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 even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why 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 4:15 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.
- 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. 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.
- In the past, three teams could 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. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; ten teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Packers, Bears, 49ers, Steelers, and Saints don’t have games in the main flex period, and all have games in the early flex period. I don’t know if both of the games scheduled for 12/20 count towards the total, or only the one in primetime. 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 16 (December 21):
- Selected game: Seattle @ Arizona.
Week 17 (December 28):
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
|2 tied at 8-5||7-6|
|2 teams at 7-6|
|WILD CARD||WAITING IN
THE WINGS (7-6)
- Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
- Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Browns-Ravens, Lions-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Bills-Patriots, Bengals-Steelers. Cardinals-49ers is out because it depends on the outcome of the Seahawks-Cardinals game even in the exceedingly unlikely scenario where it’s relevant, and if the Seahawks won the NFL would want to make the two NFC West games simultaneous even if there were no other options.
- Chances of Lions-Packers: 60 percent. This is probably the odds-on favorite, but a lot depends on whether or not the NFL would want to take this game if the loser might still get a wild card spot. The Lions won the first game, so they just need to stay within a game of the Packers for the division to be on the line, but the best-case scenario for this game involves both teams slipping so they can’t fall back on a wild card spot. On the other hand, if both teams excel and the NFC East teams slip the winner could be guaranteed a first-round bye, which could outweigh the loser still getting a wild card spot. The fact that this is by far the most TV-friendly option also weighs in its favor.
- Chances of Panthers-Falcons: 19 percent. Since moving to the all-division-games system for Week 17, the Sunday night game has a long tradition of hosting a division title game for the suckiest division in the NFL, but that looks to be unlikely this year. Falcons-Saints or Saints-Falcons would be a lock if they played each other, but instead this game’s chances depend on the Saints going on a losing streak while the Panthers and Falcons win. The Saints really only need to lose one more game than the Panthers or Falcons, though; a lot’s riding on the Week 16 Falcons-Saints game and how much the NFL would be willing to subject America to this game if there are other options available.
- Chances of Browns-Ravens: 5 percent. There’s an exceedingly slim chance this game is for the division if the Browns win their next two, the Bengals lose their next two, and the Ravens win one more game than the Steelers. More likely, though still not likely, is that this game is for a wild card spot, but that would require the Browns to win one more game than the other 7-6 teams and the Chargers to fall behind in the wild card race as well. It does help that even if the Browns don’t beat the Bengals, they’d still hold the division tiebreaker over the Ravens with a win Week 17.
- Chances of Chargers-Chiefs: 5 percent. The Chiefs were swept by the Broncos, so they’re already eliminated from the division, but the idea of this game being for a wild card spot is intriguing. As with the Lions, the Chiefs won the first game with the Chargers and so only need to stay within a game of them, but the AFC wild card race is very crowded when you consider the 7-6 teams. It’s highly unlikely the Chiefs can be guaranteed a wild card spot with a win; they’d need to at least outperform the teams I have listed ahead of them. Combine that with this game’s lack of marquee value and it’s a real long shot.
- Chances of Bills-Patriots: 1 percent. There is exactly one scenario where this game even has a shot: the Bills win their next two, the Patriots lose their next two, and the Dolphins lose to the Vikings Week 16, since this scenario assumes they’d beat the Patriots. That doesn’t even get into the wild card situation.
- Chances of Bengals-Steelers: 10 percent. This might have the best shot of any AFC game, but it’s still unlikely. It’s another game where the NFL would have to weigh the possibility of the loser getting a wild card spot. The most likely scenario might involve the teams being in wild card position going in but the loser guaranteed to fall behind the Browns-Ravens or Chargers-Chiefs winner. The lack of name value also hurts it.