Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 16; and week 17. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games, as well as late-season Saturday games, are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturday of Week 16 this year – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in receives the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 17, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. In theory, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and NBC has never shown them. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET.

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

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

The Hunt for a New Blog Theme, Take Two

So over the weekend I discovered that, on the theme I adopted for the Sports subsite last week, there will be times when a post will load without a scroll bar, or any way to scroll at all, cutting off a good chunk of content and the entire comment section. Since the comments are the whole reason I’m looking for a new theme to begin with, I had to find another new theme.

Right now I’ve switched to the GeneratePress theme, and because all the theme switching has been wrecking havoc on my sidebars (Da Countdown has been removed until further notice), I’m adopting the theme for the whole site. Everything seems okay at the moment, but a potential concern is that the team logos on my SNF Flex Schedule Watch intro post appear full size, I’m guessing because I don’t use WordPress’ “official” means for defining image size (that or the theme just mangled the HTML – GeneratePress has a lot of fancy features, including what appears to be something intended to allow WordPress to mimic Tumblr, and I had to redo some of the formatting for last night’s Last-Minute Remarks post). So I’m going to have to figure out how to get images to appear at the size I want in the way that I want, and it’s possible I’m going to end up switching to another new theme.

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 7 Picks

Week 7 (October 21):

  • Tentative game: LA Rams @ San Francisco
  • Prospects: 5-0 v. 1-4. It’s surprising to me that the Niners received not one but two SNF games to begin with; typically a team with high hopes and an exciting offense keyed by a young star play-making quarterback but coming off a mediocre season gets a couple of MNF games but doesn’t really get the SNF treatment unless they’re the biggest of big names like the Giants or Cowboys (thinking of the Panthers in Cam Newton’s sophomore season). The Niners are a big-market team with a lot of history and a sizable fanbase, but outside the Jim Harbaugh era haven’t been relevant this century. In any case, with Jimmy Garoppalo out for the season look for the Niners’ other SNF game to be flexed out, and with their opponents for this game being one of the league’s two unbeatens and with the Niners coming off handing the last winless team in the league their first win, this sure looks like the sort of potential disaster that would call for the first early flex.
  • Possible alternatives and their records: CBS: Bengals (4-1)-Chiefs (5-0), Patriots (3-2)-Bears (3-1), Cowboys (2-3)-Redskins (2-1). FOX: Saints (3-1)-Ravens (3-2), Browns (2-2-1)-Buccaneers (2-2).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: Well, the Saints are playing, but I’m not sure the outcome would mean much for the value of their game.
  • Predicted protections: Cowboys-Indians (CBS). For Fox, see below.
  • Analysis: This is going to be an interesting case study in the league’s thought process regarding the early flex, and possibly in whether I have the league’s rules wrong. Earlier in the week a Saints beat writer tweeted to “look for the Saints-Ravens game to be possibly flexed to NBC“. That surprised me, because by my reckoning the Eagles are maxed out on primetime appearances with their London game on NFL Network, meaning Saints-Ravens would be the only game Fox would need to protect (as opposed to Panthers-Eagles). Despite only having one loss between them Bengals-Chiefs does not really have the sort of name value the league would like, but after a Twitter conversation with a Bears fan earlier in the week I was leaning towards Pats-Bears as the most likely option, though it would max the Pats out on primetime appearances. Possibly relevant here is that most of the early flex period falls in October and thus overlaps with the baseball playoffs, and just as the league tended to schedule teams in markets that weren’t particularly baseball hotbeds for at least the first few years it went up against the World Series (the Saints-Colts game that gave birth to the early flex to begin with pitted two teams from markets without MLB teams), so the league may be reticent to risk putting a Patriots game against a potential ALCS Game 7 at Fenway. (Also relevant is that next week’s SNF game pits the Pats and Chiefs, which would make the league reticent to put in either significant CBS game and so have either team on SNF in consecutive weeks.)

