Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 16 (And Abbreviated Week 15)

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 17; and week 18. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturdays in December in recent years – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games, historically in five out of six weeks of the main flex period (whether or not they received an additional protection with the expansion of the main flex period an additional week is unknown), but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in may receive the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 18, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. More rarely, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and 2018 and 2020, respectively, were the first times it showed such games. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET. However, beginning this season, the NFL will also move two games to Saturday to be simulcast on ESPN and ABC.

Before we begin, I have to apologize for not getting this post out last week; between that and the massive delays affecting the season-opening post this has not been my best year for the Flex Schedule Watch. I think I’m going to have to find a way to start working on the Week 15 post before the Week 15 games are over (perhaps by making a cheat sheet), or otherwise abandon the notion of giving percentage chances for each game two weeks out, especially with the 17th game a) adding a game that may or may not be common for wild card purposes and b) pushing the two-weeks-out week to the week of Christmas when I’m travelling and dealing with other commitments, and especially with my attempting to figure out if the strength of victory tiebreaker could be settled before the final week for some situations. While this post has always been the most work and the most stressful part of working on the Flex Schedule Watch since I started using ESPN’s FPI to calculate more specific percentage chances for each game, this year was particularly exhausting, stressful, and while I did manage to finish the work by the end of the day Sunday, the Sunday night game was mostly over at that point. While these are percentage chances going into the Week 16 games (click here to see what the playoff picture looked like going in), I didn’t get the predictions for the Week 17 games until late Saturday night so some of these percentages might incorporate predictions that take the results of the Thursday night and Christmas games into account, and some of these should be considered approximate as I wasn’t as exhaustive at looking at the overall playoff picture as I have in years past. With that in mind, here are the percentage chances for each game being suitable for Sunday night (not Saturday, and mostly not attempting to predict whether they’ll actually be selected) prior to the Week 16 games, along with a very brief summary of why:

  • Bengals-Browns: 27% (mostly as a division title game)
  • Ravens-Steelers: 20% (mostly as a division title game but the chances the Ravens would be in with a win but fall behind the Chargers-Raiders winner with a loss were enough to bump it up a few percentage points)
  • Jets-Bills: 7% (pretty decent chance at the time the Bills could need to win to not fall behind an AFC North team)
  • Chargers-Raiders: 4% (both teams still had to play the Broncos, who are/were in decent shape on tiebreakers, which not only threw a wrench into a lot of scenarios where this game could be flexed in but even into scenarios where another team could fall below the winner of this game with a loss)
  • Colts-Jaguars: 4% (the Colts entered the week in very good shape on tiebreakers but underdogs to the Cardinals, and the tight AFC wild card picture meant it wouldn’t take much losing for their playoff hopes to be hanging by a thread, but see below)
  • Patriots-Dolphins: 2% (requires the Patriots to lose to the lowly Jags this coming week, but the Dolphins would hold a tiebreaker over them with a win – more on this below)
  • Cardinals-Seahawks: 2% (our first NFC game! Had we entered Week 18 with the three main contenders in the NFC West in a three-way tie, the Cardinals would hold the tiebreaker over each so this game would determine whether the Cardinals or the Rams-Niners winner won the division)
  • Chiefs-Broncos: 2% (the Broncos are in good enough tiebreaker shape that it’s easy enough to create a win-and-in, lose-and-out game for them, but the Chiefs would need to have either clinched or been eliminated from the first-round bye at minimum)
  • Saints-Falcons: .5% (I’ve talked about the large number of potential Sunday night games from the NFC in weeks past, but this is actually the only one involving two teams in serious danger of not making the playoffs, and it requires a lot to go right)
  • Cowboys-Eagles: .4% (the NFC version of Chiefs-Broncos above, the Cowboys are actually in better shape in terms of tiebreakers to take the first-round bye than you might think thanks to a sterling conference record)
  • Titans-Texans: .3% (basically requiring a complete catastrophe to befall the Titans while the right 7-7 teams win to set up a game that the Titans would fall below the winner of with a loss)
  • Bears-Vikings: .1% (the Vikings hold most tiebreakers but not over Washington, requiring a very specific set of circumstances to set this up)
  • Washington-Giants: .1% (and this was before I even looked at where the Vikings were)
  • Niners-Rams: <.1% (it had been very likely this would determine the order of finish between them, but that would only be good enough for a move to Saturday, as there’d be no way to guarantee the Niners would win the division with a win or that the Rams would miss the playoffs with a loss, leaving us with the situation where the Niners would fall below the Saints-Falcons winner)

