, to avoid trying to host a night game at the LA Coliseum; this also affects other Rams home games below.)
  • Other possible games: Saints-Bills, Jets-Bucs, and Vikings-Skraelings are all 3-2 v. 2-2 games, with Texans-Rams slightly worse at 3-2 v. 2-3.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 2-3, but when it’s the Cowboys the records don’t matter.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Packers, with a possibility of Patriots-Raiders if that game in Mexico City could be flexed to primetime to begin with (CBS) and Rams-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Natives-Saints and Bucs-Dolphins pit two 2-2 teams against each other, and that’s about it without going to more 2-3 teams like the Cowboys.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 3-2 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, though the only reason there aren’t two winless teams on the Turkey Day slate is because they played each other. That said, if they were bigger-name teams and if it weren’t for the Chiefs already being maxed out on primetime appearances, I might have named Bills-Chiefs as a candidate for protection, and if it weren’t for the latter, the quality of the tentative, and how long it would make the trip from the Thanksgiving night game in Washington, it’d be a very real threat for a move to Sunday night. Bucs-Falcons is also a game Fox might have protected if I was wrong about their protection and that would be a flex candidate. Saints-Rams would be an option if a night game at the Coliseum was an option. That leaves basically CBS’ unprotected game without going to teams below .500.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 3-2, and if the Seahawks play more like the Seahawks of old from now on it’ll be very difficult to beat.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Vikings-Falcons and Lions-Ravens are the most attractive options, while Panthers-Saints, Bucs-Packers, and Broncos-Dolphins involve teams at 2-2 playing teams above that mark. Chiefs-Jets would also be an attractive option if the Chiefs weren’t still maxed out.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 3-2 v. 3-2 and for the AFC North lead if it were played today.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants or (less likely) Eagles-Rams (FOX).
  • Other possible games: If the NFL did want to beg out of this game, there’d be no shortage of options: Vikings-Panthers, Jets-Broncos, and Seahawks-Jaguars are all matchups between teams above .500, as would Eagles-Rams if Coliseum night games were an option. Lions-Bucs is more of a dark horse.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 2-3 v. 2-3, but again 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 is the strongest game on the slate, with Jets-Saints and Dolphins-Bills a bit behind.

Week 17 (December 31):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 4

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 this weekend’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). NBC appearances for all teams: KC 2, NE 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), NYG 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), DAL 3 (2 flexible), GB 3 (1 flexible), ATL 2 (1 semi-flexible), OAK 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), WAS 2 (1 flexible), IND 1, SEA 2 (1 flexible), HOU 1, DEN 2 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), PIT 3 (1 semi-flexible, 2 flexible), DET 1 (semi-flexible), MIA 1 (semi-flexible), PHI 2 (flexible), BAL 1 (flexible), MIN 1. All primetime appearances for all teams: KC 6, NE 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), NYG 4 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), DAL 5 (2 flexible), GB 5 (1 flexible), ATL 5 (1 semi-flexible), OAK 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), WAS 5 (1 flexible), IND 4, SEA 4 (1 flexible), HOU 4, DEN 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), PIT 6 (1 semi-flexible, 2 flexible), DET 4 (1 semi-flexible), MIA 4 (1 semi-flexible), PHI 5 (2 flexible), BAL 4 (1 flexible), MIN 4, NO 2, LAC 2, ARI 2, CHI 3, TEN 2, CAR 2, CIN 2, TB 2, JAX 0, all other teams 1.

Starting this year I will only talk about early-flex games in this space if they’re actually bad enough to think about flexing out.

