Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 10

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:

Week 11 (November 18):

  • Selected game: Minnesota @ Chicago.

Week 12 (November 25):

  • Selected game: Green Bay @ Minnesota. Which may have already been effectively announced when I made my last Flex Schedule Watch post. Oops.

Week 13 (December 2):

  • Tentative game: San Francisco @ Seattle
  • Prospects: Aaaaaand the shine has already fallen off the Nick Mullens rose with a last-minute Monday night loss to the lowly Giants. Hard to see the team that was the victim of our first-ever early flex keep its spot at 2-8. Or is it?
  • Likely protections: Chargers-Steelers (confirmed, as with other Steelers games listed) (CBS) and Vikings-Patriots (FOX).
  • Other possible games: If Niners-Seahawks does keep its spot it’ll be as much because of the paucity of alternatives than anything else, as only the potentially-protected games involve only teams at or above .500. Ravens-Falcons might be best as a battle of 4-5 teams, with all the other games involving teams at 3-6 or worse. Browns-Texans, Panthers-Bucs, Broncos-Bengals, and Rams-Lions are the best of that crop.
  • Analysis: The NFL is in a bit of a pickle here. Despite the above-linked tweet seemingly stating in no uncertain terms that all of the listed games would be staying on CBS no matter what, it’s easy to see why some of my commenters think we could be in for another “protection override” to bring in Chargers-Steelers – especially since CBS may need to send its A team to Ravens-Falcons no matter what as a prep run for the Super Bowl in that stadium, barring any crossflexes. If the league does flex in Ravens-Falcons, and in a vacuum that would seem to be the favorite, you could see Cardinals-Falcons in two weeks crossflexed to CBS, which would seem to be a much less attractive game. That could mean CBS would be all too willing to relinquish its protection on Chargers-Steelers. If the league does have to dip into a game involving a team only a game better than the Niners, Rams-Lions would seem to be the most attractive of that bunch, but at that point there really isn’t that much reason not to stick with the tentative.
  • Actual selection: Los Angeles Chargers @ Pittsburgh Steelers. Not much to say about this that I didn’t already say above, except that once again the league flexes in a game from one network and sends the tentative to the other network.

Week 14 (December 9):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Oakland
  • Prospects: A 6-2-1 team on a five-game win streak against a 1-8 team on a five-game losing streak? Yeah, no.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Dolphins (CBS) and Rams-Bears (FOX) (if Fox needs to protect Eagles games Eagles-Cowboys might be likeliest).
  • Other possible games: The Bengals-Chiefs flex maxed the Chiefs out on primetime appearances (Ravens-Chiefs would have been a protection candidate otherwise, though not necessarily topping Pats-Dolphins), but Bengals-Chargers continues to be a good escape valve at 5-4 v. 7-2, even if the league might not want to showcase a game at tiny StubHub Center where half the stadium might be travelling Bengals fans, and that assumes Fox protected Rams-Bears, a battle of division leaders at 9-1 v. 6-3. Falcons-Packers remains a dark horse, and Colts-Texans is emerging late as the Colts go on a win streak.
  • Actual selection: Los Angeles Rams @ Chicago Bears. Well this is substantially more interesting, and not just because it’s multiple weeks in advance; this is the second time this season where a game I would assume Fox would have protected if they didn’t need to protect Eagles games ended up getting flexed in. I think Rams-Bears would have still had a numerical edge over Falcons-Packers even in a best-case scenario for that game, though whether or not it would have popped a bigger rating is questionable, and with that in mind if you don’t want to have NBC showcase the StubHub Center situation mentioned above it makes sense to flex it in this early. Meanwhile this is a case where the league sent a tentative that would normally be a CBS game to Fox, so basically the league can send a flexed-out tentative wherever it wants. (Notably, this tentative couldn’t go to CBS without further schedule adjustments because the Niners are already playing a home game on CBS. That may be another reason not to flex in Bengals-Chargers if you feel you can only send a game to Fox if it’s either being flexed out for a Fox game or would normally be a Fox game.)

