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.

15 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

  1. Since I know the comments of the last post heavily discussed the possibility of Eagles-Rams being flexed in Week 14, I should expand on the “no night games at the Coliseum” comment. This is something that came up on the 506sports thread on this year’s flex scheduling where someone claimed that the deal the NFL and Rams have with the Coliseum and USC prohibits them from playing any night games there, full stop. It’s kinda-sorta hearsay and USC’s academic year is mostly, though not entirely, wrapped up by Week 14, but it makes some degree of sense to me, so I imagine at the very least, Eagles-Rams would only be flexed in if the NFL absolutely has no other options, and right now, with Ravens-Steelers being as decently strong as it is and two to three other matchups of over-.500 teams available, they don’t.

  2. That may be true, however, NBC might attempt to make it worthwhile to USC to allow the NFL to move Eagles-Rams to a 5:30 PM local start (though USC I would think would be closing in on finals at that point), main reason being so NBC can do a big-time “Meet and Greet” with all the stars of NBC’s shows before the game and have fans “be seen at the game.”

    And I think USC forgot the NFL used to have Monday Night games at the LA Coliseum in the 1970’s when the Rams were there (and a couple of times in the ’80s when the Raiders called it home).

    This may all be moot anyway because right now, Steelers-Ravens should keep the slot, however, the Steelers played horribly against the Jaguars and there seems to be major dissention in Pittsburgh. Seahawks-Jags is also a possibility, especially given the Jags had no prime time appearances at all before the season started.

  3. Being a Sunday I don’t know how much difference it would make between a 1pm start and a 5:30pm start. December 10 is the Sunday in the middle of final exams though.

    As for night games at the Coliseum, USC is playing Utah this Saturday so they do play night games there. Now NFL vs. USC could be different.

    Now the Rams lost to Seattle so maybe the bubble burst on the Rams season. But if the Rams are still good, I’d hate to see Goff/Wentz buried behind Cowboys/Giants on FOX and given to 10% of the country (luckily being in Philly I’ll be one of the 10%). And we get Steelers/Ravens every year in prime time. Can they at least flex Cowboys/Giants to prime time then so Eagles/Rams can be the featured 4:25pm game then?

  4. Thinking that it’s more likely with Week 14 that Fox may protect Eagles-Rams and move Cowboys-Giants to 1 PM and make Eagles-Rams the 4:25 PM national game if both are still in contention with the Giants’ season for all intents and purposes over.

  5. If the Seahawks don’t falter, I highly doubt there being any flexes this year. The Dallas games are cemented and Patriots, Steelers, and Packers games are usually the next closest things barring an injury to Brady, Roethlisberger, or Rodgers that would prevent them from playing.

  6. Still say one exception might be Eagles-Rams. The NFL might “strongly suggest” to FOX it give up that game in exchange for Ravens-Steelers if the Eagles and Rams are good to give the Rams an NBC game and NBC a chance to do a full-bore “meet and greet” with all of the stars of NBC’s shows ahead of such a game that Sunday afternoon (west coast time).

    That said, if the Steelers and/or Ravens falter, it’s conceivable that game is swapped out for Seahawks-Jaguars if the Jaguars hold up if for no other reason than to correct a scheduling quirk that had the Jags not getting ANY prime time games at all.

  7. I don’t know what the rules are for Week 9 flex outs but I’d keep an eye out for Oakland at Miami vs. Denver at Philadelphia and Atlanta at Carolina. Tonight (Thursday’s game will put one of the teams in the driver’s seat in the NFC). Miami might be a story because of the hurricane but people don’t turn in to watch games because of a hurricane and I don’t really have any reason to watch the Dolphins, do you? If the Raiders lose this weekend to that team that should not be in Los Angeles NBC needs to get rid of that game!

  8. Walt, it is very rare for NBC to give a team back to back Sunday night appearances which is what would happen if you flex the Seahawks-Jaguars in week 14 and keep the Eagles-Seahawks in week 13. I think you have to be one of the main “Name” teams (Cowboys, Patriots, Steelers, Packers) that have a large following outside their home markets for this to be considered. I don’t know if Seahawks have this enough to merit a back to back. The Jaguars don’t have that outside the market following at all. The NFL won’t “make nice” to the Jags if it is at the expense of TV ratings especially with this year’s downward spiral. The Steelers being a “Name” team will be tough to knock out and the NFL loves to promote the Ravens-Steelers rivalry to boot. I think this game stays unless one of the teams really blows chunks in the next couple weeks.

