NOTE: For my thoughts after learning the protections, read this post on Bleacher Report.
NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For Weeks 10-15, 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, hence why it contradicts the above – and the page it comes from, for that matter):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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; however, the reason games were protected after Week 4 the first year may have been due to an identical circumstance to this year with NBC hosting a Christmas night game and the other games being moved to Saturday.
- 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; five teams have five primetime appearances each, but all of them have at least one game that can be flexed out. NBC appearances for all teams: NO 2, GB 3, DAL 3 (1 flexible), NYJ 3 (1 flexible), PHI 3 (1 flexible), ATL 2, PIT 3 (1 flexible), IND 3 (1 flexible), BAL 3 (1 flexible), MIN 1, CHI 2, NE 2 (both flexible), NYG 2 (both flexible), KC 1 (flexible), SD 1 (flexible). All primetime appearances for all teams: NO 4, GB 4, DAL 5 (1 flexible), NYJ 5 (1 flexible), PHI 5 (1 flexible), ATL 4, PIT 5 (1 flexible), IND 5 (1 flexible), BAL 5 (1 flexible), MIN 2, CHI 4, NE 4 (2 flexible), NYG 4 (2 flexible), KC 3 (1 flexible), SD 4 (1 flexible), MIA 2, OAK 2, DEN 2, STL 2, WAS 1, TB 2, DET 1, JAX 3, SEA 2, SF 2, CLE 1, HOU 1.
- Last year’s selection of primetime games was weighted rather heavily towards Fox games. This year, the selection currently leans CBS 22, FOX 20 (though if I miscounted one game it may be even). My guess is that the balance will continue to lean towards the AFC. Weeks 10, 12, 13, and 15 are all CBS games, while Weeks 11 and 14 are FOX.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 10 (November 13):
- Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
- Prospects: 4-1 v. 2-3; this is becoming one of the hottest rivalries in the AFC, but this game could be in trouble if the Jets keep losing.
- Likely protections if after Week 4: Giants-49ers, Lions-Bears, or Saints-Falcons (FOX) and Texans-Buccaneers if anything (CBS).
- Likely protections if after Week 5: Steelers-Bengals, Texans-Bucs, or Bills-Cowboys (CBS) and Giants-49ers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Basically, whatever games listed above the networks don’t protect.
Week 11 (November 20):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 3-2 v. 1-4. If the not-so-Dream Team continues to be a nightmare, this has a pretty good chance to be flexed out, despite the NFC East factor.
- Likely protections if after Week 4: Cowboys-Redskins or Bucs-Packers (FOX) and Chargers-Bears (CBS).
- Likely protections if after Week 5: Bengals-Ravens (CBS) and Cowboys-Redskins or Bucs-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Besides the potentially protected games, Titans-Falcons and Chargers-Bears are dark horses.
Week 12 (November 17):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Kansas City
- Prospects: 3-2 v. 2-3. Time will tell if the Chiefs are about to rally from their disastrous start. It might not take much for this game to keep its spot.
- Likely protections if after Week 4: Bills-Jets or Patriots-Eagles (CBS) and Bucs-Titans or Bears-Raiders (FOX).
- Likely protections if after Week 5: Patriots-Eagles or Bengals-Browns (CBS) and Bucs-Titans (FOX).
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving weekend, paucity of good games (Packers-Lions is an especially bad loss). NBC is entirely at the mercy of the protections. If both networks go with the name teams, NBC isn’t left with very attractive matchups in terms of drawing power.
Week 13 (December 4):
- Tentative game: Indianapolis @ New England
- Prospects: It’s the Colts and the Patriots, the NFL’s biggest current rivalry! …What’s that? Peyton Manning’s injured and the Colts are 0-5? Yeeeeah, this is getting flexed out unless Manning comes back before then, and even then this would have to be the very game he comes back, which probably won’t be known two weeks in advance.
- Likely protections if after Week 4: Jets-Redskins if anything (CBS) and Packers-Giants or Lions-Saints (FOX).
- Likely protections if after Week 5: Bengals-Steelers, Titans-Bills, or nothing (CBS) and Packers-Giants or Lions-Saints (FOX).
- Other possible games: Besides the potentially protected games, Ravens-Browns and Falcons-Texans. Whatever game Fox doesn’t protect has the early lead.
Week 14 (December 11):
- Tentative game: NY Giants @ Dallas
- Prospects: NFC East clash, with both teams moderately good. A flex isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but one or both teams would have to completely collapse and the other game would have to sweep the NFL off its feet. Fox is likely to leave this week unprotected.
- Likely protections if after Week 4: Bills-Chargers, Patriots-Redskins, or Raiders-Packers (CBS).
- Likely protections if after Week 5: Same.
- Other possible games: Saints-Titans (the only game I could see Fox protecting), Texans-Bengals, and the unprotected games.
Week 15 (December 18):
- Tentative game: Baltimore @ San Diego
- Prospects: Not NBC’s biggest late-season matchup, but the only one with both teams over .500 (not at it). Good chance to keep its spot.
- Likely protections if after Week 4: Jets-Eagles (CBS) and Redskins-Giants (FOX).
- Likely protections if after Week 5: Redskins-Giants or Lions-Raiders (FOX).
- Other possible games: I’ve listed them already. Only Fox’s unprotected game is in any way exciting (unless you still believe in the Dream Team). Yeah, I’d say Ravens-Chargers is keeping its spot.
Week 17 (January 1):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.