NFL Flexible Scheduling Watch: Week 16

Note: This post does not incorporate the result of the Thursday or Saturday night games.

Perhaps predictably, over the past week social media has erupted with people moaning about why Dolphins-Ravens, the game likely to determine the #1 seed in the AFC, is trapped in the early singleheader, why it wasn’t moved to 4:25 or Sunday night. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened in recent years, and CBS sure is trying its best to show it to as much of the country as possible, but it is notable that even leaving aside the jockeying between networks and the increased protections CBS and Fox get in the new contracts, this game could have easily been moved to the late afternoon and stayed on CBS. Instead, before any of last week’s games were even played CBS opted to stick with the Burrow-less disappointing Bengals against the Chiefs. Lo and behold, once the week’s results played out the Bengals’ win streak with Jake Browning at quarterback had come to an abrupt halt, leaving the Bengals hanging on to the possibility of a playoff spot by a thread, and the Chiefs had stumbled to the Raiders, keeping the silver and black’s own threadbare playoff hopes alive and nearly locking the Chiefs into the 3 seed, especially when coupled with Dolphins and Ravens wins against two of the best teams in the NFC.

It’s a reminder that as much as the NFL has a nationalized fanbase, the people who want to watch the best, most important games between the best teams, at least in the regular season, are still a distinct minority compared to those that just want to watch the teams they’re fans of or the most attractive, biggest-name teams. A Chiefs game this year always carries the possibility of a Taylor Swift bump, but even without the Swift factor the Chiefs are one of the three most attractive teams in the league right now, by far the most attractive in the AFC, the most dominant team in the league in recent years with some of its biggest stars. They’re not the Cowboys – if the Chiefs-Patriots game that got flexed out earlier this year for Eagles-Seahawks had been Cowboys-Patriots I think it keeps its spot – but they are one of those teams that can pop a rating by their mere presence. On the flip side, let’s not forget that the Dolphins produced one of the worst December Sunday Night Football ratings ever when they were flexed in down the stretch of last season – contributing to the league’s decision to plug Lions-Packers into Sunday night of Week 18 instead of a game that wouldn’t become meaningless for one team by the time it kicked off. Couple that with the Bengals and Chiefs still being very much in the playoff hunt, and that’s why my prediction last week was that if Dolphins-Ravens was going to be moved to a later time at all, it would be into Sunday night, not the late afternoon window.

That being said, while the games scheduled for featured windows before the season are determined as much by popularity as by how they’re expected to perform, the flexible scheduling regime is still governed by how good the teams are. The game originally scheduled for a primetime window will keep its spot unless there’s a compelling reason to move out of it, but if it is flexed out the game that replaces it will generally be determined by what game has the best pair of records, and there have been times when a passable game scheduled for Sunday night has nonetheless been flexed out in favor of a game that seemed to be too good to be as weakly distributed as it otherwise would have been. Mike North has repeatedly stated in recent seasons that the league wants to give every playoff team exposure in national windows before the playoffs so that audiences have some familiarity with the team before the playoffs hit – obscure, unpopular, yet good teams aren’t going to become more popular if they continue to languish in obscurity. So the NFL does try to put the best games in the best windows.

Well, Dolphins-Ravens ranked #4 on my list of Games That Should Be Nationally Televised But Aren’t that I wrote before the season, where I even raised the prospect of it being flexed in for Packers-Vikings. In my tier structure based on preseason win totals at sportsbooks I introduced a few weeks ago, it was a Tier 2 game, meaning if the best games of the year were distributed evenly, it would be the second-best game of its week. Given the poor ratings for the Dolphins on SNF last year and the perception that the AFC North was still the Bengals’ to lose, I can’t completely fault the league for not putting the game in a featured window to begin with, but I can fault the league for scheduling it this late in the season but punting it to the early doubleheader while giving the Sunday night timeslot to a game involving a Packers team expected to finish below .500, New Year’s Eve or no. The league had to be aware that if things played out exactly as expected, CBS would have two games between big-time playoff contenders with win totals no lower than 9.5 while SNF would have a game involving a team on the fringes of the playoff picture at best, yet because CBS was scheduled for only eight Chiefs appearances the league wouldn’t be able to flex either one in. To be sure, the league and CBS couldn’t have figured that, while CBS would have the game between the AFC’s two best teams, it wouldn’t be the one they thought it’d be. Still, I feel like while the league and its TV partners can mess around with games involving popular teams for the first three months of the season, once December hits they need to stop messing around. If the flexible windows don’t contain what are expected to be the best games of their respective weeks, not counting games in featured inflexible windows, then the games that are the best need to be in a position where they can be flexed in, period. At the very least, if they’re serious about “playing your way into primetime” they need to minimize the risk of something like this happening.