With that, here’s the last week of my predictions:

Week 17 (January 2):

  • Selected game: Minnesota @ Green Bay. Had I made this post last week, I would have said that it seemed that the league and Fox were okay with Cardinals-Cowboys anchoring the early doubleheader spot, which seemed somewhat surprising considering some of the speculation I saw but I feel like amateur speculators tend to underestimate the league’s reticence to move game times around (think of it as a more general case of the tentative game bias). (A certain commenter of mine that tends to default to “move ALL THE GAMES” should take note.) But then on Monday the league announced that Rams-Ravens would move to the early window with Panthers-Saints (not Eagles-RedHogs so the Baltimore-Washington corridor can see both teams?) moving late, and acted like Cardinals-Cowboys had already been moved to the late window; apparently this was announced all the way back on December 16 and I missed it.

Week 18 (January 9):

  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications, with ABC and ESPN showing two such games on Saturday).
  • Possible games: Cowboys-Eagles, Colts-Jaguars, Bears-Vikings, Patriots-Dolphins, Steelers-Ravens, Jets-Bills, Bengals-Browns, Chargers-Raiders; [to Saturday only: Saints-Falcons, Presidents-Giants, Panthers-Bucs, Niners-Rams, Cardinals-Seahawks]. As seen above, the AFC North seems likeliest to produce a potential Sunday night game… which could be a problem with the Browns and Steelers playing this coming Monday night, which (despite some of my predictions below) may prevent either AFC North game from moving to Saturday at all and make the league reticent to schedule some games for Sunday night if they can avoid it. (The league was fine with teams that had their games moved to Tuesday two weeks ago playing the following Sunday, but they presumably weren’t inclined to move four different games to Monday, including the Sunday night game just to make it all the more logistically difficult, and they probably aren’t inclined to move a game to Saturday on five days notice.) We’ll start with the games that could move to NBC; conditions in brackets only apply to a Sunday night move and don’t apply to a game moving to Saturday. As always I’ll have updates throughout the day on Twitter, and my thinking on Saturday games may evolve away from what’s listed here as the day progresses, due to the doubleheader structure adding some complexity to what games can and can’t move, some of which I’ve attempted to accommodate (for example, there’s a scenario where both NFC West games could move to Saturday, listed in the Niners-Rams section) and some I haven’t.
  • Chargers-Raiders will be picked if: The Raiders win [AND the Chargers win AND the Dolphins lose AND the Ravens lose]. The Chargers beat the Raiders the first time they played, but they’re playing the Broncos who beat them the first time they played; if the Raiders won, Chargers lost, then both the Chargers and Broncos won Week 18, the Chargers and Broncos would have identical 3-3 divisional records and then the Broncos’ head-to-head sweep would take over. Regarding the other wild card teams, the Chargers beat the Steelers, Bengals, and Browns while losing to the Patriots and Ravens, while the Raiders beat the Steelers, Ravens, Browns, and Dolphins; the Dolphins would beat the Chargers on common games (unless the Chargers lose and Dolphins win this week and they reverse next week, in which case things would go to strength of victory where the Chargers wouldn’t need much to go their way to clinch that tiebreaker).
  • Patriots-Dolphins will be picked if: The Patriots lose [AND the Dolphins win AND (the Raiders win AND the Chargers win) OR (the Bengals win AND the Ravens win AND the Steelers win AND none of the Sunday night situations that don’t hinge on the Monday night game happen), OR the Dolphins lose AND the Raiders win AND (the Ravens lose AND the Steelers lose OR the Ravens, Steelers, and Chargers all win) AND none of the Sunday night situations that don’t hinge on the Monday night game happen]. The Dolphins beat the Patriots the first time they faced each other so only need to maintain the current gap between them for this game to determine the order of finish between them. The Patriots won both of their same-rank games against the Browns and Chargers while the Dolphins beat the Ravens and lost to the Raiders. The Patriots would win most conference-games tiebreakers, with the Raiders potentially going to and winning on common