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: The Cowboys managed to gut out a win and will get Tony Romo back for Sunday night after a Week 10 bye. This game might still be very appealing.
- Likely protections: Ravens-Giants, Titans-Jaguars, or nothing (CBS) and Bears-Packers (FOX)
- Other possible games: Chargers-Steelers is looking lopsided and is another nominee for protection. It’s out. Broncos-Falcons doesn’t look that hot.
- Prediction: For the moment, this game still has the best chance to keep its spot. If Dallas wins, I honestly don’t see a scenario where any game can knock it off, especially given the strength of the division, pedigree of the teams and rivalry, and market sizes. But the Cowboys are playing the Giants, and if they lose it’s down to .500 for them – but they still might not be replaced. Titans-Jags, if unprotected, might look appealing if both teams win, but that would only get the Jags back to .500. Because Dallas has three losses, a 3-loss team might come into play – if the Ravens beat Cleveland, Ravens-Giants gets revived if unprotected, and Broncos-Falcons might be alive if both teams win. But there’s little compelling reason to go with any of these games. Bears-Packers would look appealing if it wasn’t quite likely protected. Tune in on Monday for my final prediction.
Week 12 (November 23):
- Tentative game: Indianapolis @ San Diego
- Prospects: Both teams are below .500. NBC probably didn’t anticipate the decision to flex this game out looking this obvious.
- Likely protections: Eagles-Ravens (Fox) and Jets-Titans (CBS).
- Other possible games: Panthers-Falcons still looks good, but the Falcons are 16th in NBC’s power rankings and the game might be starting to look lopsided. Giants-Cardinals is probably in front. Patriots-Dolphins is still in it but in a heap of trouble.
Week 13 (November 30):
- Tentative game: Chicago @ Minnesota
- Prospects: 4-3 v. 3-4, Chicago is 11th in NBCSports.com’s latest power rankings, and a big game with big NFC North implications. The Vikings probably need to improve, however.
- 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 is strong and getting stronger. On the off chance Steelers-Patriots isn’t protected it might still have to deal with Panthers-Packers. If it is, Broncos-Jets is no longer much of a draw. Falcons-Chargers is fading with the Chargers. Look for Saints-Bucs to potentially emerge as a dark horse.
Week 14 (December 7):
- Tentative game: New England @ Seattle
- Prospects: The Seahawks are just too terrible for this game to keep its spot.
- Likely protections: Cowboys-Steelers (FOX) and if anything, Jags-Bears (CBS).
- Other possible games: Redskins-Ravens has a chance to still be alive, so the Eagles and Giants shouldn’t change those tickets yet. Jags-Bears is a very dark horse if it’s unprotected, and Falcons-Saints could emerge as one.
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. And this game might be alive again. Their first matchup this week will do a lot to determine its prospects.
- Likely protections: Steelers-Ravens, Broncos-Panthers, Bills-Jets, or nothing (CBS).
- Other possible games: Packers-Jaguars is still in it but may be a long shot, and Bucs-Falcons is not looking as good. All of the potentially protected games pit 2-loss teams against 3-loss teams. If things break right, Vikings-Cardinals is a dark horse.
Week 16 (December 21):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Tampa Bay
- Prospects: It’s 3-5 @ 5-3, and the Chargers are fading fast. Way too lopsided.
- Likely protections: Panthers-Giants or Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS).
- Other possible games: Cardinals-Patriots is still strong, but Falcons-Vikings and Bills-Broncos are both fading, so the only thing stopping Cardinals-Pats could be the game Fox didn’t protect.
Week 17 (December 28):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.