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):
- Selected game: Washington @ Baltimore.
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 with the Cowboys energized by the return of Tony Romo, this game will be hard to beat on its own merits. Despite what I said last week, 10-1 v. 7-4 is pretty good.
- 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 may be widening a bit too close for comfort. Vikings-Cardinals is still a dark horse, but realistically it’s out.
- Analysis: Giants-Cowboys is lopsided enough that a Cowboys loss can still open things up for a mathematically inferior game, but it has two major advantages: name value and being the tentative game. Bucs-Falcons and Steelers-Ravens are the only major threats to unseat it. Both are 3-loss teams v. 4-loss teams; if the Cowboys lose, the Giants win, and both teams in either matchup win, they would actually be looking at the same average number of losses. The Cowboys loss would be at home to Seattle, and there may be a feeling that the ‘Boys would logically have trouble on the road at Pittsburgh next week if that were to happen. And the Steelers are a name team while the Falcons have the draw of Matt Ryan. And if Bills-Jets came close enough NBC might be tempted at the prospect of Brett Favre in primetime. But in a season this flex-averse? With two name teams from football’s best division?
- Final prediction: New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys (no change).
Week 16 (December 21):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Tampa Bay
- Prospects: 4-7 @ 8-3? Good lord is this game lopsided.
- 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 is still nominally in it, while Falcons-Vikings stands in between. If TMS&ISTI is right all this is moot because the Panthers and Giants would have to collapse to give up the spot (the Panthers did lose this week), but if it was Panthers-Giants protected Eagles-Redskins would be about on par with Falcons-Vikings. Even if Panthers-Giants had been protected, Cardinals-Patriots is a strong enough game it probably would have gotten the spot anyway.
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 Jets leading, the Pats a game back, and the other two a game behind that. The Pats and Bills play each other, as do the Dolphins and Jets.
- AFC North: The Steelers and Ravens are running away with it, with the Steelers holding the one-game edge and the Bengals out. The Steelers play the Browns while the Ravens play the Jags.
- AFC South: The Titans are running away with it, with the Colts the only other team with a shot. No matter the standings, if the Titans remain undefeated Titans-Colts could be a lock.
- AFC West: Every team is theoretically in it, with the Chiefs hanging on by a tiebreaker. Broncos and Chargers the main contenders, and play each other. Hmm. However, the gap is two games, advantage Broncos, and the Raiders (who play the Bucs) are creeping up.
- AFC Wild Card: Any two of the Patriots, Ravens, and Colts would get the nod if the season ended today. The Dolphins and Bills are a game back, with the Browns, Jags, and Chargers all losing this week. Their respective games are in trouble, but both East games and Titans-Colts are still strong. Chiefs out, Bengals hanging on by half a game.
- NFC East: The Giants have a three-game lead over the Redskins and Cowboys. The Giants play the Vikings but the Redskins play the 49ers and the Cowboys face the Eagles.
- NFC North: Bears and Vikings tied, Pack a game back, Lions out. The Bears play the Texans and the Packers play the Lions, but the Vikings play the Giants.
- NFC South: Every team within two games, with the Panthers and Bucs leading, the Falcons a game back, and the Saints waiting in the wings. The Panthers play the Saints, but Tampa Bay plays the Raiders and the Falcons play the Rams.
- NFC West: The Cardinals are running away with it and the Seahawks and Rams need tiebreakers, which the Rams won’t get (too many division losses already). Cardinals play the Seahawks. Hardly must-see TV.
- NFC Wild Card: The Panthers-Bucs loser and either the Redskins, Cowboys, or Falcons would get the nod if the season ended today. Bears-Vikings loser a game back, Eagles 1.5 back, Packers waiting in the wings. Seahawks, Rams, Lions out, 49ers need a tiebreak. Giants-Vikings, Cowboys-Eagles, and Panthers-Saints are strong games, but that may be it in the NFC. Those could be competitive games for the NBC pick, though.