How NFL flexible scheduling works: (see also the NFL’s own page on flex schedule procedures)

  • Up to two games in Weeks 5-10 (the “early flex” period), and any number of games from Week 11 onward, may be flexed into Sunday Night Football. Any number of games from Week 12 onward may be flexed into Monday Night Football, and up to two games from Week 13 onward may be flexed into Thursday Night Football. In addition, in select weeks in December a number of games may be listed as “TBD”, with two or three of those games being assigned to be played on Saturday. Note that I only cover early flexes if a star player on one of the teams is injured.
  • Only games scheduled for Sunday afternoon, or set aside for a potential move to Saturday, may be flexed into one of the flex-eligible windows – not existing primetime games or games in other standalone windows. The game currently listed in the flex-eligible window will take the flexed-in game’s space on the Sunday afternoon slate, generally on the network that the flexed-in game was originally scheduled for. The league may also move Sunday afternoon games between 1 PM ET and 4:05 or 4:25 PM ET.
  • Thursday Night Football flex moves must be announced 28 days in advance. Sunday and Monday Night Football moves must be announced 12 days in advance, except for Sunday night games in Week 14 onward, which can be announced at any point up until 6 days in advance.
  • CBS and Fox have the right to protect one game each per week, among the games scheduled for their networks, from being flexed into primetime windows. During the early flex period, they may protect games at any point once the league tells them they’re thinking of pulling the flex. It’s not known when they must protect games in the main flex period, only that it’s “significantly closer to each game date” relative to the old deadline of Week 5. My assumption is that protections are due five weeks in advance, in accordance with the 28-day deadline for TNF flexes. Protections have never been officially publicized, and have not leaked en masse since 2014, so can only be speculated on.
  • Supposedly, CBS and Fox are also guaranteed one half of each division rivalry. Notably, some Week 18 games (see below) have their other halves scheduled for the other conference’s network, though none are scheduled for primetime.
  • No team may appear more than seven times in primetime windows – six scheduled before the season plus one flexed in. This appears to consider only the actual time the game is played; Amazon’s Black Friday game does not count even though the rest of their TNF slate does, and NBC’s Saturday afternoon game Week 16 doesn’t count but their Peacock game that night does. This post contains a list of all teams’ primetime appearances entering the season.
  • Teams may play no more than two Thursday games following Sunday games, and (apparently) no more than one of them can be on the road.
  • In Week 18 the entire schedule, consisting entirely of games between divisional opponents, is set on six days’ notice, usually during the previous week’s Sunday night game. One game will be scheduled for Sunday night, usually a game that decides who wins the division, a game where the winner is guaranteed to make the playoffs while the loser is out, or a game where one team makes the playoffs with a win but falls behind the winner of another game, and thus loses the division and/or misses the playoffs, with a loss. Two more games with playoff implications are scheduled for Saturday on ABC and ESPN, with the remaining games doled out to CBS and Fox on Sunday afternoon, with the league generally trying to maximize what each team has to play for. Protections and appearance limits do not apply to Week 18.
  • Click here to learn how to read the charts.

Week 18: Cowboys-Sheriffs, Bucs-Panthers, and Texans-Colts are all rematches of games that aired on the wrong conference’s network, so the league would probably prefer to avoid moving them to Saturday or Sunday night if possible. The good news is that all but one of the games I would normally consider to be suitable for SNF are in the AFC, so Packers-Vikings won’t affect what gets chosen there (something that can’t be said for Dolphins-Ravens if it had been flexed into SNF), and the lack of a Monday night game means the Week 18 schedule can be set right after the Sunday night game at the latest (indeed the only late-window game with impact on the SNF game is Steelers-Seahawks in the late singleheader, which starts earlier than the late doubleheader games). The bad news is that NBC is really hoping the Ravens beat the Dolphins as both of the SNF-suitable games that are most attractive, by a wide margin, depend on that, so a Dolphins win may leave the league in a similar position to last year sending NBC a game with less than ideal scenarios surrounding it but involving more attractive teams than the alternatives (namely the AFC South games or Bucs-Panthers… and only one of those games doesn’t have the excuse of needing to give CBS or Fox one half of a division rivalry).

In the below scenarios, if I say a game should move to SNF, that means it’s a game I would have considered suitable for SNF prior to last year, but that may yet be passed over for a less suitable game. If I say a game may move it means that the attractiveness of the game and what other games are available and suitable would come into play, and I would need to know more about how Sunday’s results play out to figure out what games I actually would move and what games the league might move. Finally, a game that might move would need to overcome the fact that it’s a rematch of a game that aired on the wrong network, so is obligated to CBS or Fox unless that network can be convinced to release it, and the league likely would only move it if there was no other option (and as we saw last year, the league will look wherever they can for an option if they need one).

