I thought I might have a chance to get this post up before we got too far into the Thursday night game, but the NFL caught me off guard by announcing Week 15 flexes for both Saturday and Monday night on Thursday afternoon. Possible this was driven by the desire not to cut it too close to announce the Saturday games, but regardless there wasn’t any reason not to announce this as early as Tuesday. I think I’m going to have to commit to posting these on Wednesday at the very latest from now on, at least until only six-day flexes are left, if I can find a way to bring myself to do that and have my brain in sufficient working order to do so. I’m going to try to capture my thinking prior to this announcement (and the chart also doesn’t reflect today’s news) and why that makes it all the more surprising.
How NFL flexible scheduling works: (see also the NFL’s own page on flex schedule procedures)
- Up to two games in Weeks 5-10 (the “early flex” period), and any number of games from Week 11 onward, may be flexed into Sunday Night Football. Any number of games from Week 12 onward may be flexed into Monday Night Football, and up to two games from Week 13 onward may be flexed into Thursday Night Football. In addition, in select weeks in December a number of games may be listed as “TBD”, with two or three of those games being assigned to be played on Saturday. Note that I only cover early flexes if a star player on one of the teams is injured.
- Only games scheduled for Sunday afternoon, or set aside for a potential move to Saturday, may be flexed into one of the flex-eligible windows – not existing primetime games or games in other standalone windows. The game currently listed in the flex-eligible window will take the flexed-in game’s space on the Sunday afternoon slate, generally on the network that the flexed-in game was originally scheduled for. The league may also move Sunday afternoon games between 1 PM ET and 4:05 or 4:25 PM ET.
- Thursday Night Football flex moves must be announced 28 days in advance. Sunday and Monday Night Football moves must be announced 12 days in advance, except for Sunday night games in Week 14 onward, which can be announced at any point up until 6 days in advance.
- CBS and Fox have the right to protect one game each per week, among the games scheduled for their networks, from being flexed into primetime windows. During the early flex period, they may protect games at any point once the league tells them they’re thinking of pulling the flex. It’s not known when they must protect games in the main flex period, only that it’s “significantly closer to each game date” relative to the old deadline of Week 5. My assumption is that protections are due five weeks in advance, in accordance with the 28-day deadline for TNF flexes. Protections have never been officially publicized, and have not leaked en masse since 2014, so can only be speculated on.
- Supposedly, CBS and Fox are also guaranteed one half of each division rivalry. Notably, some Week 18 games (see below) have their other halves scheduled for the other conference’s network, though none are scheduled for primetime.
- No team may appear more than seven times in primetime windows – six scheduled before the season plus one flexed in. This appears to consider only the actual time the game is played; Amazon’s Black Friday game does not count even though the rest of their TNF slate does, and NBC’s Saturday afternoon game Week 16 doesn’t count but their Peacock game that night does. This post contains a list of all teams’ primetime appearances entering the season.
- Teams may play no more than two Thursday games following Sunday games, and (apparently) no more than one of them can be on the road.
- In Week 18 the entire schedule, consisting entirely of games between divisional opponents, is set on six days’ notice, usually during the previous week’s Sunday night game. One game will be scheduled for Sunday night, usually a game that decides who wins the division, a game where the winner is guaranteed to make the playoffs while the loser is out, or a game where one team makes the playoffs with a win but falls behind the winner of another game, and thus loses the division and/or misses the playoffs, with a loss. Two more games with playoff implications are scheduled for Saturday on ABC and ESPN, with the remaining games doled out to CBS and Fox on Sunday afternoon, with the league generally trying to maximize what each team has to play for. Protections and appearance limits do not apply to Week 18.
- Click here to learn how to read the charts.