    On Sunday the same beat writer wondered whether “the Ravens just messed this up“, so it’s possible this was always predicated on the game being 4-1 v. 4-1 and the league wanting to rescue the game from singleheader purgatory, as it’s currently scheduled as a 4:05 ET game even though it could conceivably move to 1. (If it were moved to 1, Browns-Bucs or Lions-Dolphins could replace it at 4:05; Panthers-Eagles or Vikings-Jets would result in big NFC East markets being blacked out from seeing Cowboys-Indians, and the former means there’s only so much distribution Saints-Ravens would gain by moving to 1. But if it were moved to Sunday night, Rams-Niners would conveniently slot in to replace it at 4:05.) Given some of the constraints I identified, if the league were to shy away from flexing in Saints-Ravens or Fox stood its ground on keeping it, honestly the most likely outcome in that scenario might be this game keeping its spot; it is a rivalry game pitting two big markets, after all. (If I’m wrong about the Eagles being maxed out, Panthers-Eagles seems iffy with the Eagles below .500 and not looking like last year’s Super Bowl team regardless of who’s at quarterback.) I’m sorely tempted to forego a prediction at all, but:

  • Final prediction: New Orleans Saints @ Baltimore Ravens (assuming Fox is convinced to relinquish its right to protect it, no change otherwise).

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Preliminary Thoughts and Changes for the Season

A week ago I received a tweet asking if the Week 5 Sunday night game might be our first ever early flex. I didn’t actually read the tweet in detail, only seeing the notification of it on my phone, but seeing it and the mountains of notifications I was receiving put me into a panic mode, as I had fallen way behind on substantial changes I was planning to make to the Flex Schedule Watch this year. It took me all week to prepare the most substantial part of the changes and bring me to the point where I could even start to look at the situation.

The game in question? The Cowboys at the Texans.

I don’t know how many times I have to say this: if the Cowboys and their opponents have two wins between them and the Game of the Century is sitting there unprotected, maybe the league flexes out of a Cowboy game, but I’m not sure I would bet on it even then. Certainly they’re not going to burn the first-ever early flex on America’s Team, no matter how disappointing both Texas teams are. Neither was the undefeated Chiefs against Brady and the Patriots in any real doubt. (Oh, and only a handful of those notifications were actually about Cowboys-Texans.)

Rams-Niners Week 7 is more interesting, though; I’m surprised the Niners have multiple NBC appearances to begin with as I would have tagged them as more of a Monday night team unless and until Jimmy Garoppalo could prove himself to maintain his performance at the end of last season over the course of a whole season, and with him being out for the year and the Niners sitting at 1-3 to the Rams’ 4-0, most of the attraction the game had may be gone. It is a rivalry game between two big, multi-team markets but everyone knows how lukewarm LA has been to the return of the NFL. CBS is likely to protect Cowboys-Indians no matter what so if the Chiefs and Bengals both win it would certainly be attractive with only one loss between them, though probably not big enough names for the league to pull the early flex. Fox’s best games of Panthers-Eagles and Saints-Ravens would be more intriguing if the Eagles weren’t maxed out on primetime appearances (see below).

On to the changes to the flex schedule watch, where I was planning to institute the biggest changes to the structure of the Watch since I started it over a decade ago. My intention was to take all the information previously contained in my post-opening spiel, as well as other bits and pieces of information gleaned over the years, and present it in a coherent fashion on a single static page. That page ended up rambling on for over 3300 words, so it’s likely I’m going to continue providing a Cliffs Notes version of the page at the beginning of each post, but it’s likely to look completely different from the spiels I’ve given in the past.

In accordance with the new page, I’m also going to provide a table of primetime appearances in a single post at the beginning of the season, possibly shortly after the schedule release in future seasons. Recall the appearance limits are six primetime games for three teams, five for everyone else, and four NBC appearances. The Eagles have one SNF game in the main flex period so they could be flexed in if that game were flexed out. In the “Flexible” column, a “+1” indicates that the team has an SNF game in the Week 7-10 period, in other words, vulnerable to an early flex but not in Week 5 or 6 where any decision has likely already been made. This also doesn’t count the games that could potentially move to NFL Network on Saturday Week 16.

Team PT App’s On NBC Flexible
6 3 1+1
5 3 0+1
5 3 0+1
5 3 1+1
5 3 2
5 2 0+1
5 2 1
5 2 1+1
5 2 1+1
5 2 2
4 2 1+1
4 1 0
4 1 0
4 1 1
4 0 0
3 2 0
3 1 1
3 0 0
3 0 0
2 1 0
2 1 0
2 1 0
2 0 0
2 0 0
2 0 0
All others 1 0 0

Oh, and see here for why things might look different around here. I invite your comments on a potential future course of action on this post (assuming things actually do look different and the comments here are working), or alternately on Twitter.