  9. Seattle is not a big enough of a market and while Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman are big names and the Seahawks had a big win at the Rams they just don’t seem to be playing well and barely beat the 49ers at home and didn’t score a TD (or maybe the winless 49ers are better than we think). I don’t think Seattle-Jacksonville has a prayer for being on SNF, especially over Pitt-Balt or Dall-NYG. In fact, that game has 0% chance of being moved to 4:25pm because both markets are too small. On the other hand, the Rams are Los Angeles so if the Rams are still playing well coming into December they will get consideration as to being flexed (plus you also have the Jared Goff/Carson Wentz storyline as they were the top two draft choices in the 2016 draft, surprised no one discussed that yet). I hope Matt’s correct that FOX moves the Cowboys game to 1pm so more people get to see Goff/Wentz. But that assumes the Rams will still be good (after last night’s Eagles win at Carolina you have to assume they are real).

  10. Not a SNF flex yet but there was a 4:25pm flex (Cincinnati-Pittsburgh) for Week 7. I believe they did flex Green Bay-Atlanta to 4:25pm last year in October as well so 4:25pm flexes in October aren’t uncommon. Dallas-Washington is the key 4:25pm game in Week 8 on FOX so it should be good enough a game to stay although without Zeke maybe they need a backup game late (Carolina at Tampa Bay). In Week 9, it’s Kansas City-Dallas on CBS. I would probably keep Denver-Philly at 1pm but move maybe my #3 or #4 game to 4:25pm so some viewers can get a different game (Cincinnati at Jacksonville so viewers in Jacksonville can then see the Tampa Bay-New Orleans game at 1pm on FOX).

  11. It’s very rare that a Cowboys game against the Giants is not either in primetime or the late doubleheader game on FOX. But with the Giants basically out of playoff contention, I will be interested to see who announces that game and if it is moved to 1:00 PM and Eagles-Rams becomes the FOX main late game.

  12. I have to agree with Schmolik’s comment (#7) above about the Sunday 11/5 schedule and in particular the possibility that Broncos/Eagles gets shifted to NBC SNF in place of Raiders/Dolphins. (I don’t see the ATL/CAR moving because 1) Fox has the singleheader that day, 2) Fox’s 1 PM ET schedule that day is relatively weak excluding ATL/CAR, and 3) neither the Falcons and Panthers are overly popular teams. In my opinion, the Redskins/Seahawks game, currently scheduled for a 4:05 PM ET start, is a more likely flex candidate among the Fox games on 11/5 than Falcons/Panthers.) The results of today’s (10/15) games will play a key role (in particular if the Broncos continue to look like a good team and the Raiders and Dolphins continue to look like mediocre teams), but the schedule sets up in such a way that CBS’ schedule on 11/5 wouldn’t be negatively impacted too much if the network loses DEN/PHI to NBC. CBS has the doubleheader on 11/5, and right now a very attractive ratings-wise stand-alone game featuring the last remaining undefeated team vs “America’s Team” (KC/DAL) is in the 4:25 PM ET time slot on CBS. It wouldn’t hurt CBS that much to lose their likely best 1 PM ET game during a week they have the doubleheader (and that includes the Cowboys in the late afternoon game to boot). The 11/5 OAK/MIA game could even shift conveniently into the 1 PM ET slot and become CBS’ primary game in that time slot without too much trouble. The only negative with flexing DEN/PHI to NBC SNF is that KYW Channel 3 (CBS affiliate) in Philadelphia may push back on losing both Eagles games this season (the other “regular” CBS game with the Eagles, the Oakland at Philadelphia game on Christmas night, has already been scheduled for ESPN), and with Philadelphia being one of the largest NFC TV markets, the CBS affiliate there may have a little more pull in blocking a flex than most affiliates. I don’t think that issue will ultimately matter though. If the DEN/PHI game is dramatically more attractive ratings-wise than the OAK/MIA game, and at this point I think you can make a strong argument it is, I think there’s a strong possibility we could see one of those very rare pre-Week 10/11 NBC SNF flexes.

  13. Chip:

    The NFL could compensate KYW-TV (CBS3) in Philly by cross-flexing Bears-Eagles in Week 12 to CBS to compensate for losing Broncos-Eagles (which also would give CBS a doubleheader in Philly that day where is there none now).

    That said, I suspect elected officials in Miami will have a strong say and demand the NFL keep Raiders-Dolphins that night no matter what (and if the Dolphins and Raiders are 4-3 or 3-4 at the time that has to be made, I seriously doubt it would be moved anyway).

  14. Schmolik:

    As said, I seriously doubt Raiders-Dolphins will get moved. Elected officials in Miami will likely through a massive hissyfit if it is because that game is likely very important to Miami to showcase how Miami is recovering from Irma.

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