Week 15 (December 16):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ LA Rams
  • Prospects: 4-5 v. 9-1. Getting concerningly lopsided with people starting to genuinely ask what’s wrong with the Eagles, now a game and a half out of the playoffs and in position to lose a tiebreaker to the Cowboys with the same record.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (CBS) and Packers-Bears (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Dolphins-Vikings is the only available game involving only teams at or above .500 at 5-5 v. 5-3-1. Given the market sizes and overall name value, that may not be enough to overcome the tentative game bias. I’ve been neglecting Cowboys-Colts which now stands as a battle of 4-5 teams, and obviously the Cowboys are always good to pop a rating, but I’m not sure that overcomes the tentative game bias either. Anything else involves dipping into 3-6 teams (and Hunters-Jaguars is the only game where a 3-6 team is playing a team above .500), and the league isn’t going to flex in a game with a team worse than the worse team in the tentative.

Week 16 (December 23):

  • Tentative game: Kansas City @ Seattle
  • Prospects: Heading into the protections this game had the same pair of records as Eagles-Rams, and that’s the case once again now, but the Chiefs come from a much smaller market than the Rams while the Seahawks have considerably worse name value than the Eagles and are staring up at the Rams in the division. Still, both teams are playoff contenders, which could be enough for the game to keep its spot in the penultimate week of the season.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Saints (CBS) and probably nothing, but if something, Bucs-Cowboys or Vikings-Lions (FOX). (This assumes Fox couldn’t protect any of the games singled out for a potential move to Saturday before the season.)
  • Other possible games: Falcons-Panthers and, if the Eagles aren’t maxed out, Texans-Eagles are the best available games and both involve 4-5 teams, so their only virtue over the tentative is being less lopsided. Jaguars-Dolphins, Bengals-Browns, and Fox’s potentially protected games are very dark horses.

Week 17 (December 30):

  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Eagles-Trumps, Bears-Vikings, Panthers-Saints, Bengals-Steelers.

22 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 10

  1. As noted in the other thread, no surprise the NFL used a “protection override” to move Chargers-Steelers in Week 13 to Sunday Night Football. Steelers still very much in play with only two losses for the #2 seed and Chargers looking like they will be the #5 seed (though they could still win the AFC West if they beat the Chiefs in the final Thursday nighter of the season in Week 15).

    Rams-Bears in Week 14 is no surprise either. Falcons-Packers likely was protected from the get-go because no one could have known the Bears would be this good, and even if the Bears lose their next two will still be very much in the thick of the NFC North (the rematch with the Vikings in Week 17 could be the final game of the regular season on SNF). Bengals-Chargers was never a candidate for Week 14 SNF because the Chargers as noted play on Thursday Night Football in Kansas City to close out that package for the year, and that game may turn out to be the one thing that keeps the Chiefs from winning the AFC West (I would think the Chargers would have objected to playing on SNF with the TNF game looming).

    Week 15: Eagles win one of their next three, especially if they beat the Redskins in the Week 13 Monday nighter and their game with the Rams stays, as I think NBC could easily want that game to stay anyway for other reasons noted before. Redskins could be in a free-fall and it’s still quite possible both the Eagles and Redskins are 8-7 (or the Eagles are even 7-8) and their rematch in Week 17 is for the NFC East.

    Week 16: Still think Steelers-Saints could be given the “protection override” treatment and moved to SNF as part of compensating NBC for no Sunday night game in Week 17 last year, especially since this could again be the final Sunday Night game of the year if there is no guarantee of a Week 17 game where both teams are playing for a playoff spot or division title regardless of the outcome of earlier games.

    Week 17: Still think these are in order the most likely candidates if their division title is on the line in their finale:
    1. Eagles-Redskins (NFC East)

    2. Bears-Vikings (NFC North)

    3. Panthers-Saints (NFC South, could be complicated by the winner in tie-breaker scenarios with the Rams)

    4. Bengals-Steelers (AFC North but even if the Steelers have clinched the AFC North, if the Bengals need the game for a Wild Card berth regardless of what happens earlier, this game could be flexed if going into that Sunday the Steelers would need the win for a first-round bye over the Patriots since the Pats are hosting the Jets that Sunday and it is highly unlikely the Pats would lose to the Jets at home in that scenario).

    Still think it would be better for the NFL to add a new Week 18 (that adds a second bye week tied to mid-week games that would eliminate the short week) with all games in one conference at 3:00 PM ET and the other at 7:00 PM ET, which I detailed in earlier threads. That would solve the SNF issue the final week since that would now be the next-to-last week where there is a sole SNF game.