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

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Prospects: 2-2 v. 3-1, and it’s hard to see the Patriots truly being that mediocre for long.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Colts or Texans-Rams if anything (CBS) and probably Cowboys-Falcons (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Along with Texans-Rams, Saints-Bills, Jets-Bucs, and Vikings-Skraelings are all games where the worse team is 2-2, and that’s about as good as you can expect.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 2-2, but when it’s the Cowboys the records don’t matter.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Packers, with a possibility of Patriots-Raiders if that game in Mexico City could be flexed to primetime to begin with (CBS) and Rams-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Cardinals-Texans and Natives-Saints are two matchups of 2-2 teams, while Bucs-Dolphins is effectively equivalent to that at 2-1 v. 1-2.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 3-1 and two name teams, very difficult to let go of.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Raiders or Dolphins-Patriots (CBS) and probably Panthers-Jets if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, though two of the teams on the Turkey Day slate are winless at the moment. That said, if they were bigger-name teams and if it weren’t for the Chiefs already being maxed out on primetime appearances, I might have named Bills-Chiefs as a candidate for protection, and if it weren’t for the latter, the quality of the tentative, and how long it would make the trip from the Thanksgiving night game in Washington, it’d be a very real threat for a move to Sunday night. Bucs-Falcons is also a game Fox might have protected if I was wrong about their protection and that would be a flex candidate. Besides CBS’ unprotected game, Saints-Rams is also an option.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 2-2, but as Mike Tirico pointed out on Sunday’s pregame show, the Seahawks have a habit of always starting relatively slow and catching fire late.
  • Likely protections: Probably Patriots-Bills (CBS) and honestly, probably nothing for Fox, as any of their games are possibly protectable.
  • Other possible games: Except for Giants-Raiders, all of Fox’s games (Vikings-Falcons, Panthers-Saints, Lions-Ravens, Bucs-Packers, and Rams-Cardinals) involve teams at 2-2 (2-1 in the Bucs’ case) playing teams above that mark. Among CBS’ games, Chiefs-Jets also fits that bill, but see the Chiefs’ number of primetime appearances again, and Broncos-Dolphins does as well, while Texans-Titans pits two 2-2 teams against one another.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 2-2 v. 3-1, so not great and this rivalry isn’t as hot as in Ray Lewis’ heyday, but it can still attract an audience.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants or Eagles-Rams (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Eagles-Rams would pit two teams above .500 if Fox left it unprotected, as would Lions-Bucs. Vikings-Panthers and Jets-Broncos (the latter of which is a long shot for CBS’ protection) pit teams at .500 against teams above it, while Titans-Cardinals is a battle of .500 teams.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 2-2 v. 2-2, but again 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 is the strongest game on the slate. Jets-Saints and Cardinals-Trumps are battles of two 2-2 teams. Dolphins-Bills has potential as well.

Week 17 (December 31):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Predictions for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s selections are performed by a panel of 46 leading NFL media members including representatives of all 32 NFL teams, a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America, and 13 at-large writers.

The panel has selected a list of 15 finalists from the modern era, defined as playing all or part of their careers within the last 25 years. A player must have spent 5 years out of the league before they can be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. Players that last played in the 2011 season will be eligible for induction in 2017.

During Super Bowl Weekend, the panel will meet and narrow down the list of modern-era finalists down to five. Those five will be considered alongside one senior candidate, selected by a nine-member subpanel of the larger panel last August, and two contributors (not players or coaches), selected by another nine-member subpanel, for a total of eight. From this list, at least four and no more than eight people will be selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

My prediction for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017 is:

LaDainian Tomlinson
Kurt Warner
John Lynch
Joe Jacoby
Don Coryell
Kenny Easley
Jerry Jones
Paul Tagliabue

Hall of Fame Game: Chargers v. Cardinals

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; 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 and 2011. 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.
  • 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 starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

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

Week 17 (January 3):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (7-7)
SOUTH
48-6
510-4
8-6
NORTH
39-5
69-5
8-6
WEST
211-3
8-6
10-4 8-6
EAST
112-2
8-6
CLINCHED
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-8)
SOUTH
49-5
510-4
8-6
NORTH
39-5
68-6
8-6
WEST
29-4-1
8-6
CLINCHED 7-6-1
EAST
112-2
7-7
10-4
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Texans-Titans, Packers-Lions, and though it’s an extreme long-shot, Andrew DeCaro will be happy to know there is a situation where Patriots-Dolphins gets picked. Both of the division title games have a very strong chance of happening, though, and Pats-Dolphins is even dependent on one of them happening, so realistically this is about as simple as last year without the NFL being stuck without a loser-out game… not that they’ll necessarily appreciate it.
  • Packers-Lions will be picked if: The Packers win OR (the Titans lose AND the Texans or Colts win). I saw the following tweet on my feed Monday:

