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):
- Selected game: Dallas @ Washington.
Week 12 (November 23):
- Selected game: Indianapolis @ San Diego.
Week 13 (November 30):
- Selected game: Chicago @ Minnesota.
Week 14 (December 7):
- Tentative game: New England @ Seattle
- Prospects: The Seahawks are just too terrible for this game to keep its spot. 6-4 v. 2-8? Please.
- On the protected games front, we have chaos. A commenter on this post gave a complete list of protections but it was “unofficial” and was “heading into the season” when every source I’ve read, even those not giving a specific week, has said CBS and Fox protect their games in “October”, obviously when the season is already underway. So I’m keeping my own protection speculation while adding the commenter’s thoughts.
- Likely protections: Cowboys-Steelers (FOX) and if anything, Jags-Bears (CBS).
- “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it”‘s protections: Cowboys-Steelers (FOX) and Jags-Bears (CBS).
- Other possible games: Forget what I said about looking at Cowboys-Steelers’ prospects in the face of Redskins-Ravens being protected, as the AA post in question itself would seem to indicate the Cowboys will stay on Fox. At 6-4 v. 6-4, Redskins-Ravens is the bar by which all other games are judged this week. Eagles-Giants would have looked lopsided even with an Eagles win, but if that didn’t matter even the tie gives it a higher average record. Jags-Bears is out, but Falcons-Saints is very much alive. Throw Dolphins-Bills in the conversation as well as a dark horse. I’d been ignoring it in weeks past and AA does in its post, but it has the exact same pair of records as Falcons-Saints. Titans-Browns could be a masochistic dark horse if the Titans win this week.
- Analysis: This is Redskins-Ravens’ to lose. But if even one team loses – very possible with the Ravens playing the Eagles this week – it opens the door for Falcons-Saints or Dolphins-Bills. The latter is not my impression of a marquee game, improved teams or no, and it would lose a tiebreaker to either of the other two. Note that the Saints don’t play until Monday night. Those three are the major contenders but there are still two potential curveballs as well. The Eagles absolutely positively have to beat the Ravens for their game’s slim chances to remain alive, though, as must the Titans beat the Jets.
Week 15 (December 14):
- Tentative game: NY Giants @ Dallas
- Prospects: This is why I had Fox protect Bears-Packers Week 11 (as did TMS&ISTI): 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. A lot depends on what the Cowboys do with Tony Romo back, and that’s off to a good start.
- Likely protections: Steelers-Ravens, Broncos-Panthers, Bills-Jets, or nothing (CBS).
- “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it”‘s protections: None.
- Other possible games: Bucs-Falcons looks great, but they’re running in a dead heat with Steelers-Ravens if that game isn’t protected. Bills-Jets and Broncos-Panthers both trail those two, and the former may be becoming lopsided. Vikings-Cardinals may be closer than Bills-Jets and Broncos-Panthers anyway. Titans-Texans could be a masochistic dark horse if the Titans keep winning. If the pick was made today, Giants-Cowboys’ main advantage may well be its name value, because it’s still a little lopsided.
Week 16 (December 21):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Tampa Bay
- Prospects: AA doesn’t see this changing. What? It’s 4-6 @ 7-3! That’s after a Chargers loss, so they’re going the wrong way! Don’t JUST look at Steelers-Titans being protected!
- Likely protections: Panthers-Giants or Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS).
- “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it”‘s protections: Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS)
- Other possible games: Cardinals-Patriots is still strong and Bills-Broncos may well be out, while Falcons-Vikings faltered this week. If TMS&ISTI is right all this is moot because the Panthers and Giants would have to collapse to give up the spot, but if it was Panthers-Giants protected Eagles-Redskins probably wouldn’t have a chance.
Week 17 (December 28 Playoff Positioning Watch):
- Note that not only is there no longer an NBC tentative game, there’s no NFL Network game. Apparently the league learned their lesson from last year’s Patriots-Giants debacle.
- AFC East: Anyone’s game. All four teams within two games of one another, with the Bills trailing the field and the Jets leading. The Pats and Bills play each other, as do the Dolphins and Jets.
- AFC North: Every team is theoretically in it, but the Bengals are hanging by half a game. The Steelers and Ravens are running away with it, with the Steelers holding the one-game edge. The Steelers play the Browns while the Ravens play the Jags.
- AFC South: The Titans are running away with it. No matter the standings, if the Titans remain undefeated Titans-Colts could be a lock. The Texans are out; the Jags are out by way of having already lost to the Titans both times.
- AFC West: Every team is theoretically in it. Broncos and Chargers the main contenders, and play each other. Hmm. However, the gap is two games, advantage Broncos.
- AFC Wild Card: Any two of the Dolphins, Patriots, Ravens, and Colts would get the nod if the season ended today. The Bills are a game back, with the Browns, Jags, and Chargers waiting in the wings, adding luster to both East games, Titans-Colts, Browns-Steelers, Jags-Ravens, and Broncos-Chargers. Every team is mathematically in it.
- NFC East: Every team within 3.5 games, but the Giants have a three-game lead over everyone, another half-game back to the Eagles. The Giants play the Vikings but the Redskins play the 49ers.
- NFC North: Bears-Vikings-Packers three-way tie. The Bears play the Texans and the Packers play the Lions, but the Vikings play the Giants. The Lions are mathematically still in it.
- NFC South: Every team within three games, with the Panthers leading and the Bucs one game behind, the Falcons two, the Saints three. The Panthers play the Saints, but Tampa Bay plays the Raiders and the Falcons play the Rams.
- NFC West: Every team mathematically still in it but the Cardinals are running away with it. They play the Seahawks. Hardly must-see TV.
- NFC Wild Card: The Bucs and either the Redskins, Cowboys, or Falcons would get the nod if the season ended today. Eagles a half-game back; the NFC North losers and Saints a full game back; no one exactly two games back. Despite all but four teams being within a game of the playoffs, the only real interesting NFC games are Giants-Vikings, Cowboys-Eagles, and Panthers-Saints. Those could be competitive games for the NBC pick, especially the first two, but the AFC holds the overall edge right now. The NFL may have done too much to ensure the best game for NBC, creating an overabundance of choices.