  2. Karl:

    Morgan does a way better job than I would, and the people here are a good go-to source for info. My views are my views and mine sometimes are counter to his, nothing more.

  3. Not much of a comment about the flexes as I am not too surprised by the fact that 49ers-Seahawks and Steelers-Raiders were flexed out for Chargers-Steelers and Rams-Bears respectively. What I am surprised about was the lack of respect that the Chargers received in that they initially didn’t have a Sunday night or Monday night game. They were flexed in week 16 to Saturday night against the Ravens, and also flexed in week 13, but I thought they were one of those “sleeper” playoff contenders, and right now, it looks like they may be a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the AFC.
    Also, Morgan does make a good point that the CBS main crew may need to be in Atlanta to prepare for the Super Bowl. That’s possibly why CBS was willing to give up Chargers-Steelers even though it was protected. Lastly, I am just as confused as many of you with the rules regarding the flexed out games. I thought that starting this year (or maybe last year, not sure when exactly), the game that was flexed in was supposed to be replaced on the original network it was to air on, and that didn’t happen with 49ers-Seahawks moving to FOX and not CBS.

  4. The Chargers are an orphaned team with virtually no fanbase at the moment, so it’s not really surprising NBC and ESPN didn’t beg the NFL for a bunch of Chargers game – but you’re right, Atsushi, I thought they’d at least get one Monday Night game. The NFL made a bunch of those types of decisions this year ignoring contenders/2017 playoff teams from small markets. Before this year, the last team to not at least get a scheduled Sunday Night game the year after making the playoffs was the Seahawks in 2011 – and that was the year after they’d gone 7-9 and the Sunday Night package didn’t include the Thanksgiving game. But this year, there were three playoff teams – Buffalo, Tennessee and Carolina – that didn’t get a Sunday Night game initially scheduled. And Jacksonville only had one SNF game (which has obviously been flexed now) and a Thursday Night game despite only being five minutes away from the Super Bowl last year. On the flip side, the league had this weird fascination with maxing out the 49ers’ primetime appearances despite Garoppolo having started a total of seven games. This schedule had more head-scratchers than I could ever remember when it got unveiled.

  5. Nathaniel: That’s true that the Chargers weren’t the only contender and/or playoff team from last season that was ignored by NBC in the Sunday Night Football schedule. In hindsight, it’s puzzling that both Bay Area teams were scheduled for so many primetime games, but I think that speaks to the popularity of both teams and the market size of the Bay Area. In particular among the teams you mentioned that weren’t scheduled for Sunday night, I was most surprised that Carolina did not receive a Sunday night game as they have Cam Newton, and were in the Super Bowl just three years ago in addition to making the playoffs last season.

    With regards to the 49ers-Seahawks being moved to FOX and not CBS, I am guessing that it’s for the same reason as Morgan mentioned for Steelers-Raiders being moved to FOX since Broncos-49ers is on CBS at the same time. While 49ers-Seahawks will be on FOX, CBS has Chiefs-Raiders in the 4:05 window, and both Bay Area teams cannot be on FOX or CBS at the same time. This is off-topic, but a similar situation has occurred in the New York area with Packers-Jets and Giants-Colts both tentatively scheduled for 1:00 PM on FOX in week 16, so unless one of those games is moved to the 4:05 window, one of those games will have to be cross-flexed to CBS. I am still waiting to see how that situation is resolved.

  6. November 12, 2018 at 11:42 am, my comments from other blog said:

    My current Week 12 rankings after Week 10’s standings(before Monday Night football’s insignificant game) go as such:

    #1–G.B.(4-4-1) @ Minn.(5-3-1) <–the only game that has 2 teams at or over .500 for the entire weekend, except for Monday Night Football's Tenn.(5-4) @ Hou.(6-3). This was the tentative game and was selected back on November 8th. Little did I know that had happened though. I don't think many or any of us noticed that.

    My current Week 13 rankings after Week 10's standings(before Monday Night football's insignificant game) go as such:

    #1–L.A.C.(7-2) @ Pitt.(6-2-1)
    #2–Minn.(5-3-1) @ N.E.(7-3)

    The tentative game of S.F.(2-7) @ Sea.(4-5) is going to be flexed out for sure or is it a for sure? My above #1 and #2 games might both be protected. ?