games; the Dolphins would hold the conference-games tiebreaker over the Broncos but most other tiebreakers against AFC North and West teams they haven’t already played would go to common games, the most important of which being that the Dolphins would hold the edge over the Chargers unless they win and the Chargers lose this week, then they reverse next week, which would send things to strength of victory where the Chargers have a pretty big lead (they also would win over the Browns); that means if the Dolphins win the Chargers need to win too for this game to move to Saturday. For this game to be moved to Sunday night, you’d need the Patriots to fall behind a team other than the Dolphins with a loss; the good news is that if they’re both at 9-8, any team that beat the Dolphins on tiebreakers would bump the Pats down a spot, but you still need to guarantee a playoff spot for the Dolphins with a win, so no more than one team can do that. If the Dolphins win they’re in good enough shape with tiebreakers that we just need to guarantee one team would join them at 10-7, or at least ahead of the 9-8 Patriots, with a win, and that that team couldn’t also be the division winner. If they lose to end up no better than 9-8, no more than one of the Ravens-Steelers and Chargers-Raiders games can have any of their teams win, and even then the Raiders being tied with them creates a hairy situation; if the Raiders and Dolphins lose while the Ravens and Steelers win, and then the Raiders and Dolphins win the next week, the Ravens-Steelers winner would finish with no worse than the 6 seed and the Raiders would claim the 7. So the Ravens and Steelers would have to both lose, and then the question becomes assuring the Patriots are out of the playoffs even with a Chargers win if they lose. Alternately, if all four teams win that would effectively eliminate the Dolphins from the playoffs, while creating a situation where the Patriots would be 9-8 with a loss when two teams currently out of the playoffs will finish no worse than 9-7-1, and while that would involve the Raiders beating the Colts the Colts would still hold a tiebreaker over the Patriots and Dolphins even with another loss to the Jaguars; this might be the only situation that allows this game to be moved to Saturday if the Pats and Dolphins both lose, with the Raiders possibly being the only team that could lose.
  • Ravens-Steelers will be picked if: [The Ravens win AND the Steelers beat the Browns AND] the Dolphins lose AND the Raiders lose[, AND none of the Sunday night scenarios that don’t depend on the Monday night game happen]. If the Ravens lose they couldn’t be guaranteed a playoff spot with a win due to the possibility of losing a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Dolphins; if they win they’d lose the conference-games tiebreaker to the Dolphins and Chargers, and lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Dolphins and/or Raiders but win it against the Chargers. Note that this game could move to Saturday only if the Ravens lose to ensure this determines the order of finish between them and the Steelers and to ensure the Browns wouldn’t be eliminated from the playoffs by a Ravens win. If the Ravens and Steelers win, things could get interesting if the Bengals lose…
  • Bengals-Browns will be picked if: The Bengals lose AND the Ravens win [AND the Steelers beat the Browns AND none of the Sunday night scenarios that don’t depend on the Monday night game happen]. You might think this would require a Browns win – the Browns beat the Bengals the first time, and since they split with the Ravens this could actually become a division title game if the Ravens lost to the Steelers – but the Browns lost to both the Chargers and Raiders and don’t have the most impressive conference record, meaning if the Ravens beat the Steelers their only hope may be for the Chargers and Raiders to tie. On the other hand, if the Browns are already eliminated and the Bengals are tied with the Ravens and a half-game ahead of the Steelers, they’d clinch the division with a win but give it up to the Ravens-Steelers winner with a loss.
