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.
(Note: I have reason to believe the above rules are very incomplete.) Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 18):
- Tentative game: Chicago @ Seattle
- Prospects: In big trouble. Seattle is 4-3 and Da Bears are 3-5.
- Other possible games: That the NFL’s biggest rivalry, Redskins-Cowboys, did not merit a preliminary pick on Sunday night does not bode well, but in any case the Redskins are a bit too far back of the Cowboys for it to make a real impact. Both it and Panthers-Packers are games pitting 4-3 teams against 6-1 teams. Normally Redskins-Cowboys would be a slam dunk, but I suspect restrictions on the Cowboys. Chargers-Jaguars is slightly worse, because of the Jags’ 2-loss record, but is in the better AFC. Despite the weak markets, the Chargers are still a draw, but this game needs some losses to fall their way Sunday. And look out for Chiefs-Colts, the way Kansas City has been playing of late. All of a sudden, the Chiefs are 4-3 like the other worse teams, but the better team is the best of all. Also sneaking up is Giants-Lions; I’ve been doing a disservice by ignoring that contest.
- Prediction: Current favorite is Giants-Lions. If the Lions lose to Denver, it opens things up for the others. Keep an eye on Chiefs-Packers. If the Packers win, Chiefs-Colts becomes too lopsided and loses out. But a Chiefs win and a Lions loss would make it very appealing regardless of the result in Indy. That Chiefs-Packers game may give Chargers-Jaguars no chance at moving to Sunday night. Losses by either team wouldn’t help. But get wins by both teams, a Packers win, and a Panthers loss to Tennessee to make Panthers-Packers lopsided, plus the aforementioned Lions loss, and then we might be talking.
Week 12 (November 25):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ New England
- Prospects: The Eagles are 3-4 and the Patriots make any game look lopsided. This game might actually need a Patriots loss in the next two weeks. Certainly it needs the Eagles to keep winning.
- Other possible games: Bucs-Redskins is hurt by both teams losing and is now a 15-17 game in the NBC Sports rankings. But too many teams have other commitments on Thanksgiving or Monday night to really endorse any other games, and Texans-Browns is suffering with the Texans struggling. Chargers-Ravens might be a good choice but the Ravens just took a fall of their own before the bye and they might be a paper tiger – as might the Chargers! Saints-Panthers just may come out the winner despite both teams having worse NBC Sports rankings than either the Bucs or Redskins because it’s a key divisional matchup. The Eagles may need to only take one of two for NBC to decide nothing else is compelling enough to change anything.
Week 13 (December 2):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: Very much in trouble. The Steelers look great but the Bungles are anything but.
- Other possible games: Jaguars-Colts is the overwhelming favorite but could be threatened by the loss of Garrard. Giants-Bears is back to fading with the Bears’ hopes. Chargers-Chiefs is the leading dark horse.
Week 14 (December 9):
- Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Baltimore
- Prospects: See below.
- Other possible games: Steelers-Patriots may be too good to resist. In addition to “Super Bowl 41.5”, the Steelers and the Ravens square off Monday Night. Those two games will likely determine who picks up this game. A sweep by either one of this week’s games will likely cinch up a Sunday Night date. A split leaves it to the following weeks to decide it, likely eliminates the Monday Night loser for being lopsided, and opens the door to the others. Cowboys-Lions can easily pull the rug out from under both. So can Chargers-Titans. And if all those teams collapse, there’s always Jags-Panthers.
Week 15 (December 16):
- Tentative game: Washington @ NY Giants
- Prospects: Might have the best chance to keep its spot, unless things break the Ravens’ way. Being in the same division as the Cowboys hurts, but these are two teams on fire (especially the G-Men) and the thrilling finish of their last meeting will help write the storyline.
- Other possible games: Eagles-Cowboys is looking too lopsided to be competitive. Jaguars-Steelers now looks to be the favorite, if anything. Seahawks-Panthers still has a chance but there are a lot of ifs involved. Titans-Chiefs is gaining real ground. Lions-Chargers could also contend.
Week 16 (December 23):
- Tentative game: Tampa Bay @ San Francisco
- Prospects: Very problematic, even with the Bucs’ success, which just makes it look lopsided.
- Other possible games: Texans-Colts (is probably out), Packers-Bears (also in trouble but an appealing matchup regardless of respective records), Ravens-Seahawks (could fall off if the Seahawks keep struggling and/or the Ravens prove a paper tiger). There aren’t a lot of attractive matchups this week. Lions-Chiefs may become less of a reach.
Week 17 (December 30):
- Tentative game: Kansas City @ NY Jets
- Prospects: Awful. The Chiefs have some success finally, but that just makes the game look lopsided.
- Other possible games: Steelers-Ravens, Titans-Colts, Cowboys-Redskins, Lions-Packers, with Panthers-Bucs a dark horse. Jags-Texans might be out. We’ll see which of the others has pole position after next week – or if another game pulls an upset. Playoff positioning watch begins after Week 9.