Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch and Playoff Watch: Week 15

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. 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.
  • Two other rules were established earlier: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and can’t protect any games Week 17 this year.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five; the Pats and Cowboys already have six) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC.

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

Week 17 (December 30):

  • Tentative game: Kansas City @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: Awful. This has the best chance of losing its spot.
  • Other possible games/Playoff Positioning Watch:
    • AFC East: Patriots clinched.
    • AFC North: Steelers (@Baltimore) and Browns (v. San Francisco) tied. Bengals and Ravens out. Steelers hold tiebreaker by beating Browns twice.
    • AFC South: Colts clinched due to tiebreaker.
    • AFC West: Chargers clinched.
    • AFC Wild Card: The Jags (@Houston) and the loser of Steelers-Browns would get the nod if the season ended today, with the Titans (@Indianapolis) a game back; the Titans and Jags split the season series and the scenario that ends with them tied gives the Titans the divisional tiebreaker. The Texans and Bills are two back; the Bills are out after losing to both the Steelers and Browns, but the Texans have lost only to the Browns, and got swept by Tennessee. If the Titans and Steelers lose out, the Browns win at least once, and the Texans win out, the Texans would still lose on a conference tiebreaker.
    • AFC Playoff Positioning Among Division Winners: Patriots beat the Colts to cinch #1. Colts hold #2 outright. The other two division leaders, the Chargers (@Oakland) and the winner of Steelers-Browns, all have five losses each.
    • NFC East: Cowboys clinched.
    • NFC North: Packers clinched.
    • NFC South: Bucs up two on Saints and swept the season series to get the tiebreaker. The trend of last-place teams taking the South the following year continues. Good news, Falcons fans!
    • NFC West: Seahawks clinched.
    • NFC Wild Card: Giants (vs. New England on NFL Network) and Vikings (@Denver) would get the nod if the season ended today. Redskins (v. Dallas, would result in too many primetime appearances for Cowboys) and Saints (@Chicago) one back. Lions, Panthers (@Tampa Bay), and Cardinals two back. Vikings and Lions split the season series and the Lions would have a better divisional record under the scenario that ends with them tied. But for the Vikings to lose out means the Redskins get at least one win, and Washington already beat Detroit. Carolina and New Orleans split the season series and would finish with identical division records as well in the scenario that ends with them tied. Against the AFC South, it’s NO 1-3, CAR 0-4; against the NFC West, NO 2-2, CAR 4-0, so Carolina wins the common-games tiebreaker. Several different scenarios are now possible if the Vikings go 0-2 and the Redskins go 1-1: Vikings-Redskins-Panthers, Vikings-Redskins-Cardinals, Vikings-Redskins-Saints (if the Saints go 1-1 and Carolina loses at least once), Vikings-Redskins-Panthers-Cardinals, and Vikings-Redskins-Saints-Cardinals. In addition to the Redskins’ victory over the Vikings in this scenario, Washington also beat the Cardinals, so they would be undefeated head-to-head. Carolina and New Orleans both beat Arizona as well. As no head-to-head sweep is possible except in a Vikings-Redskins-Cardinals situation, we go to conference records: MIN 6-5 (would go to 6-6); WAS 5-5 (would also go to 6-6); CAR 6-4 (would go to 8-4); NO 6-4 (would go to 7-5); ARI 3-7 (would go to 5-7, as would, note, the Lions).
    • NFC Playoff Positioning Among Division Winners: Dallas (@Washington, would result in too many primetime appearances for Cowboys) and Green Bay (v. Detroit) are tied for the 1 spot. Both have clinched first-round byes. Tampa Bay (v. Carolina) and Seattle (@Atlanta) are similarly tied for the three spot.
    • Analysis: If NBC wants a game that matters for both teams, Bucs-Panthers is the only doable game, and even then only if the Panthers still have a shot at the playoffs. If it’s not, look for another Favre lovefest (Packers-Lions). To think we used to think this was a rich weekend. If NBC just wants good teams, regardless of whether it matters for both sides, Titans-Colts is good, but that’s it, and the Titans can easily be eliminated from the playoffs next week, meaning we’re back to the Favre love. Oh, and the Colts come in just under the gun, so if I got something wrong in this post Titans-Colts is disqualified anyway. And if last year, when there were better games, is any indication? Then I might as well make my final prediction.

Oh, and re-reading the AA post linked to on last week’s watch, I’m even more confused, and no longer certain what AA was thinking, because while Titans-Colts is listed as CBS’ “protected” game, Fox’s game is “GB-CHI”, which obviously isn’t being played at all – and was last year’s NBC game Week 17! But really, Jags-Texans is the only other real dark horse, although Vikings-Broncos might get thrown in for the heck of it. Even then, though, that’ll only happen if there isn’t a Favre to love because he wouldn’t be playing (which I doubt).

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