  • Cowboys-Eagles will be picked if: Washington beats the Eagles AND the Saints win AND the Falcons win AND the Packers beat the Vikings AND the Cowboys lose [AND (the Bears beat the Giants OR the Chargers beat the Broncos OR any two of the Bucs, Seahawks, or Steelers win) AND none of the other Sunday night scenarios that don’t hinge on the Monday night game happen]. Washington would hold the tiebreaker over the Eagles with a win but the Eagles would still hold a game’s lead over them so that would actually add to the must-win nature of the game for the Eagles. The Eagles beat both the Falcons and Saints so would hold the tiebreaker over either. One potential snag: if the Eagles and Niners both lose out while the Falcons beat the Saints, or if the Eagles are in a three-way tie of any kind with the Vikings, it’ll be settled by strength of victory. The Eagles can’t catch the Saints in that measure, but the Falcons are much closer and the Vikings’ lead isn’t insurmountable – though it would become such with a win over the Packers, which also means if the Niners, Eagles, and Vikings are all sitting at 9-8, there’s a decent chance the Eagles still get knocked out of the playoffs. The good news is this game needs the Packers to win anyway to eliminate the Cowboys from the first-round bye and give them nothing to play for (but I’m assuming the 2 seed and a guaranteed second-round home game doesn’t count as something to play for, which is a big assumption), but the scenarios in parenthesis are what would be needed for the Vikings to clinch the strength of victory tiebreaker. Note, I’ve placed the strength-of-victory scenarios in brackets but it’s possible the only way for this to move to Saturday is if the Eagles win and the Cowboys are eliminated from the first-round bye, which would clinch a playoff spot for the Eagles, and there aren’t any better Saturday options, as otherwise putting this before either Saints-Falcons or Bears-Vikings could leave teams without anything to play for if the Eagles win. (The Cowboys are the only team that can catch the Packers, so it’s not possible to be sure the Packers would still have anything to play for.)
  • Bears-Vikings will be picked if: The Vikings win AND the Saints win AND the Falcons win AND Washington beats the Eagles[, AND the Bears beat the Giants OR (the Chargers win AND any one of the Bucs, Cardinals, Seahawks, or Steelers win) OR any three of the Bucs, Cardinals, Seahawks, or Steelers win, AND none of the other Sunday night situations that don’t depend on the Monday night game happen]. The Vikings would win any tiebreaker over the Falcons and would clinch the common games tiebreaker over the Saints with a win over the Packers, but lost the head-to-head matchup with the Niners, and if the Eagles beat the Cowboys the tie between the Eagles and Vikings would be decided by strength of victory; thus, the seemingly unrelated results in brackets are needed to ensure the Vikings would have a playoff spot waiting for them with a win. As with Cowboys-Eagles, though, putting the strength-of-victory situation in brackets obscures how things wouldn’t be as simple with regards to a Saturday move; with these results, either the Niners would have to lose to potentially open up another playoff spot for the Saints-Falcons winner, or Bears-Vikings would have to be the back half of the doubleheader with Saints-Falcons itself.
  • Colts-Jaguars will be picked if: The Raiders beat the Colts [AND the Ravens win AND the Steelers win AND the Patriots win AND the Dolphins win AND the Chargers win AND none of the other Sunday night situations happen]. The Colts swept their games against the AFC East but lost to the Ravens. The Colts play the Raiders, and a Raiders win would leave them tied in the standings with the Raiders holding the tiebreaker. If the Colts and Bengals both lose out the Bengals would hold the common-games tiebreaker, while if the Colts lose out and the Browns win out the Colts would still hold the tiebreaker on conference games, and the Colts would also hold any tie over the Chargers on conference games. The Colts would also win a three-way tiebreaker over the Ravens and Dolphins on conference games. So if the Patriots, Raiders, Dolphins, and Chargers all won to ensure the winners of the Pats-Dolphins and Chargers-Raiders games finished ahead of the Colts, the Colts might still win a tiebreaker over the Dolphins, Ravens, and Chargers. On the other hand, if the Ravens won, and the Colts, Patriots, Dolphins, Ravens, Chargers, and Raiders were all tied at 9-7, the Patriots-Dolphins, Ravens-Steelers, and Chargers-Raiders winners would all finish ahead of the Colts outright if the Colts lose, but the Ravens’ win over the Colts would become irrelevant if the Colts win as they’d beat all comers on conference games (and their win over the Patriots). Even if this were to happen, though, the league would probably take any other game if one existed so as not to put on a Jaguars team that might be tanking for the #1 overall pick, so this would be a last resort at best.
