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 cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 the first year of flexible scheduling, but are now protected after Week 5.
  • 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. At this writing, no team is completely tapped out at any measure, although the Jets have five primetime appearances and can’t be flexed out of any of them, which is a problem since five other teams also have five primetime appearances and can be flexed out of them. (So naturally this turned into the Year of Parity!) A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.
  • A rule that may have come to light late 2008 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 18, CBS 17; with tentative games, the tally is FOX 21, CBS 20. With this rule in place, Weeks 12, 13, and 16 cannot be flexed away from AFC road games without making up for it in Weeks 11, 14, 15, and 17.

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

Week 11 (November 21):

  • Selected game: NY Giants @ Philadelphia.

Week 12 (November 28):

  • Selected game: San Diego @ Indianapolis.

Week 13 (December 5):

  • Selected game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore.

Week 14 (December 12):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 7-3 v. 3-7; time will tell if the Cowboys are starting a Chargers-esque hard charge. An NFC East game always = ratings, and this is NBC’s only shot at a Cowboys game during the flex scheduling period, but they need to go on a historic tear with Garrett at the helm to have a shot at the playoffs. If the Cowboys beat the Saints, they’ll have proven their bona fides, and the NFL may want to hedge their bets and keep the game; 4-7 is a little questionable, but the NFL has kept tentative games with losing teams before, and the Cowboys would be the ultimate losing team in primetime. It would still be a 6-game gap at best but it could very well be four by game time. The presence of Michael Vick should help too. Everything depends on the Thanksgiving day game; a Cowboys win and this will probably be kept (especially with an Eagles loss); a loss and it’ll certainly be flexed. But look at the alternatives…
  • Protected games: Patriots-Bears (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Bucs-Redskins is the best game at 7-3 v. 5-5; Jags-Raiders and Chiefs-Chargers are worse at 6-4 v. 5-5. A big reason for the NFL to make the flex would be to move from a Fox to a CBS game, possibly allowing the reverse to happen in other weeks.
  • Analysis: Chiefs-Chargers is the sexiest game; the Chargers having five primetime appearances isn’t a factor, as the NFL is probably chomping at the bit to flex out of Chargers-Bengals later and Chargers-Broncos seems an unlikely Week 17 flex. Despite the better pair of records, Bucs-Redskins has to overcome skepticism about the Bucs, the appeal of the Fox-to-CBS flex, and the fact it’s a little lopsided. Despite big-time playoff implications, Jags-Raiders has to overcome people not being used to the Raiders being good and the Jags not being a name team. If San Diego wins this Sunday night it would probably lock up another Sunday night date if the Cowboys lose (especially if the Chiefs lose and create a tie in the division); if they lose, it puts the brakes on their hard charge, but might not eliminate Chiefs-Chargers if other 5-5 teams lose.

Week 15 (December 19):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ New England
  • Prospects: 8-2 v. 7-3, a potential Super Bowl preview. Expect it to keep its spot.
  • Protected games: Jets-Patriots (CBS) and Eagles-Giants (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Saints-Ravens at 7-3 v. 7-3 is the only serious flex candidate but even it has to be considered a long shot. Jags-Colts at 6-4 v. 6-4 is also strong, and Falcons-Seahawks is a dark horse.

Week 16 (December 26)

  • Tentative game: San Diego @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 5-5 v. 2-8; it looks like the T.Ocho experiment isn’t working out, meaning the Chargers’ late-season surge is only serving to make this game lopsided, especially since the Bengals could be eliminated from the playoffs this weekend. (ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” even pointed out on Tuesday how flex-worthy this game is! But as we’ll see, if they looked at the alternatives, they might start scratching their heads…)
  • Protected games: Jets-Bears (CBS) and Giants-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The only alternatives involve teams at .500. With the NFC Worst’s weakness, Seahawks-Bucs at 7-3 v. 5-5 has a legitimate shot at having the most playoff implications. Redskins-Jaguars is improving and has the same pair of records as Chiefs-Titans and Colts-Raiders. Colts-Raiders seems most likely, but it would max the Colts out, and Titans-Colts Week 17 could be important. We’ll wait and see how things shake out, I guess.

Week 17 (January 3 Playoff Positioning Watch):

AFC Playoff Picture
  • AFC East (Bills-Jets, Dolphins-Patriots): Jets and Patriots are tied for the division lead, with the Dolphins three back. The Bills are hanging on tiebreakers.
  • AFC North (Steelers-Browns, Bengals-Ravens): It’s basically a two-horse race between the Ravens and Steelers, with the Browns four back and the Bengals five back.
  • AFC South (Titans-Colts, Jags-Texans): Jags and Colts tied for the lead, Titans a game back, Texans two back.
  • AFC West (Raiders-Chiefs, Chargers-Broncos): Chiefs lead, Chargers and Raiders a game back, Broncos three back but very much alive.
  • AFC Wild Card: The East and North losers would get the nod if the season ended today, with the Colts on the outside looking in. The Dolphins, Titans, Raiders, and Chargers are waiting in the wings. Today, Titans-Colts and Raiders-Chiefs are appealing games with the losers likely not to make the playoffs, with Dolphins-Patriots moving up.
NFC Playoff Picture
6-4 6-4
2 tied at 7-3
  • NFC East (Giants-Redskins, Cowboys-Eagles): Eagles lead, Giants a game back, Redskins two back, Cowboys four back.
  • NFC North (Bears-Packers, Vikings-Lions): Bears and Packers lead with the Vikings four games back and the Lions a game behind that. Despite the “it’s over for the Vikings” meme, they’re as alive as the Cowboys are.
  • NFC South (Panthers-Falcons, Bucs-Saints): Falcons lead, Saints and Bucs a game back, Panthers officially eliminated from the division (but not the wild card).
  • NFC West (Rams-Seahawks, Cardinals-49ers): Seahawks lead, Rams a game back, Cardinals and Niners two back.
  • NFC Wild Card: The Saints, Bucs, and North loser are all at 7-3; the Giants are on the outside looking in; the Redskins are two games behind them. The NFC Playoff Picture, outside the West, clarified fast this week with only three teams at .500 at above likely to miss the playoffs, so expect little protest at the NFC Worst winner getting in (home field is a different story). Keep an eye on Rams-Seahawks, Bucs-Saints, Bears-Packers, and Giants-Redskins. With no one leading a division by more than a game in either conference, and only four divisions not tied, NBC could have no shortage of good choices Week 17.

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