    My current Week 14 rankings after Week 10's standings(before Monday Night football's insignificant game) go as such:

    #1–N.E.(7-3) @ Mia.(5-5)
    #2–Cin.(5-4) @ L.A.C.(7-2)
    #3–L.A.R.(9-1) @ Chi.(6-3)

    The tentative game of Pitt.(6-2-1) @ Oak.(1-8) is a goner from the SNF slate, for sure.

    My current Week 15 possibilities after Week 10's standings(before Monday Night football's insignificant game) go as such:

    Mia.(5-5) @ Minn.(5-3-1), G.B.(4-4-1) @ Chi.(6-3), and N.E.(7-3) @ Pitt.(6-2-1)

    Phil.(4-5) @ L.A.R.(9-1) <–tentative game & unless Eagles dive, will likely stay, though at the moment it doesn't make my possibilities due to Philadelphia being 4-5.

    My current Week 16 possibilities after Week 10's standings(before Monday Night football's insignificant game) go as such:

    Pitt.(6-2-1) @ N.O.(8-1)
    K.C.(9-1) @ Sea.(4-5) <–tentative game that, doesn't make my possibilities due to Seahawks being 4-5, might go away if Chiefs continue to win and Seahawks start to go into the tank. This started to happen in Week 9 and continued in Week 10. That's the only way I see it going away though.

    My current Week 17 possibilities after Week 10's standings(before Monday Night football's insignificant game) go as such:

    Car.(6-3) @ N.O.(8-1), Chi.(6-3) @ Minn.(5-3-1), and Cin.(5-4) @ Pitt.(6-2-1).

  7. My current Week 12 rankings after Week 10’s standings go as such (though, little did all of us know, the NFL decided the Week 12 schedule on Thursday, November 8th and kept the SNF game the same and flexed the Mia.(5-5) @ Ind.(4-5) to the late slot from the early slot):

    #1–G.B.(4-4-1) @ Minn.(5-3-1) <–the only game that has 2 teams at or over .500 for the entire weekend, except for Monday Night Football's Tenn.(5-4) @ Hou.(6-3). This was the tentative game and was selected back on Thursday, November 8th. Little did I know that had happened though. I don't think many or any of us noticed that.

    My current Week 13 rankings after Week 10's standings go as such:

    #1–L.A.C.(7-2) @ Pitt.(6-2-1) <–there's me with the sway over the NFL again (due to announcement on 11/14/18, lol. 😉
    #2–Minn.(5-3-1) @ N.E.(7-3)

    The tentative game of S.F.(2-8) @ Sea.(4-5) is going to be flexed out for sure or is it a for sure? My above #1 and #2 games might both be protected. ? (or were they not protected?….or as Walt says….."protection overridden.")

    My current Week 14 rankings after Week 10's standings go as such:

    #1–N.E.(7-3) @ Mia.(5-5)
    #2–Cin.(5-4) @ L.A.C.(7-2)
    #3–L.A.R.(9-1) @ Chi.(6-3) <–well, the NFL didn't take my #1 or #2 choices, but I am not REALLY all that surprised they didn't. I just don't think the NFL wanted to take a chance on the Dolphins, after they got smoked in New England 38-7 in Week 4 and trending downward now. The Dolphins were even a 3-0 team at that point, but Belichick and his Patriots showed the Dolphins who was the boss. As for Bengals/Chargers, I still think the game being played at Stub Hub Center was THE prime reason to move this game to SNF. Though there are other factors involved too, such as the Bengals aren't trending up right now and the Chargers are trending up, so this game might be perceived to end in a blowout Chargers win. We'll see in 3 weeks, right? And lastly, in spite of the disparity in record, the Rams/Bears game makes sense because the matchup is 2 of the biggest markets in America. Los Angeles and Chicago and I believe that was the main reason it landed the Week 14 SNF slot, plus I think it should be a really damned good game.

    The tentative game of Pitt.(6-2-1) @ Oak.(1-8) is a goner from the SNF slate, for sure.

