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):
- Tentative game: Indianapolis @ San Diego
- Prospects: A .500 team against a 3-5 team on a losing streak. 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 is certainly looking better than Colts-Chargers, and the Falcons have shot up to 9th in NBCSports.com’s Power Rankings. Giants-Cardinals, however, may be stronger overall. Patriots-Dolphins still could be considered in it, but it basically needs the above four teams to all lose.
- Prediction: A Cardinals win on Monday night would really help their chances, but the late date of that game means the other games are more important. The Giants beating the Eagles on Sunday night might actualy give NBC and the league pause as the Cardinals game could start looking slightly lopsided. However, the game’s in-division importance for the Cardinals should offset that. That means the Panthers and the Falcons need to win as well. Basically, if the Giants win Giants-Cardinals is probably in, and the Panthers and Falcons would both need to win to force NBC and the NFL to at least consider waiting for Monday Night. If the Giants lose, and the Panthers and Falcons both win, the Panthers and Falcons take it for sure, and if all three lose it’s Giants-Cardinals, but if the Giants lose and the other two split the pick could depend on a number of factors. If the split is the Falcons winning and the Panthers losing, though, I like Panthers-Falcons’ chances.
Week 13 (November 30):
- Tentative game: Chicago @ Minnesota
- Prospects: 5-3 v. 4-4, Chicago is in the top 10 in NBCSports.com’s latest power rankings, and a big game with big NFC North implications. Could start looking like a possibility to keep its spot, but if the Bears look like they will lose Kyle Orton for a while and look flat against the Titans and Packers it becomes a flex-out risk again.
- 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 might be in trouble. On the off chance Steelers-Patriots isn’t protected it certainly looks good, but could be vulnerable. If it is, Broncos-Jets is no longer much of a draw. Falcons-Chargers is probably out. Saints-Bucs has probably passed it.
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, but Falcons-Saints is probably stronger.
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. A lot depends on what the Cowboys do with Tony Romo back.
- Likely protections: Steelers-Ravens, Broncos-Panthers, Bills-Jets, or nothing (CBS).
- Other possible games: Packers-Jaguars might be out, but Bucs-Falcons is improving. Steelers-Ravens is the best of the potentially protected games, while Broncos-Panthers may have dodged a huge bullet Thursday night. 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 @ 6-3, 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 (although nothing bad happened to the former this week), so the only thing stopping Cardinals-Pats could be the game Fox didn’t protect. And if the unprotected game is Eagles-Redskins, Cardinals-Pats is still very much alive.
Week 17 (December 28):
- Playoff positioning watch begins next week, like last year, because of all my playing catch-up. But NEXT year, I swear, I will make good on my original promises! 😀