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.
Last year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. CBS and Fox were able to protect one game every week each but had to leave one week each unprotected and had to submit their protections after only four weeks.
Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night, and by all appearances, CBS and Fox can’t protect anything. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.
Here are the rules from the NFL web site:
- Begins Sunday of Week 11
- In effect during Weeks 11-17
- 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 4:15 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.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 18):
- Tentative game: Chicago @ Seattle
- Prospects: Cloudy, but looking promising. Seattle is off to a decent start but Chicago could start stinking up the joint.
- Other possible games: Redskins @ Cowboys; Panthers @ Packers. That the NFL’s biggest rivalry did not merit a preliminary pick on Sunday night does not bode well; however, either could prove a very, very significant matchup.
Week 12 (November 25):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ New England
- Prospects: Potentially appealing. It all depends on whether the Eagles continue in the mold of their recent win or their first two losses.
- Other possible games: All the other teams in NBCSports.com’s top five in the power rankings have other commitments on Thanksgiving or Monday night. Ravens-Chargers, Broncos-Bears, and the dark horse in Bucs-Redskins could all be spoilers, but look for this to stay a McNabb-Brady matchup.
Week 13 (December 2):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: Downright mixed. The Steelers have started promisingly, but the Bengals have struggled enough coming out of the gate that this could look very lopsided.
- Other possible games: Jaguars-Colts, Seahawks-Eagles, and a true dark horse: Texans-Titans.
Week 14 (December 9):
- Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Baltimore
- Prospects: Very good, with both teams out to hot starts. However, the Ravens aren’t quite Super Bowl contenders, so Steelers-Patriots could well pull the upset.
Week 15 (December 16):
- Tentative game: Washington @ NY Giants
- Prospects: Bad. The Giants need to pick up quickly to avoid being flexed out.
- Other possible games: Jaguars-Steelers and Seahawks-Panthers are dark horses, but look for Eagles-Cowboys to be flexed into this spot.
Week 16 (December 23):
- Tentative game: Tampa Bay @ San Francisco
- Prospects: Could be better than might have been thought before the season. However, it is a 9-vs.-16 matchup in the NBC Sports Power Rankings.
- Other possible games: Texans-Colts, Packers-Bears, Ravens-Seahawks – with Jets-Titans a potential dark horse.
Week 17 (December 30):
- Tentative game: Kansas City @ NY Jets
- Prospects: Horrid. Two 1-2 teams? They need to get better fast.
- Other possible games: Steelers-Ravens, Titans-Colts, Cowboys-Redskins, Panthers-Bucs, with Packers-Lions a dark horse. Playoff positioning watch begins after Week 9.