Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

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 16; and week 17. 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, as well as late-season Saturday games, are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturday of Week 16 in recent years and Week 15 this year – 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 in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, 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 17, 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 was the first time it showed such a game. 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.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

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 16; and week 17. 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, as well as late-season Saturday games, are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturday of Week 16 in recent years and Week 15 this year – 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 in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, 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 17, 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 was the first time it showed such a game. 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.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Number of Primetime Appearances Per Team for the 2020 Season

I didn’t post this when the schedule came out because it wasn’t clear the season would start on time or would play out the way the schedule had it, but with Week 1 of the NFL season in the books, here are each team’s current number of appearances across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network for the season, useful for determining what games can be flexed into or out of Sunday night for my Flex Schedule Watch. Recall the appearance limits are six primetime games for three teams, five for everyone else, and four NBC appearances. In the “Flexible” column, a plus sign indicates SNF games in the Week 5-10 early flex period. Note that two games will move to Saturday in each of Weeks 15 and 16, chosen from five pre-selected options each week, increasing the counts for the teams involved; options in Week 15 are BUF/DEN, CAR/GB, HOU/IND, NYJ/LAR, and DET/TEN, while in Week 16 the options are SF/ARI, TB/DET, DEN/LAC, MIA/LV, and CLE/NYJ.

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Number of Primetime Appearances Per Team for the 2020 Season

Handicapping the Thursday Night Football race (again)

Last week, John Ourand reported in SportsBusiness Journal about the state of the NFL’s ongoing contract renegotiations with networks. The league had hoped to have new deals in place before the start of the upcoming season, but the coronavirus pandemic has placed that on hold; however, things seem to be shaping up to mostly continue the status quo. CBS wants to keep its Sunday afternoon package, NBC wants to keep Sunday Night Football, Fox wants to keep its own package and specifically stating it wants to “keep an NFC-focused package”, presumably in contrast to the idea the league has floated in the past of decoupling the Sunday afternoon packages from the conferences. Ourand described ESPN as the wild card, as they have long groused about paying nearly twice as much as the broadcast networks for games but getting a weak package; ESPN argues that retransmission consent has leveled the playing field between broadcast and cable, and if they’re going to spend so much money they should be getting better games, though in contrast to what was reported in 2017, ESPN seems to be focusing more on upgrading its current package than dropping out or even reducing the amount it pays relative to the other networks. As has been previously reported, ESPN also wants to return the NFL to ABC and rejoin the Super Bowl rotation.

However, Ourand also noted that Fox said little about Thursday Night Football and characterized that as the likeliest package to change hands, and that became the biggest headline in other places‘ reporting on Ourand’s article.

Read moreHandicapping the Thursday Night Football race (again)

Monthly check-in time once again!

Unless the NFL season gets completely wiped out, this should be the last monthly check-in post until next year. Even then I do have posts I want to get in before the election, and possibly after. That isn’t even to speak of the poll averages, where as promised, I made some substantial changes to the main landing page, though I’m no longer sure how measuring how prognosticators see each race is going to work. Right now, however, Steven Universe is the furthest thing from my mind, and under the circumstances I’m no longer sure if I’ll ever get back to it again. It hasn’t helped that I’ve gotten caught up in more pointless personal projects that won’t mean anything…

Time for our monthly check-in!

Even by my own recent low standards, I’m shocked by how little has changed since last month. I’m still working on the same project I’ve been working on the past two months, and none of the changes to the Poll Averages spreadsheet I hinted at last month came to fruition. I’d blame coronavirus but the reality is my lifestyle hasn’t changed much; indeed the bigger changes over the last month have been in the wider world, as the Black Lives Matter protests have faded from the news.

Beyond that, the major changes have been in what my plans are for future posts; at this point I’m likely to focus on how to fix what’s wrong with the country before ever getting back to Steven Universe, and I have an idea for a related post I might start working on this month but might not post until closer to the conventions, but who knows if I have the discipline for the amount of work that’s likely to require. I’ve added tabs for state-by-state presidential polls to the poll average spreadsheet and am likely to make significant changes to the main “landing” tab sometime in the next month to month-and-a-half as the general election season really gets going.

Watching from the Sidelines…

As I type this, I’ve just completed the second straight day where I ended up only being able to have one meal due to stores and restaurants being closed for curfew or even just as a precautionary measure, though in today’s case it didn’t help that there was a long line just to get into the local grocery store and I was trying to get there and back in the time it took laundry to finish. We had to stitch together whatever food we had on hand for me to have something resembling dinner.

To think, earlier this year I thought it would be the coronavirus forcing us to stock up on food.