    Certainly Packers-Lions is the game NBC would prefer to any alternative, but this overlooks two wrinkles: the possibility that the loser would still make the playoffs, and the fact the Lions play Monday night, which the NFL might be uncomfortable waiting for to announce the Week 17 SNF game, to say nothing of the rest of the schedule. Indeed, the former is pretty realistic at the moment (and cannot be guaranteed not to be the case if the Packers win), even if right now the strength-of-victory tiebreaker is needed to break the tie between the Packers and Bucs. Would the NFL take an NFC North title game that’s not loser-out (the exact scenario that, last year, prompted the league to exempt Week 17 from appearance limits this year) over an AFC South title game that is, especially since the winner of the former probably won’t receive a first-round bye (a Seahawks loss would make it much easier for the league to justify picking this game over Texans-Titans) and in fact the game may just determine home field for a rematch the following week? We’ll see. (That said, if the Texans clinch the AFC South – UPDATE: or the Colts can still steal the division – the league might not wait for Monday to move this game into Sunday night, on grounds that even if the Packers lose and Lions win to clinch the division, they could still be playing for seeding while the Packers will likely be fighting for their playoff lives, and the league wouldn’t have any better options.)

  • Texans-Titans will be picked if: The Titans win OR the Texans and Colts lose. During “Football Night in America” the announcers repeatedly played up the prospect of a Packers-Lions division title game. I didn’t watch the whole show but I saw nothing about Texans-Titans, which might be in even better shape with the two teams tied at the top of the division. It’s also unlikely, though not impossible, for the loser of this game to still make the playoffs. (UPDATE: Turns out I forgot about the Colts being a game back and the possibility of them stealing the division if they take a three-way tie into Week 17 and win alongside the Titans, even though I mentioned it last week. This is why I shouldn’t write these posts late at night.) Actually…
  • Patriots-Dolphins might be picked if: The Dolphins lose AND the Texans and Titans win AND the Ravens lose AND (the Broncos lose OR the Dolphins have already clinched the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Broncos) AND the Patriots win AND the Raiders lose. The Titans beat the Dolphins head-to-head, while if the Dolphins lose out while the Texans split to lose the division, the Texans would have the better conference record. But the Ravens and Broncos need to lose or else it might not be a win-and-in game for the Dolphins, and if the Patriots still haven’t secured the #1 seed the league might prefer this game be played the same time as the AFC West games. And even then, this scenario still wouldn’t guarantee that the Texans-Titans loser made the playoffs even with a Dolphins loss. (It’s also worth noting that if the Raiders have clinched the AFC West, then this game needs to go in the 4:25 time slot to guarantee both the Raiders and Chiefs are playing for something, in which case the NFL might prefer to give Texans-Titans a guaranteed national audience rather than let CBS bury it behind the ratings magnet of the Patriots or in the 1 PM ET time slot, even if Packers-Lions is also an option, unless they’re in the mood to cross-flex one of these games.)

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; 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 and 2011. 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.
  • 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 starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

