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 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 receives 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. In theory, 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 NBC has never shown them. 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

The Hunt for a New Blog Theme, Take Two

So over the weekend I discovered that, on the theme I adopted for the Sports subsite last week, there will be times when a post will load without a scroll bar, or any way to scroll at all, cutting off a good chunk of content and the entire comment section. Since the comments are the whole reason I’m looking for a new theme to begin with, I had to find another new theme.

Right now I’ve switched to the GeneratePress theme, and because all the theme switching has been wrecking havoc on my sidebars (Da Countdown has been removed until further notice), I’m adopting the theme for the whole site. Everything seems okay at the moment, but a potential concern is that the team logos on my SNF Flex Schedule Watch intro post appear full size, I’m guessing because I don’t use WordPress’ “official” means for defining image size (that or the theme just mangled the HTML – GeneratePress has a lot of fancy features, including what appears to be something intended to allow WordPress to mimic Tumblr, and I had to redo some of the formatting for last night’s Last-Minute Remarks post). So I’m going to have to figure out how to get images to appear at the size I want in the way that I want, and it’s possible I’m going to end up switching to another new theme.

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 7 Picks

Week 7 (October 21):

  • Tentative game: LA Rams @ San Francisco
  • Prospects: 5-0 v. 1-4. It’s surprising to me that the Niners received not one but two SNF games to begin with; typically a team with high hopes and an exciting offense keyed by a young star play-making quarterback but coming off a mediocre season gets a couple of MNF games but doesn’t really get the SNF treatment unless they’re the biggest of big names like the Giants or Cowboys (thinking of the Panthers in Cam Newton’s sophomore season). The Niners are a big-market team with a lot of history and a sizable fanbase, but outside the Jim Harbaugh era haven’t been relevant this century. In any case, with Jimmy Garoppalo out for the season look for the Niners’ other SNF game to be flexed out, and with their opponents for this game being one of the league’s two unbeatens and with the Niners coming off handing the last winless team in the league their first win, this sure looks like the sort of potential disaster that would call for the first early flex.
  • Possible alternatives and their records: CBS: Bengals (4-1)-Chiefs (5-0), Patriots (3-2)-Bears (3-1), Cowboys (2-3)-Redskins (2-1). FOX: Saints (3-1)-Ravens (3-2), Browns (2-2-1)-Buccaneers (2-2).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: Well, the Saints are playing, but I’m not sure the outcome would mean much for the value of their game.
  • Predicted protections: Cowboys-Indians (CBS). For Fox, see below.
  • Analysis: This is going to be an interesting case study in the league’s thought process regarding the early flex, and possibly in whether I have the league’s rules wrong. Earlier in the week a Saints beat writer tweeted to “look for the Saints-Ravens game to be possibly flexed to NBC“. That surprised me, because by my reckoning the Eagles are maxed out on primetime appearances with their London game on NFL Network, meaning Saints-Ravens would be the only game Fox would need to protect (as opposed to Panthers-Eagles). Despite only having one loss between them Bengals-Chiefs does not really have the sort of name value the league would like, but after a Twitter conversation with a Bears fan earlier in the week I was leaning towards Pats-Bears as the most likely option, though it would max the Pats out on primetime appearances. Possibly relevant here is that most of the early flex period falls in October and thus overlaps with the baseball playoffs, and just as the league tended to schedule teams in markets that weren’t particularly baseball hotbeds for at least the first few years it went up against the World Series (the Saints-Colts game that gave birth to the early flex to begin with pitted two teams from markets without MLB teams), so the league may be reticent to risk putting a Patriots game against a potential ALCS Game 7 at Fenway. (Also relevant is that next week’s SNF game pits the Pats and Chiefs, which would make the league reticent to put in either significant CBS game and so have either team on SNF in consecutive weeks.)

    On Sunday the same beat writer wondered whether “the Ravens just messed this up“, so it’s possible this was always predicated on the game being 4-1 v. 4-1 and the league wanting to rescue the game from singleheader purgatory, as it’s currently scheduled as a 4:05 ET game even though it could conceivably move to 1. (If it were moved to 1, Browns-Bucs or Lions-Dolphins could replace it at 4:05; Panthers-Eagles or Vikings-Jets would result in big NFC East markets being blacked out from seeing Cowboys-Indians, and the former means there’s only so much distribution Saints-Ravens would gain by moving to 1. But if it were moved to Sunday night, Rams-Niners would conveniently slot in to replace it at 4:05.) Given some of the constraints I identified, if the league were to shy away from flexing in Saints-Ravens or Fox stood its ground on keeping it, honestly the most likely outcome in that scenario might be this game keeping its spot; it is a rivalry game pitting two big markets, after all. (If I’m wrong about the Eagles being maxed out, Panthers-Eagles seems iffy with the Eagles below .500 and not looking like last year’s Super Bowl team regardless of who’s at quarterback.) I’m sorely tempted to forego a prediction at all, but:

  • Final prediction: New Orleans Saints @ Baltimore Ravens (assuming Fox is convinced to relinquish its right to protect it, no change otherwise).

