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, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):
- 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 last year as well as the first year of flexible scheduling, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5.
- In the past, three teams could 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. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; eight teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Broncos and Bears don’t have at least one game that can be flexed out. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 18):
- Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: 5-1 v. 2-3; one of the hottest rivalries in the NFL, but the Steelers had better get off the schnide right quick if they don’t want it to become lopsided.
- Likely protections: Cardinals-Falcons (FOX) and Chargers-Broncos (CBS).
- Other possible games: Colts-Patriots, Eagles-Redskins, Packers-Lions, and Jets-Rams are the main possibilities, but all are iffy at best; Eagles-Redskins and Jets-Rams are the best ones at 3-3 v. 3-3, and even if the Steelers just continue to hover near .500 that won’t overcome the tentative game bias. (Unless maybe Tim Tebow is starting under center…)
Week 12 (November 25):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ NY Giants
- Prospects: 3-3 v. 4-2; a pair of name teams, but both look a little questionable so far, especially the Packers.
- Likely protections: Vikings-Bears or Rams-Cardinals if anything (FOX) and probably nothing (CBS) as Ravens-Chargers was their only real protection-worthy game and both teams have listed two protected games each, neither of which was this one.
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, though Vikings-Bears is actually a rare matchup of two teams above .500 (assuming it was left unprotected of course). Besides Ravens-Chargers and whatever game Fox doesn’t protect, Seahawks-Dolphins is a possibility, and Bills-Colts is a dark horse.
Week 13 (December 2):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
- Prospects: Very iffy at 3-3 v. 2-3, but never count out an NFC East showdown.
- Likely protections: 49ers-Rams or Vikings-Packers (FOX) and Steelers-Ravens (CBS).
- Other possible games: Seahawks-Bears might actually be stronger than either of Fox’s potentially protected games (leaving aside the Hawks’ iffy national name), and Cardinals-Jets is about as strong. Pats-Dolphins, Bucs-Broncos, and Bengals-Chargers are all dark horses.
Week 14 (December 9):
- Tentative game: Detroit @ Green Bay
- Prospects: 2-3 v. 3-3. I’m going to take Bill Simmons’ advice and see if the Lions “are who we thought they were”, as Dennis Green would say; as it stands this isn’t really any worse than some of the other tentatives.
- Likely protections: Bears-Vikings or Cardinals-Seahawks if anything (FOX) and Chargers-Steelers (CBS).
- Other possible games: Fox’s unprotected game is the favorite, followed by Ravens-Redskins and Dolphins-49ers. Cowboys-Bengals, Rams-Bills, and Eagles-Bucs are dark horses.
Week 15 (December 16):
- Tentative game: San Francisco @ New England
- Prospects: 4-2 v. 3-3, which might still make it the tentative game in the best shape, or at least tied with Packers-Giants. Every single tentative has a team at 3-3 or 2-3; I wouldn’t be surprised by two flexes this year, or none at all. That’s how crazy the league is this year.
- Likely protections: Broncos-Ravens (probably not), Colts-Texans, Steelers-Cowboys, or nothing (CBS) and Giants-Falcons (FOX).
- Other possible games: Vikings-Rams, Packers-Bears, Seahawks-Bills, and the games CBS doesn’t protect, with Lions-Cardinals as a dark horse.
Week 16 (December 23):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ NY Jets
- Prospects: 3-3 v. 3-3; somewhat mediocre, but who knows if the Jets will be driving the Tebow bandwagon by this point.
- Likely protections: Giants-Ravens (FOX) and Bengals-Steelers if anything (CBS).
- Other possible games: One of the better slates of possibilities: Vikings-Texans, Bears-Cardinals, and 49ers-Seahawks all pit two teams above .500, waiting to pounce if either the Chargers’ or Jets’ season collapses. Redskins-Eagles and Bills-Dolphins are outside possibilities, while Rams-Bucs is a very dark horse.
Week 17 (December 30):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.