  • Jets-Bills will be picked (and Patriots-Dolphins may be moved to Saturday) if: (The Bills lose AND the Patriots lose) OR (the Bills win AND the Patriots win AND the Dolphins win)[, AND none of the other Sunday night situations that don’t hinge on the Monday night game happen, OR the Bills lose AND the Patriots win AND the Ravens win AND the Steelers win AND none of the other Sunday night situations happen]. The Bills swept the Dolphins and hold a division-record tiebreaker over the Patriots; if the Dolphins beat the Patriots to force a three-way tie it would go to the Bills with their 3-1 head-to-head record against the other two. Basically as long as the Bills and Patriots are tied, and the Dolphins are either tied with them or a game back, this game is for the division crown for the Bills. Alternately, if the Bills lose and Patriots win, the Bills would beat the Chargers on common games but lose to the Raiders on conference games if they finish tied, but if the Chargers entered the game against the Raiders a game ahead they’d still win the common games tiebreaker with a loss so that’s not an option. If the Bills lose and Ravens win this week, the Bills would hold the conference games tiebreaker if they have the same result next week, but if the Ravens wait until next week to win and the Bills lose the tie would go to strength of victory where the Ravens have only a slight lead, while the Bills would hold the common games tiebreaker over the Browns, so this could only be a win-and-in, lose-and-out game if the Bills would fall behind the Ravens-Steelers winner with a loss. Of course, as with Colts-Jaguars this would likely be a last resort as no one wants to watch the lowly Jets in a marquee window, but if it came down to those two games my hunch is that the league would go with Jets-Bills as a) it probably wouldn’t depend on the result of the Monday night game, b) Colts-Jags could probably be placed on Saturday without ill effects on what other teams have to play for, c) Josh Allen is a bigger star than Carson Wentz (who I had to look up to verify that he’s the Colts quarterback), and d) the Jets represent a significantly bigger market than any of the other three.
  • Saints-Falcons may be moved to Saturday if: The Falcons win AND Washington beats the Eagles, OR the Niners lose AND (the Vikings win OR Washington beats the Eagles). The Falcons won the first matchup but if they won and the Saints lost this week, and then the Saints beat them, the Saints would take the division games tiebreaker, so this is guaranteed to determine the order of finish between them and just needs to have playoff implications to at least move to Saturday in all likelihood. For guaranteed playoff implications, though, the Eagles beat them both and the Niners beat the Falcons, so if both of them won in the final week the Falcons would be screwed. If the Saints, Falcons, and Niners all lose the Saints would hold the common-games tiebreaker over the Niners with a win and Niners loss, so all that would be needed would be for a Saints loss not to clinch a playoff spot for the Niners by itself; the Niners beat the Eagles and Vikings but would lose the conference games tiebreaker to Washington.
  • 49ers-Rams may be moved to Saturday if: The Rams win AND the Cowboys beat the Cardinals OR (the Packers lose AND Cardinals-Seahawks is the front half of the doubleheader) AND (the Niners win AND the Eagles lose AND the Saints lose OR the Niners lose AND if the Eagles win, the Vikings and Saints also win). In this scenario the Rams would have either clinched the division or would still be alive for a first-round bye if the Cardinals lose, and either way if they are still alive for the first-round bye, the Packers and Cowboys still need to worry about each other. If the Niners win the given situation locks them into the 6 seed (the Cardinals swept them so they can’t climb to the 5); if they lose and the Eagles win, wins by the Vikings and Saints mean a Niners loss doesn’t clinch a playoff spot for the Eagles since they’d likely lose a three-way tiebreaker with the Vikings and Saints.
  • Chiefs-Broncos may be moved to Saturday if: The Broncos lose AND (the Chiefs win AND the Titans lose OR the Colts win, OR the Chiefs lose AND the Ravens win AND if the Bills win, the Patriots also win). If the Broncos win out the Chargers might not have anything to play for, so they need to be eliminated. If the Chiefs win the Titans need to still have the division to play for; if they lose, they’d lose tiebreakers to any potential division winner they could be tied with.