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Preliminary Thoughts and Changes for the Season

A week ago I received a tweet asking if the Week 5 Sunday night game might be our first ever early flex. I didn’t actually read the tweet in detail, only seeing the notification of it on my phone, but seeing it and the mountains of notifications I was receiving put me into a panic mode, as I had fallen way behind on substantial changes I was planning to make to the Flex Schedule Watch this year. It took me all week to prepare the most substantial part of the changes and bring me to the point where I could even start to look at the situation.

The game in question? The Cowboys at the Texans.

I don’t know how many times I have to say this: if the Cowboys and their opponents have two wins between them and the Game of the Century is sitting there unprotected, maybe the league flexes out of a Cowboy game, but I’m not sure I would bet on it even then. Certainly they’re not going to burn the first-ever early flex on America’s Team, no matter how disappointing both Texas teams are. Neither was the undefeated Chiefs against Brady and the Patriots in any real doubt. (Oh, and only a handful of those notifications were actually about Cowboys-Texans.)

Rams-Niners Week 7 is more interesting, though; I’m surprised the Niners have multiple NBC appearances to begin with as I would have tagged them as more of a Monday night team unless and until Jimmy Garoppalo could prove himself to maintain his performance at the end of last season over the course of a whole season, and with him being out for the year and the Niners sitting at 1-3 to the Rams’ 4-0, most of the attraction the game had may be gone. It is a rivalry game between two big, multi-team markets but everyone knows how lukewarm LA has been to the return of the NFL. CBS is likely to protect Cowboys-Indians no matter what so if the Chiefs and Bengals both win it would certainly be attractive with only one loss between them, though probably not big enough names for the league to pull the early flex. Fox’s best games of Panthers-Eagles and Saints-Ravens would be more intriguing if the Eagles weren’t maxed out on primetime appearances (see below).

On to the changes to the flex schedule watch, where I was planning to institute the biggest changes to the structure of the Watch since I started it over a decade ago. My intention was to take all the information previously contained in my post-opening spiel, as well as other bits and pieces of information gleaned over the years, and present it in a coherent fashion on a single static page. That page ended up rambling on for over 3300 words, so it’s likely I’m going to continue providing a Cliffs Notes version of the page at the beginning of each post, but it’s likely to look completely different from the spiels I’ve given in the past.

In accordance with the new page, I’m also going to provide a table of primetime appearances in a single post at the beginning of the season, possibly shortly after the schedule release in future seasons. Recall the appearance limits are six primetime games for three teams, five for everyone else, and four NBC appearances. The Eagles have one SNF game in the main flex period so they could be flexed in if that game were flexed out. In the “Flexible” column, a “+1” indicates that the team has an SNF game in the Week 7-10 period, in other words, vulnerable to an early flex but not in Week 5 or 6 where any decision has likely already been made. This also doesn’t count the games that could potentially move to NFL Network on Saturday Week 16.

Team PT App’s On NBC Flexible
6 3 1+1
5 3 0+1
5 3 0+1
5 3 1+1
5 3 2
5 2 0+1
5 2 1
5 2 1+1
5 2 1+1
5 2 2
4 2 1+1
4 1 0
4 1 0
4 1 1
4 0 0
3 2 0
3 1 1
3 0 0
3 0 0
2 1 0
2 1 0
2 1 0
2 0 0
2 0 0
2 0 0
All others 1 0 0

Oh, and see here for why things might look different around here. I invite your comments on a potential future course of action on this post (assuming things actually do look different and the comments here are working), or alternately on Twitter.

Update on site design

A few months ago, I posted some musings about the state of web design and about the potential for changing how my site looks. That prospect just got a lot more urgent, because this week, as I was preparing for the start of the new season of the Flex Schedule Watch, I found out that comments aren’t displaying properly. The line indicating how many comments there were would show up, and even the start of the bullet point for the first comment, but not the actual comments – and neither would the comment form, nor even either sidebar. For some reason, everything after the start of the first comment would be gone. I have no idea when this started, whether it has to do with the move to the new host or adding Google ads or something else, only that turning off Google’s “auto ads” feature didn’t work, updating WordPress and my theme didn’t work, and copying over relevant files from more modern WordPress themes didn’t work when they didn’t make things worse.

