Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 11

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 the 2007 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 8:20 p.m. ET.
  • 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 8:20 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.
  • 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 in 2007. Unless I find out otherwise, I’m assuming that’s still the case this year, especially with no tentative game listed Week 17. When looking up info on what the protected games might be, I found out that games were protected after Week FIVE this year, and presumably in some of the previous years. Previously all I knew was that games were protected after Week 4 the first year of flexible scheduling.
  • 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 5 post.
  • A rule that may have come to light late last year but that, given its restrictiveness and lateness in coming to light, I’m having trouble accepting, is that the balance of primetime games taken from FOX and CBS can’t go beyond 22-20 one way or the other. The current tally is FOX 17, CBS 21; with tentative games, the tally is FOX 20, CBS 21.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 22):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Chicago.

Week 12 (November 29):

  • Selected game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore.

Week 13 (December 6):

  • Selected game: Minnesota @ Arizona.

Week 14 (December 13):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: It’s an NFC East game (always = ratings), and while it doesn’t currently have the NFC East lead on the line it’s still a battle of playoff contenders. Still a pretty good shot to keep its spot – the Giants’ troubles might help it in the long run if the game would have become lopsided as opposed to 6-4 v. 6-4. However, there are strong flex contenders…
  • Protected games: Chargers-Cowboys (CBS) and Packers-Bears (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Bengals-Vikings, Broncos-Colts, and Saints-Falcons all remain very strong contenders. Jags-Dolphins worthy of note but not likely to go anywhere.
  • Analysis: With the Broncos at 6-4 and no longer leading the division, you can pretty much eliminate Broncos-Colts if the Colts lose, and even if the Colts win, picking them would shut NBC out of the Colts the rest of the year, although that’s not as much of a problem as it sounds given the only half-decent team the Colts face the rest of the way is already scheduled for NFL Network. With the Favre factor, Bengals-Vikings at 7-3 v. 9-1 looks mighty compelling and appears to be the current favorite (but it would probably mean three straight weeks of Favremania and limit NBC’s ability to flex the Vikings in again later), and Saints-Falcons has the same undefeated factor as the Colts (but the Falcons are still worse than the Broncos). And then there’s the existing tentative game. For Saints-Falcons to even have a shot it needs both teams to win and the Broncos (or maybe Colts) to lose. If the Eagles and Giants both win I would favor it keeping the spot given the problems with the other games and the NFL’s reticence to pull the flex; if the Broncos and Colts both win it becomes difficult to argue against. Otherwise, and even in those situations, Bengals-Vikings looks mighty compelling – unless either team loses…

Week 15 (December 20):

  • Tentative game: Minnesota @ Carolina
  • Prospects: Still lopsided, with the Vikings 9-1 and the Panthers 4-6. NBC is already worshipping at the Favre altar Week 13 and possibly Week 14, against teams that are actually winning, not to mention the Giants Week 17 if that game has playoff implications.
  • Protected games: Packers-Steelers (Fox) and Bengals-Chargers (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Two good protected game choices mean that NBC can only select from games involving other teams with losing records. Falcons-Jets, Bears-Ravens, and sudden dark horse Dolphins-Titans are all 5-5 v. 4-6, while 49ers-Eagles is a bit better (at the cost of lopsidedness) at 6-4 v. 4-6. Given how good and otherwise appealing the Vikings are, and the NFL’s reticence to pull the flex, Vikings-Cardinals may keep its spot yet; the main point against it is lopsidedness, especially since a 4-6 team is far from out of the playoff picture, especially in the NFC (although that race may have tightened – see below).

Week 16 (December 27)

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Washington
  • Prospects: Lopsided at 7-3 v. 3-7, but it is the NFL’s biggest rivalry so never count out its chances of keeping the spot.
  • Protected games: Ravens-Steelers (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Broncos-Eagles and Jags-Patriots, both involving nothing but teams at 6-4 or, in the case of the Pats, better. They (as well as dark horse battle of 5-5 teams Texans-Dolphins) may make appealing cases for the flex, but are they enough to sweep the NFL off its feet?

Week 17 (January 3 Playoff Positioning Watch):

  • AFC East: Patriots lead, Dolphins two back, Jets another game back, Bills another game back. New England plays Houston, the Jets play Cincinnati, Miami plays Pittsburgh and the Bills play the Colts.
  • AFC North: Bengals lead, Steelers a game back, Ravens waiting in the wings. The Bengals play the Jets, while the Steelers play the Dolphins and Baltimore plays Oakland. Browns would have to resort to tiebreakers I’m not ready to look up yet.
  • AFC South: Colts running away with it; Jags a full four back, while the Titans are down to tiebreakers. The Colts play Buffalo while the Texans play New England and the Jags play the Browns.
  • AFC West: Chargers lead, Broncos a game back, Chiefs and Raiders four back. The Broncos play the Chiefs while the Chargers play the Redskins.
  • AFC Wild Card: If the season ended today, any two of the Broncos, Jags, and Steelers would get the nod, with the Dolphins, Texans, and Ravens a game back. The Titans and Jets are waiting in the wings; the Titans play the Seahawks. Bengals-Jets and Texans-Patriots the main AFC contenders, though Dolphins-Steelers is appealing as well.
  • NFC East: Cowboys lead, Eagles and Giants a game back, Redskins mathematically in it. Cowboys and Eagles play each other, while the Giants play the Vikings.
  • NFC North: Vikings lead by 3 games over Packers with the Bears two behind that. The Vikings play the Giants while the Packers play the Cardinals and the Bears play the Lions.
  • NFC South: Saints lead by 5 over Falcons, with the Panthers a game behind that. The Saints and Panthers play each other, as do the Falcons and Bucs.
  • NFC West: Cardinals lead by 3 over 49ers with the Seahawks a game behind that and the Rams hanging on by a tiebreaker. Arizona plays Green Bay, while the Niners play the Rams and the Seahawks play the Titans.
  • NFC Wild Card: Any two of the Eagles, Giants, and Packers would get the nod if the season ended today, with the Falcons a game back and the Bears, Panthers, and Niners waiting in the wings, giving Panthers-Saints dark-horse appeal. The NFC definitely has the better games with Cowboys-Eagles, Giants-Vikings, and possibly Packers-Cardinals, but the NFL showed last year they’re more concerned with making sure the game has playoff implications no matter what happens when we get to primetime, so we’ll see how the rest of the season plays out.

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