Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 11

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 and last – 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 may receive 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. More rarely, 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 last year was the first time it showed such a game. 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 11

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 10

Yes, this is going up barely twelve hours before the start of the Sunday slate. Shrug emoji.

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 and last – 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 may receive 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. More rarely, 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 last year was the first time it showed such a game. 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 10

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 12 Picks

Week 12 (November 24):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ Philadelphia
  • Prospects: 7-2 v. 5-4. Not as lopsided as it could have been, and the Eagles are right in the thick of contention in the NFC East.
  • Likely protections: Jaguars-Titans if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Patriots (FOX).
  • Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Packers (8-2)-49ers (8-0), Saints (7-2)-Panthers (5-4)
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: Were the Seahawks to win, not only would Packers-Niners lose its major storyline of the Niners being unbeaten, the Seahawks would only be a half-game back of the division and would tentatively hold a tiebreaker over the Niners, though Seahawks-Eagles would become a skosh more lopsided. On the other hand, a Niners victory might well put the division out of reach for all practical purposes with the Seahawks needing to make up three losses and the tiebreaker.
  • Analysis: We have a Sunday night tentative with potential wild-card and division implications for both teams and a late-afternoon feature game pitting two big names on top of their divisions, yet we also have Packers-Niners, pitting one of the league’s biggest names against the last undefeated team with each team two games better than the tentative, pinned to the late afternoon slot and seemingly doomed to limited distribution. Ideally, the league would flex in Packers-Niners, crossflex either Seahawks-Eagles or Saints-Panthers to CBS, and have each game anchor either the early-doubleheader or singleheader window, but who knows if the league would be willing to do anything that sensible, especially since the Seahawks probably wouldn’t be happy about a game formerly scheduled for primetime now being scheduled for the morning in their home time zone.

    Seahawks-Eagles isn’t so bad it would normally warrant being flexed out, but the league has flexed out perfectly fine tentatives in the past to increase the distribution of games that would otherwise be relegated to limited distribution, to the point of twice allowing the former tentative to anchor the late spot of the doubleheader, not to mention the infamous “protection override” of 2013. However, the record of the league doing so with underdistributed late-doubleheader games, as opposed to 4:05 singleheader games, is limited, and the league has twice in the past twelve months failed to boost the distribution of Rams divisional games that instead languished at 4:05, though for understandable reasons (I predicted no flex both times). A flex would represent the Packers’ sixth primetime appearance but none of their remaining games before Week 17 seem terribly likely to be flexed in. Last week I suggested that Packers-Niners could be flexed in regardless of the result of the Monday night game if the Packers won, because a Seahawks win would just make Seahawks-Eagles more lopsided while Packers-Niners would only be a half-game apart, and that’s what happened. I’m predicting the league will pull the flex here, but I would be far from surprised if Seahawks-Eagles kept its spot (and the fact nothing has been announced as I post this might not be a good sign for a flex unless there are some intense negotiations going on).

  • Final prediction: Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 9

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 and last – 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 may receive 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. More rarely, 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 last year was the first time it showed such a game. 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 9

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 11 Picks

Week 11 (November 17):

  • Tentative game: Chicago @ LA Rams
  • Prospects: 3-4 v. 5-3. The Eagles are a good team, but the Bears are now on a four-game losing streak after starting 3-1, raising the prospect of a team in freefall and making this game very vulnerable.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Eagles (CBS) and Cowboys-Lions (FOX).
  • Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Texans (6-3)-Ravens (6-2), Jaguars (4-5)-Colts (5-3).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: None.
  • Analysis: I figured even in a best-case scenario it would be difficult for the league to get away from the #2 and #3 media markets in favor of two teams with much less name value, but the scenario I laid out as representing that best case happened, including what may be regarded as a coming-out party for Lamar Jackson that puts the Ravens in the conference title discussion. If this were the early days of flex scheduling where “play your way into primetime” was still a plausible organizing principle I’d absolutely pull the trigger on a flex. I continue to wonder, though, if the Texans bring enough buzz for this to be worth a flex, especially without J.J. Watt. Notably, Texans-Ravens would probably get decent distribution as the early game of CBS’ doubleheader with only three other CBS games in the time slot and the Jets and Cowboys playing on the road on Fox, whereas Bears-Rams would have to either be a 4:05 Fox game or take two big markets away from Patriots-Eagles on CBS. On that note, Jets-Trumps was the game announced as being crossflexed to Fox last week, freeing up two big markets, including one that normally sees as many Ravens games as possible, to receive Texans-Ravens, while also foreclosing them from receiving what might otherwise have been Fox’s lead singleheader game in Cowboys-Lions. I know I said in last week’s post that the lack of a “final” Week 11 schedule opened the door to further changes, but I’m not sure you announce that crossflex at that time if you’re planning on punting Texans-Ravens to primetime anyway and leaving neutral markets to get, what, Jaguars-Colts? Bills-Dolphins? I wouldn’t be too surprised by a flex (there’s a reason I don’t try too hard to predict afternoon schedule changes in this feature), but I would still expect the Bird and the Beard, not Al and Cris, to set up shop in Baltimore in two weeks.
  • Final prediction: Chicago Bears @ Los Angeles Rams (no change).