Since I didn’t get any help from the WordPress support forum, I may not have much choice but to update my theme. But as if to reinforce the point from my earlier post, I’m not impressed by the themes available in the WordPress gallery; it seems like most themes I can find there, or at least the most popular themes, are geared towards full-fledged web sites, often for businesses or outfits that fancy themselves professional publishing operations. There are vanishingly few themes for old-fashioned, reverse-chronological blogs like mine, and what ones exist often present their posts as a few lines of unformatted text (many of them even display shortcodes that aren’t supposed to be publicly visible in WordPress’ official theme preview) leading up to a read-more, at least by default. (The irony of course being that when I started the site, I intended for it to eventually become a full-fledged web site rather than just a host for Da Blog, but the way I use formatting and read-mores, especially for my Steven Universe posts, is at this point something I’m unwilling to sacrifice.)

The Sandbox theme that I used as the base for the theme I use now stopped being actively updated around 2009 or so, because the functions the creator saw as the “heart and soul” of the theme were integrated into the core WordPress code. The problem is that what appealed to me about the Sandbox was the ability to greatly customize the look and feel of the site with little more than some relatively simple CSS, or at least simple enough that a novice coder like me could pull it off. I don’t know what theme out there would offer that level of flexibility that would allow me to recreate the site as something even close to what it is now, and chances are I’d have to do a considerable amount of re-coding no matter what. This is especially the case since most of the customization tools that may once have required meddling in CSS now have a dedicated area in the WordPress theme manager, and it feels like there’s less support for using CSS to achieve the same result; it may well be that I find myself having to work within the constraints of whatever theme I settle upon, with less ability to customize beyond that (especially with the emphasis on mobile design that wasn’t a priority for me back c. 2008, and especially since the way I use my header image and graphically integrate it with the left sidebar is arguably decidedly nonstandard as it is). I may well end up deciding to “fix” the problem by installing something like Disqus to handle my comments, which would leave all past comments to fall into the ether, accessible only by me through the site backend – assuming I stay with WordPress at all.

For the time being, until I can bring myself to dedicate a considerable amount of time and mental energy to bear on finding a permanent solution, I’m leaving things as they are and comments will remain borked on most of the site. However, since the Flex Schedule Watch is about to start up again, and it’s not only the most (i.e., only) popular part of the site but attracts a considerable number of comments, the Sports section of the site (only) will be using a different theme until further notice, which may or may not become the base for whatever theme I end up adopting for the rest of the site. This is likely to make navigation more difficult there (as the customization I applied seemed to disappear once I turned off its being the theme for the site as a whole, aside from a bunch of duplicated elements on the left sidebar on the main site left over from my attempt to make the two-column format work for my purposes), but it should at least allow the discussion surrounding the flex schedule watch to continue. (I’ve also turned “auto ads” back on so the sports section has any ads at all.) Any advice on how to resolve the situation can be tweeted to me or left on the Flex Schedule Watch introductory post that should be up sometime on Monday.

Well, I’m learning some things about myself, at least.

When I started my Steven Universe project back in June, I intended to have the first four seasons of the series finished within that month, allowing me to finish it within the span of Hulu’s free trial without having to actually pay for it; I even laid out a schedule of what episodes I’d watch each day. The hope was that devoting that much energy towards a project like that could help me refocus my energies on other projects I’ve been procrastinating on for the past few years. That quickly fell by the wayside once I started writing actual posts about the series on top of tweeting while I was watching, as each post usually took multiple days to complete, holding up my progress on the series, and the Season 1 recap post took an especially long time to complete. Part of the problem was that I so rarely could muster enough brainpower to work on the posts and bring them up to the standard I set for myself, to the point I started loading up on protein bars when I was about to work on a post. Basically, there was a good reason I spent so little time on posts over the last few years.

Anyway, we’re coming up on two full months since I finished Season 2, and I haven’t finished its recap post yet, though I’ve reached the point where the only work I have left involves rewatching selected episodes. Right now that post isn’t even that much longer than the Season 1 post, though it may still end up being split into two posts. I do want to get back into the swing of things if only to have a chance to catch up before the start of any sixth season. And I definitely intend to have at least one post in the next week, namely an introductory post for the new season of the SNF Flex Scheduling Watch introducing some significant changes for how it’ll work this year. But in terms of having a consistent posting schedule, to work on all the projects I hoped to or even get back to the posting frequency of years past? That prospect looks a lot darker than it looked before June.

Morgan Watches Steven Universe In-Depth: The Answer

2018-07-02 (17)Or: Why I’m not impressed with Ruby and Sapphire’s story.