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

Week 17 (January 3):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-7)
SOUTH
47-6
510-3
7-6
NORTH
38-5
68-5 5-7-1
7-6
WEST
210-3
8-5
10-3 7-6
EAST
111-2
7-6
8-5
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-7-1)
SOUTH
48-5
59-4
8-5
WEST
38-4-1
68-5
5-7-1
NORTH
29-4
7-5-1
2 teams at 7-6 7-6
EAST
111-2
7-6
9-4
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Giants-Swamp, Texans-Titans, Panthers-Bucs, Jaguars-Colts, Packers-Lions, Patriots-Dolphins, Raiders-Broncos, Chiefs-Chargers.
  • Chances of Texans-Titans: 35 percent. With these two teams tied at the top of the division and the Colts a game back, there are only two main obstacles to this game being flexed to NBC: the severe lack of name value of the teams and the possibility of the loser still picking up a wild card spot, and the latter isn’t too big a concern right now. With Houston holding a perfect division record including one game over the Titans, while the Titans have only one division win, this game would at least be a candidate if the teams were either tied or if the Titans took a one-game lead into Week 17; that perfect division record also means that the Colts could be tied with the Texans in the latter scenario and still allow this to be a division title game. But the Colts can’t be tied for the division lead heading into the final week, and NBC might prefer virtually any other game.
  • Chances of Packers-Lions: 25 percent. The Packers have a game in hand over the Lions so they only need to make up one game to make this a division title game, but they have the twin problems of the potential of the loser still making the playoffs and the Vikings gumming up the waterworks. Even then, so long as the Packers beat the Vikings on Christmas Eve the Vikings would lose a tiebreaker if they managed to nab a share of the division lead, with the Packers winning the three-way tiebreaker if it came to that. What may be the biggest problem is that the Lions play on Monday night Week 16, meaning this game may have to be a division title game no matter what happens there – in other words, the Packers may have to make up a game this week and then beat the Vikings – but if that happens NBC would gobble this game up in a heartbeat.
  • Chances of Giants-Swamp: 15 percent. The Giants and Bucs have identical conference records with nothing but conference games remaining, so if they finished tied the Bucs would win the tiebreaker. So if the Giants and Bucs enter Week 17 tied with Washington a half-game behind both, then the loser of this game is out as they would fall behind the Bucs no matter what, while the winner should get in if they can’t be leapfrogged by an NFC North team.
  • Chances of Raiders-Broncos: 10 percent. The Raiders have a game in hand over the Broncos but have only a one-game lead in divisional games, so depending on what games the Raiders lose or Broncos win the Broncos might only need to make up one game. But this game would also need the Dolphins, or (less likely) teams in other divisions, to cooperate in order to eliminate the loser, and both AFC West games are dependent on Broncos-Chiefs as the Christmas night game.
  • Chances of Patriots-Dolphins: 6 percent. The Dolphins would lose the common games tiebreaker to either the Raiders or Broncos, so if they all entered the week tied this game would be closer to a win-and-in, lose-and-out game than that one, for reasons described here, assuming the AFC North or South isn’t a factor… and assuming the Patriots have nothing left to play for, because if they’re still fighting for seeding the league would probably prefer to have them playing at the same time (or earlier) as the Chiefs. The flip side is that the Dolphins can still win the division if they win out and the Patriots lose out, and the Patriots aren’t even guaranteed a playoff spot yet; I don’t know if that’s more or less likely as a scenario (and I’m not sure the Patriots can be guaranteed to be eliminated from the playoffs with a loss before the rest of the Week 17 games), but it might be more likely to put this game in primetime. If the chances I give this game seem high to you, think of it as 3 percent for each of these scenarios.
  • Chances of Jaguars-Colts: 4 percent. Similar to the first Pats-Dolphins scenario above but under slightly different conditions, namely the Colts and Titans being tied for the division lead by a game over the Texans. The Colts swept the Titans so they would get in with a win, but if the Texans win and the Colts lose then the Texans’ sweep of both teams would give them the division. But this game might be even less appealing than Texans-Titans, so it would be an absolute last resort.
  • Chances of Chiefs-Chargers: 4 percent. Also similar to Pats-Dolphins, this game is also dependent on a three-way tie but for the opposite reason: the Chiefs swept the Raiders and the Broncos can’t beat them on divisional record, so if the Chiefs collapsed to the point all three teams were tied for the division lead, the Chiefs would win the division with a win no matter what happened with the Raiders and Broncos. But between this and Jags-Colts, I don’t know which scenario is less likely or which game is less desirable.
  • Chances of Panthers-Bucs: 1 percent. Unlike the other games that only matter to one team, this one isn’t nearly as cut and dry, and in fact I’m not sure a scenario even exists where this game would be picked. The best-case scenario I can find for this being a win-and-in, lose-and-out game for the Bucs is if you took the scenario for the Giants game above and moved Washington a half-game ahead of the Giants and Bucs; then, if the Giants lose and the Bucs win the Bucs would get the 6 seed if no NFC North team intervenes, if the Giants and Bucs lose the Bucs could still make the playoffs unless an NFC North team intervenes, but if the Giants win and the Bucs lose then the Bucs are out. But even that requires the NFC North to cooperate in each direction, making it difficult if not impossible to think of a situation where this game would be a true candidate but Packers-Lions was not.