I’ve spent the past month spending most of my free time on what I think is the same personal project I mentioned last month, which I knew going in was ambitious enough it could take an insanely long time to finish but am still plugging away at it. If the current situation continues to escalate, though, I may shift gears to look at what needs to be done to heal the country going forward. Otherwise it’s the same situation I described in last month’s post, and we’ll see how it evolves going forward.

I did make a few changes to the poll averages a while back, incorporating FiveThirtyEight’s updated pollster grades and introducing the Bias-Corrected Average, adjusting each poll by their FiveThirtyEight-measured mean-reverted bias before weighting and averaging them – this measure only applies to general election races between Democrats and Republicans. This provides an added dimension to my general-election presidential average and to other general-election averages going forward. Sometime this month I may also introduce a measure of how competitive the various prognosticators like Cook Political Report expect each race and presidential state to be, to add context to each race I end up having a page for, though I’m not likely to introduce averages for them until after the conventions.

Time for our monthly What I Didn’t Do This Month post!

You know, with the coronavirus pandemic threatening the NFL season, these could extend well into the fall this year?

Seems like what I have to say is something that’s been said a lot too: I had several ideas for posts percolating late in the month – maybe something about Justin Amash running a third party campaign, and I’d have liked to go back to Steven Universe last weekend, a month after it fully ended and a month before the launch of HBO Max – but I’ve been distracted by a complex personal project and obsession that’s not likely to lead to anything. Either of these ideas or more could come to fruition later in May, though, depending on how things develop.

As always, I’m considerably more active on Twitter, where I don’t have to sit down and face the pressure that comes with writing a full-fledged blog post. I also continue to update the poll averages (or, at this point, poll average) I introduced a while back.

Really? This again?

I had a couple of different post ideas I was juggling and if I had stuck to one or the other I might have gotten either one in this month. It didn’t help that I got distracted after completing a key piece of one of those posts earlier tonight, or that the other one is that with the show ending this weekend I’m thinking of getting back to Steven Universe (again) but I’m kind of dreading it for a multitude of reasons. You should definitely expect either or both over the next week, but the whole freakout over coronavirus is starting to dash my hopes for my more lofty goals for the year.

For the record, the poll I launched last year seems to be fairly evenly split but “if you feel the need to” has the current plurality of votes, so I’m going to try to maintain my post-a-month record for the time being.

Introducing Wick’s Weighted Poll Averages

The nerds have taken over the political space over the last decade-plus as the tools that started to revolutionize sports over the previous decade have been brought to bear on politics with wild success. Every major election sees a mind-numbing amount of numerical and mathematical analysis focused on it, and poll averages, forecasts, and other numerical analysis tools abound. For many, poring over polls has become as much if not more of a pastime than following what the candidates themselves are doing.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is no one single “poll average”, and indeed there seem to be as many different poll averages as there are outlets collating the polls. The two most prominent, widely cited poll averages are the ones from RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight, and as the race for the Democratic presidential nomination has progressed I find that neither of them quite fit what I want from them. RealClearPolitics publishes a straight average of whatever polls they record and deem worthy, usually from the most prominent outlets, over whatever period they choose to average them over. The only quality control, if any, is in what polls are included; among the polls included, there is no attempt to control for sample size, methodology, or overall quality, and polls simply age out of the average once they get too old (however “too old” is defined) or the next poll from that pollster comes along.

FiveThirtyEight, on the other hand, weights its poll average based on those factors, but the details of their methodology aren’t public, and it also includes their own model’s assumptions about how the race should develop, meaning in the days immediately after a contest the “average” tries to predict how much of a “bump” candidates will get based on their performance, and states with little recent polling will have their “average” extrapolated from larger national trends. Such extrapolations don’t always incorporate mitigating factors or common sense; for example, the current FiveThirtyEight “average” of South Carolina has Mike Bloomberg in fourth place at 9.5%, despite him not actually being on the ballot there. The copious polling conducted in South Carolina that doesn’t include Bloomberg is merely interpreted as failing to catch whatever bump Bloomberg might have received. The result is so complex with so many mitigating factors that it’s hard to accurately call it a “poll average” at all; it’s more an attempt to capture the state of the race based on local and national trends and past history, and FiveThirtyEight themselves readily admit that it’s not really intended to be much more than the backbone of their election forecasts. It’s useful in its own way, but not really the best way of capturing what the polls are actually saying right now like what RealClearPolitics and most other media outlets try to do. But is there a middle ground between a straight average of the topline numbers and FiveThirtyEight’s complex model?

Read moreIntroducing Wick’s Weighted Poll Averages