  • Presidents-Giants may be moved to Saturday if: Washington beats the Eagles AND the Falcons win AND the Vikings win AND the Niners lose. The Saints beat the Football Team but the Falcons lost to them and Washington would hold conference games tiebreakers over the Falcons and Vikings, so if either of them came in tied with Washington and the Football Team won that would probably foreclose both of their avenues to the playoffs. The Vikings winning means if the Saints lose and then beat the Falcons after Washington won, their best-case scenario would be a multi-way tie with the Vikings and Washington where the Football Team would hold the edge on conference games; opening the possibility of the Niners losing out would open up an additional playoff spot the Saints would be in decent position to take on strength of victory. But if the Falcons and Saints both win, one of them is going to be 9-8 and now Washington needs another playoff spot to open up.
  • Panthers-Bucs may be moved to Saturday if: The Bucs win AND the Packers lose AND the Cowboys win OR the Rams win. If three or more teams are tied for the first-round bye, you can isolate one of the three and let the other two share a window, and it’s best if it’s the team that’s last in the tiebreaker order. The Bucs would fall behind either the Rams or Packers on conference games, and while they beat the Cowboys, that accounts for the Cowboys’ one conference loss so Dallas would win any three-way tie.
  • In addition to the scenario above, Bengals-Browns may be moved to Saturday if: The Bengals beat the Chiefs AND (the Dolphins beat the Titans OR the Chargers beat the Broncos OR the Raiders win). In this scenario, the Browns would be eliminated from the playoffs before the Monday night game, and the Bengals would be chasing the first-round bye (regardless of whether they’ve clinched the division), with the Chiefs having to worry about the Titans even with a Bengals loss.
  • In addition to the scenario above, Cardinals-Seahawks may be moved to Saturday if: The Cardinals lose AND the Rams win AND the Eagles win AND the Vikings win AND no better Saturday options are available. The Eagles are the only team that can catch the Cardinals for the 5 seed; the Vikings need to win to ensure the Eagles haven’t already clinched a playoff spot, just in case they actually do care about seeding (but not necessarily catching, or staying ahead of, the Niners for the 6 seed). Because seeding between the wild card teams isn’t necessarily something the teams involved care about, the Cardinals need to be eliminated from the division to ensure the game has the same stakes no matter what.
  • In addition to the scenario above, Bears-Vikings may be moved to Saturday if: The Vikings lose AND Washington beats the Eagles AND the Falcons win OR the Saints win OR if Saints-Falcons moves to Saturday, they both won. The Vikings are the only 7-8 team that can beat the Eagles on a tiebreaker, so the Eagles need to be tied with someone else that can knock them out of the playoffs.
  • In addition to the scenario above, Jets-Bills may be moved to Saturday if: The Bills lose AND the Patriots win AND (the Dolphins win AND at least one of the Ravens, Chargers, and Raiders win) OR the Bengals beat the Chiefs, OR the Bills win AND the Patriots lose AND the Bengals beat the Chiefs. The first half of this ensures the Patriots still have something to play for if the Bills lose to eliminate themselves from the division; if the Dolphins lose, having the Chiefs lose gives the Patriots a shot at the first-round bye. The Bills would also have a shot at a first-round bye thanks to a win over the Chiefs but would lose a conference games tiebreaker to the Bengals so a Bills win wouldn’t eliminate the Bengals from the first-round bye.
  • In addition to the scenario above, Colts-Jaguars may be moved to Saturday if: The Titans beat the Dolphins AND (the Patriots and Bills both win OR the Ravens win) AND no better Saturday options are available. The Colts are in good enough shape in terms of tiebreakers that their situation doesn’t really matter all that much as far as other teams are concerned; the main point is whether they’re still alive for the division, as if they are they need to play at the same time as the Titans. If they win, you also have to make sure they can be caught for the 5 seed.