    Then the NFL threw us this little curveball on Wednesday, November 14th: https://twitter.com/NFL345/status/1062825508495417345?s=19

    For Week 13, they FLEXED OUT the S.F.(2-8) @ Sea.(4-5) game and FLEXED IN the L.A.C.(7-2) @ Pitt.(6-2-1). 49ers/Seahawks moved to 4:25pm EST/1:25pm PST from SNF with FOX covering the game. CBS lost a game due to them having the Chargers/Steelers originally.

    For Week 14, they FLEXED OUT the Pitt.(6-2-1) @ Oak.(1-8) game and FLEXED IN the L.A.R.(9-1) @ Chi.(6-3). Steelers/Raiders moved to 4:25pm EST/1:25pm PST from SNF with FOX covering the game. FOX originally had the Rams/Bears game, so no net loss or gain for either network this week.

    FOX clearly has the double header these 2 weeks and the NFL moved both games to the late 4:25pm EST/1:25pm PST time slot, for more doubleheader options. This proves to me, if the NFL flexes out a SNF game, that it will always move it to the 4:25pm EST/1:25pm PST time slot and not the 4:05pm EST/1:05pm PST time slot. I think this is done, so that there are more options for the doubleheader, for the network that happens to have the doubleheader that particular week.

    My current Week 15 possibilities after Week 10's standings go as such:

    Mia.(5-5) @ Minn.(5-3-1), G.B.(4-4-1) @ Chi.(6-3), and N.E.(7-3) @ Pitt.(6-2-1)

    Phil.(4-5) @ L.A.R.(9-1) <–tentative game & unless Eagles dive, will likely stay, though at the moment it doesn't make my possibilities due to Philadelphia being 4-5.

    My current Week 16 possibilities after Week 10's standings go as such:

    Pitt.(6-2-1) @ N.O.(8-1)

    K.C.(9-1) @ Sea.(4-5) <–tentative game that, doesn't make my possibilities due to Seahawks being 4-5, might go away if Chiefs continue to win and Seahawks start to go into the tank. This started to happen in Week 9 and continued in Week 10. That's the only way I see it going away though.

    My current Week 17 possibilities after Week 10's standings go as such:

    Car.(6-3) @ N.O.(8-1), Chi.(6-3) @ Minn.(5-3-1), and Cin.(5-4) @ Pitt.(6-2-1).

  8. Colts-Titans is starting to look like a real possibility for the Week 17 flex – the Colts look like the best team competing for that last AFC wild card slot right now and the Titans still have half their home schedule remaining to rack up some wins.

    Panthers-Saints and Eagles-Redskins, on the other hand, are starting to look very unlikely for that flex. The Saints look like they’ll have the division wrapped up by then and the Eagles-Redskins game will probably have to played at the same time as Cowboys-Giants for competitive balance purposes.

  9. The Eagles Lost To The Saints Yesterday Meaning That The Eagles Rams Game is More Likely To be Flexed Out Because If they Lose to Either the Giants or the Redskins Then The Eagles Rams Game is A Goner From SNF Likely Next Week. But I Could Be Right About That.

  10. Nathaniel:

    If Colts-Titans is for a wild card spot, then that is definitely a possibility for Week 17. The Texans being in the mix likely makes it difficult for that to be a winner-take-all for the AFC South.

    As for Week 15, If Eagles-Rams gets flexed out, I can see Cowboys-Colts replacing it, especially if the Cowboys and Colts win their next two to get to 7-5.

  11. Right, Walt, Colts-Titans would almost certainly be for the last wild card, the Texans look like they’re going to take the division rather easily.

  12. Andrew:

    Possible if the Colts and Titans win out.

    One new possibility for Week 16: If the Giants keep this rolling and get to 6-7 AND would still be alive for the NFC East no matter what the night of the game when the decision has to be made, their game with the Colts could be flexed in, meaning if so back-to-back weeks potentially the Colts got flexed into SNF.

  13. colts-cowboys is a good one. Morgan will wake up in a couple days to regurgitate what the commentators already sorted out

  14. Morgan: why do you start off every article with the same long breakdown of the flex rules which don’t really even apply? Makes it very difficult to navigate through and find new information

  15. The comment Walt is complaining about used the same e-mail address “Karl” immediately above him uses. That’s not OK and if that sort of sockpuppetry and impersonation becomes a regular thing I’m going to have to figure out how to block people.

Leave a Comment