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 10 (November 13):
- Selected game: Seattle @ New England (presumably).
Week 11 (November 20):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ Washington
- Prospects: 4-3 v. 4-3-1, beatable but strong enough to fend off most challenges.
- Likely protections: Ravens-Cowboys or Eagles-Seahawks (CBS) and probably Cardinals-Vikings if anything (FOX).
- Other possible games: If Eagles-Seahawks is protected, the only available games involve teams at 3-4 or 3-4-1 at best: Bucs-Chiefs, Ravens-Cowboys, and Cardinals-Vikings (which might itself be protected), with Bills-Bengals being 4-4 v. 3-4 and Dolphins-Rams a matchup of 3-4 teams.
- Analysis: Needless to say, none of those games are overcoming the tentative game bias (and audience-attracting ability of the Packers and Wall-Builders) even if the Packers fall to .500 (Washington’s bye is this week) and the 3-4 team climbs up to .500. That leaves Eagles-Seahawks, which stands at 4-3 v. 4-2-1 and would be the Seahawks’ second consecutive week on SNF. The best-case scenario would be 5-3 v. 5-2-1 with the tentative sitting at 4-4 v. 4-3-1, which gives a clear edge, but again probably not enough to overcome the tentative game bias and name value of the teams, especially since the whole reason Eagles-Seahawks is CBS’ game to protect to begin with is because it’s already slated as the late game of their doubleheader.
- Final prediction: Green Bay Packers @ Washington Wall-Builders (no change).
Week 12 (November 27):
- Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
- Prospects: 7-1 v. 3-5. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
- Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, and this year seems to have gotten unusually lucky in terms of good teams on Thanksgiving and Monday night (across those four games only the Colts are below .500). With Chiefs-Broncos likely protected, no games involve only teams at or above .500, with Cardinals-Falcons and Seahawks-Bucs the most viable dark horses and Bengals-Ravens and Rams-Saints matchups of teams at 3-4 or 3-4-1.
Week 13 (December 4):
- Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
- Prospects: 2-5 v. 4-2-1; relative upsets this weekend made it less lopsided, but it’s still not in good shape.
- Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
- Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons and (if unprotected) Giants-Steelers are the strongest options, with Bills-Raiders close behind. Rams-Patriots, Eagles-Bengals, and Racial Slurs-Cardinals are the most viable dark horses, followed by Lions-Saints and Bills-Raiders; Dolphins-Ravens is hanging on by a thread.
Week 14 (December 11):
- Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 6-1 v. 4-3 would be tough for any game to overcome the tentative game bias against, but when it’s an intra-NFC East matchup involving the Cowboys, nothing else has a chance.
- Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles is good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, and if I’m right about the protections it’s the only game involving nothing but teams above .500. Broncos-Titans is the most viable dark horse (unless Steelers-Bills is unprotected), followed by Falcons-Rams, then Saints-Bucs and Cardinals-Dolphins.
Week 15 (December 18):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
- Prospects: 4-3 v. 3-4-1. Not great, and without the sort of brand value that would insulate it from a flex, but not terrible, and potentially for the AFC North lead.
- Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
- Other possible games: The good news for this game is that no game involves only teams above .500, with Titans-Chiefs and Lions-Giants being the biggest threats. Bucs-Cowboys could be an interesting dark horse, with Saints-Cardinals the only other game even to stick to teams at 3-4, 3-4-1, or above (and there are a LOT of teams at that mark).
Week 17 (January 3):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.