63 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 16 (And Abbreviated Week 15)

  1. BTW, it was officially announced Sunday morning that:

    The two Saturday slots (4:30 and 8:15 PM Eastern Time) and 1:00 PM Eastern Time Sunday will between them air on some combination of CBS, FOX and NBC (which game airs where to be determined, but CBS is likely to get one of the two Saturday slots).

    Sunday 4:40 PM ET is going to be CBS and Nickolodeon

    Sunday 8:15 PM ET will be NBC

    Monday 8:15 PM ET will be ABC and ESPN.

  2. My predictions are for playoffs:
    Sat 4:30 ET/1:30 PT CBS #6 New England Patriots 10-7 @ #3 Cincinnati Bengals 11-6

    Sat 8:15 ET/5:15 ET NBC #7 Los Angeles Chargers 10-7 @ #2 Kansas City Chiefs 12-5

    Sun 1 ET/10 ET Fox #7 Philadelphia Eagles @ #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Sun 4:40 ET/1:40 PT CBS/Nickelodeon #6 San Francisco 49ers @ #3 Arizona Cardinals

    Sun 8:20 ET/5:20 PT NBC #5 Los Angeles Rams @ #4 Dallas Cowboys

  3. Current predictions:

    (5) Raiders at (4) Bengals 4:30 CBS Saturday
    (7) Steelers at (2) Chiefs 8:15. NBC Saturday

    (6) Eagles at (3) Bucs 1pm FOX
    (7) Saints at (2) Rams 4:40 CBS
    (5) Cardinals at (4) Cowboys 8:20 NBC

    (6)Pats at (3) Bills 8:30 ABC/ESPN

  4. New Prediction after today’s results:

    4:30 Saturday CBS (5) NE @ (4) Cincy
    8:15 Saturday NBC (7) Pit @ (2) KC

    1:00 Sunday Fox (7) Phi @ (2) TB
    4:40 Sunday CBS/Nick (5) Ari @ (4) LAR
    8:15 Sunday NBC (6) SF @ (3) Dal

    8:15 Monday ESPN/ABC (6) LAC or LV @ (3) Buf

    They will probably put the AFC games on Sunday for divisional round.

  5. Divisional Round:
    Saturday 1/22:
    4:30 Fox Likely Cowboys/Bucs if they survive
    8:15 NBC Likely Titans hosting

    Sunday 1/23:
    3:00 CBS Likely Chiefs hosting if they Win
    6:30 Fox Likely Packers hosting the Monday Winner

    Conference Championships
    Sunday 1/30
    3:00 CBS AFC
    6:30 Fox NFC

    SB February 13 NBC 6:30

  6. Hello, jackyamada. This season on the NFL playoffs, on the NFL Divisional Round, it’ll actually be two NFC football teams facing each other on primetime SNF NBC and you’re likely right that the Packers game on the NFL divisional round will likely be on Fox this month.

  7. BTW. the reason CBS gets an NFC playoff game in the 4:40 Sunday slot this week is because that game is also on Nickolodeon and is NOT part of CBS’s AFC or FOX’s NFC package.

  8. Divisional round predictions

    Saturday afternoon
    Lv/cin/Pats at TN

    Sat night
    At green bay (if it’s sf or philly)
    Otherwise dal/rams at Tampa

    Sunday early
    Buf/cin/lv at KC

    Sunday late
    Az/rams at gb (can’t make az or rams play Monday then Saturday)

    OR az/rams at tampa

  9. They announced:

    Saturday 4:30 CBS 4 Bengals @ 1 Titans probably Eagle & Davis

    Saturday 8:15 Fox 6 49ers @ 1 Packers Buck/Aikman

    Sunday 3:00 NBC Monday Winner @ 2 Bucs Michaels/Collinsworth

    Sunday 6:30 CBS 3 Bills @ 2 Chiefs Nantz/Romo

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