(Note: Although I’ve been spoiled about most of the plot to the series right up through A Single Pale Rose, this post attempts to approximate, as best as I can, the perspective of someone watching on January 4, 2016, the day this episode aired. To aid in maintaining this perspective in future posts any discussion of this post in places I would be privy to should avoid any events depicted or things revealed past this point. You can also read my original tweets while watching this episode.)

Read moreMorgan Watches Steven Universe In-Depth: The Answer

Morgan Watches Steven Universe In-Depth: Too Far

2018-07-01 (5)Or: The slow, painful, conversion of Peridot.

(Note: Although I’ve been spoiled about most of the plot to the series right up to the most recent episodes, this post attempts to approximate, as best as I can, the perspective of someone watching on October 15, 2015, the day this episode aired. To aid in maintaining this perspective in future posts any discussion of this post in places I would be privy to should avoid any events depicted or things revealed past this point. You can also read my original tweets while watching this episode.)

Read moreMorgan Watches Steven Universe In-Depth: Too Far

Morgan Watches Steven Universe In-Depth: Nightmare Hospital

2018-06-26 (4)Or: Why Connie Maheswaran might be the best, most fascinating love interest in the history of children’s television.

(Note: Although I’ve been spoiled about most of the plot to the series right up to the most recent episodes, this post attempts to approximate, as best as I can, the perspective of someone watching on September 10, 2015, the day this episode aired. To aid in maintaining this perspective in future posts any discussion of this post in places I would be privy to should avoid any events depicted or things revealed past this point. You can also read my original tweets while watching this episode.)

Read moreMorgan Watches Steven Universe In-Depth: Nightmare Hospital

Morgan Watches Steven Universe: Season 1

I won’t have too much to say about the season as a whole, because I have a lot of character analysis to get to (this post is nearly seven thousand words as it is), and a few other things besides, and I already gave some of my thoughts on the season in my post about the finale.

The early part of this (half-)season, as already chronicled, frustrated me because of its refusal to address the unanswered questions Mirror Gem and Ocean Gem left behind, and even without that seven of the first eight episodes were rather milquetoast one-offs (though that’s not to say that episodes like Island Adventure, Garnet’s Universe, or Watermelon Steven were complete wastes). As the season picked up steam, though, it picked up a level of quality and complexity unseen in the first half of the season, hitting long strings of high-quality episodes that built up the plot, delivered emotional moments, developed and rounded out characters, or some combination of the above. Even Horror Club, the episode in this stretch that delivered on these things the least, gave us insight into Ronaldo and Lars. Episodes like Rose’s Scabbard, On the Run, Lion 3: Straight to Video, and Alone Together managed to transcend the limitations of being merely a “kids’ show” and addressed complex topics while giving Pearl and Amethyst emotional depth and fleshing out the background of the characters. Meanwhile, the moment of solemnity at the end of Ocean Gem was compounded in Warp Tour with the prospect of Homeworld discovering the Gems on Earth, built up further with every episode filling out the past of the Gems and their history with Homeworld, and eventually built to a crescendo with Marble Madness and the string of season-ending episodes starting with The Message.

It really is a shame that Jailbreak was such a disappointing ending that failed to live up to the build-up. While I might disagree with the message of The Test, if you accept that message there’s no doubt that the way it delivers it is well-done, but Jailbreak is so structurally deficient that I’m honestly amazed it seems to be so universally beloved. Maybe I’d feel differently if I hadn’t been spoiled about Garnet’s nature, or if I were LGBT and was just celebrating the show’s first clear depiction of an intra-gem romance that wasn’t depicted as dysfunctional and unhealthy. But as I said, Jailbreak is not a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination; if it weren’t being asked to serve so many masters and let its role as season finale take second fiddle to focusing on Garnet and fusion, or conversely if it were able to focus on Garnet without worrying about also living up to the build-up, it’d be perfectly fine, even great.

Even with that, Steven Universe has built up enough of a mythology around itself that it can remain engaging on its own momentum. There’s no single pressing question hanging over the heads of Steven Universe the show or Steven Universe the character; even if the two-parter did leave some open-ended dangling threads here and there for the show to answer later, most notably Peridot’s escape and Jasper and Lapis’ mutual imprisonment, none of them really stand out to the degree Lapis’ “don’t trust them” did. The bigger issue is that there’s no reason to expect Homeworld’s interest in our heroes to end with Peridot and Jasper, and every reason to expect even tougher forces to come. The world the show has built and the conflict it’s set up can survive most any bump in the road, and the development our characters have received and continue to receive can carry the show in the meantime. All it needs to do is keep doing what served it so well this season: keep developing the characters while fleshing out the mythology and overarching plot.

Read moreMorgan Watches Steven Universe: Season 1