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.
The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. 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 (note that this was written with last season in mind):
- 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. (Note: Last year, NBC listed a tentative game for Week 17; they are not doing so this year.)
- 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. (Note: Again, excluding Week 17.)
- 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.
- Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and could not protect any games Week 17 last year. Unless I find out otherwise, I’m assuming that’s still the case this year, especially with no tentative game listed Week 17, and that protections were scheduled after Week 4.
- Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 16):
- Tentative game: Dallas @ Washington
- Prospects: Both teams are 4-1 in the tough NFC East. Probably will keep its spot, especially being the NFL’s greatest rivalry, to the extent I wouldn’t be surprised if CBS and Fox didn’t bother to protect anything, especially Fox (who if they lost anything, say Bears-Packers, could take solace in getting the Cowboys and Redskins). That said, there’s a reason I still have Fox protecting a game this week. See below.
- Likely protections: Ravens-Giants, Titans-Jaguars, or nothing (CBS) and Bears-Packers (FOX)
- Other possible games: Chargers-Steelers is losing ground as the Chargers may be overrated (and now that I think about it, may have been protected anyway). Broncos-Falcons is the only remote possibility at the present time, but a lot can change.
Week 12 (November 23):
- Tentative game: Indianapolis @ San Diego
- Prospects: A 2-2 v. 2-3 matchup that pits #13 v. #23 in NBCSports.com’s power rankings. Last week I said “If Indy keeps losing and the Chargers get on the winning track this could start looking lopsided.” I may want to put that the other way around, but it looks mediocre at the moment anyway, which is a shock.
- Likely protections: Eagles-Ravens (Fox) and Jets-Titans (CBS).
- Other possible games: Panthers-Falcons and Giants-Cardinals are probably the front-runners. Patriots-Dolphins may well be a dark horse, as might Jets-Titans. Too close to call right now.
Week 13 (November 30):
- Tentative game: Chicago @ Minnesota
- Prospects: 3-2 v. 2-3, which looks mediocre, but in NBCSports.com’s power rankings it’s a 10-16 matchup, which is decent, especially given the competition.
- Likely protections: Giants-Redskins (Fox) and either Steelers-Patriots or Broncos-Jets (CBS).
- Other possible games: It’s Thanksgiving Weekend, so more teams like the Cowboys and Titans aren’t available. Panthers-Packers looks like a decent enough selection. On the off chance Steelers-Patriots isn’t protected NBC would probably snap it up in a heartbeat. Falcons-Chargers might look bad soon.
Week 14 (December 7):
- Tentative game: New England @ Seattle
- Prospects: 3-1 v. 1-3, which looks lopsided. 9-v.-25 in NBC’s power rankings, also looking lopsided. Only chance for this to keep its spot is if NBC thinks the Pats are as much of a draw as they were last year, and without a perfect record (or Tom Brady), they are not.
- Likely protections: Cowboys-Steelers (FOX) and if anything, Jags-Bears (CBS).
- Other possible games: Redskins-Ravens looks worse off than before, but Eagles-Giants still looks good, which makes it the favorite for the moment.
Week 15 (December 14):
- Tentative game: NY Giants @ Dallas
- Prospects: This is why I had Fox protect Bears-Packers Week 11: so they could leave this week protection-free and maximize their chances of getting a marquee NFC East matchup back.
- Likely protections: Steelers-Ravens, Broncos-Panthers, Bills-Jets, or nothing (CBS).
- Othe possible games: Packers-Jaguars could start looking concerning, and Bucs-Falcons could be sneaking up to replace it. Broncos-Panthers probably the best-looking of the potentially protected games, with Bills-Jets right behind.
Week 16 (December 21):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Tampa Bay
- Prospects: Quite possibly will lose its spot. It’s 2-3 @ 3-2.
- Likely protections: Panthers-Giants or Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS).
- Other possible games: Cardinals-Patriots and Falcons-Vikings have to at least be considered, but NBC will probably take whatever game Fox didn’t protect.
Week 17 (December 28):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.