Sunday Night games

  • Bills-Dolphins to SNF if: The Ravens beat the Dolphins AND the Bills win. The Dolphins beating the Cowboys was a bit of a surprise, and the Ravens are only 3.5-point favorites with ESPN’s Matchup Predictor giving them only a 56-44 edge, but the Cowboys have tended to underperform against good teams, the Ravens are carrying momentum off their win over the Niners, and the Bills are playing the lowly Patriots, so an AFC East title game remains the likeliest option.
  • Steelers-Ravens to SNF, and Texans-Colts might go to Saturday, if: The Ravens win AND the Steelers win AND the Texans, Colts, and Bills lose. The first result ensures the Ravens have locked up the 1 seed and so have nothing to play for; featuring a team eliminated from the playoffs is one thing, but featuring a team in the playoffs that’s locked into a specific seed is something the league would prefer to avoid if the team would have something to play for if the game were played earlier in the day. Similarly, Bills-Dolphins would have the edge if both games were options as a game with importance to both teams. The remaining results set up a situation where the Steelers would be in the playoffs with a win but would fall behind the Texans-Colts winner with a loss.
  • Jaguars-Titans should go to SNF if: The Jaguars, Texans, and Colts all win; OR the Jaguars lose AND the Raiders beat the Colts AND (the Texans lose OR the Broncos win AND the Steelers and Bengals lose). The Jaguars win tiebreakers over the Texans and Colts so if they all remain tied the Jaguars would win the division with a win but fall behind the Texans-Colts winner with a loss; similarly, Texans-Colts is only a division title game if the Jaguars lose and the Texans and Colts both win. The scenario where the Jaguars lose might be a bit different from what I posted last week as I don’t think I fully took into account the standings as they now exist.
  • Texans-Colts might go to SNF if: The Jaguars lose AND the Texans and Colts win. Shouldn’t there be a scenario where this is for a wild card? Well, yes, but it’s not what I laid out last week or on Twitter afterwards, as I was unprepared for the weekend’s results to play out the way they did (I might have caught it if I’d done the full percentage chances). The big problem is that the Bengals beat the Colts, so if the Colts lose, even if the Steelers and Bengals lose as well, the risk is that the Steelers lose again while the Bengals win, and then the Bengals would keep the Colts out of the playoffs regardless of the Colts result. The Colts would hold the conference-record tiebreaker if the Texans beat them after falling behind a game, so both teams would need to win, and if the Jaguars won in that case I would favor Jaguars-Titans as it doesn’t involve depriving CBS of a division rivalry.
  • Buccaneers-Panthers might go to SNF if: The Saints beat the Buccaneers. Regardless of the Falcons result, this would create a circumstance where the Bucs would win the division with a win, but with a loss it would go to the Saints-Falcons winner. If the Bucs beat the Saints they clinch the division right then and there.

NFC Saturday games

  • Bears-Packers may go to Saturday if: The Vikings beat the Packers AND the Saints beat the Buccaneers AND the Rams or Seahawks lose. The fact that all the teams on the outside looking in on the NFC wild card race are in two divisions both simplifies and scrambles the race for the Saturday games. In particular, the Bears and Packers play each other as do the Saints and Falcons, but looking at the Packers’ tiebreaker situation, the Packers beat the Bears the first time they played, but lost to the Falcons, but beat the Saints. In general, my preference in setting the order of the Saturday games is to go from the back to the front in the tiebreaker order, since any contender winning is likely to eliminate the teams behind them, but in this case if the Packers, Saints, and Falcons all lose, they’d likely have to play simultaneously as the Bucs would have clinched the division and the Falcons would be eliminated by a Bears win, but the Saints would be eliminated by a Packers win, but the Packers would be eliminated by a Falcons win, but the Bears would be eliminated by a Saints win. Got it? The end result is that, in this instance, it doesn’t actually matter whether or not the Bears are still alive for the playoffs; what matters is that the Packers are clearly behind the NFC South teams in the pecking order.
  • Alternately, Bears-Packers may go to Saturday if: The Packers beat the Vikings AND the Rams and Seahawks win. In this instance, the Packers have eliminated the Vikings, sit behind the Falcons in the pecking order should the Falcons win, and what the Saints do doesn’t matter because if they win, they still have the NFC South to play for. On that note:
  • Saints-Falcons may go to Saturday if: The Saints beat the Buccaneers AND if the Packers and Falcons both win, Packers-Bears is the early game. The Vikings beat both teams, so if they beat the Packers they’d be sitting ahead of the winner with a win; a Packers win, as before, situates them behind the Falcons but ahead of the Saints.
  • Vikings-Lions may go to Saturday if: (The Packers beat the Vikings AND the Rams or Seahawks lose AND the Saints beat the Buccaneers) OR (The Vikings beat the Packers AND the Rams and Seahawks win), AND (the Lions lose OR the Niners win). The Lions currently being the 3 seed is actually good for this game’s chances to move to Saturday, as the same rule about being in the back of the pecking order for tiebreakers applies (and they don’t even have to be behind the Eagles as if the Eagles lose out and the Cowboys beat Washington, the Cowboys would take the division based on division record), but the Vikings need to cooperate by being the last team in the wild card pecking order that isn’t still alive for their division.
  • Seahawks-Cardinals may go to Saturday if: The Seahawks lose AND (the Packers beat the Vikings AND Vikings-Lions is the first game) OR (the Vikings beat the Packers AND the Packers clinch the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Seahawks AND Packers-Bears is the first game). The Seahawks are playing the Steelers in a cross-conference game, so their conference record entering this game will remain at 6-5. If the Vikings and/or Bears are a game back a win would allow them to catch a losing Seahawks team on conference games; if the Packers would do the same the tie would come down to strength of victory, which is currently pretty close between them and a win over the Bears wouldn’t swing it too much, only tipping it in the Packers’ favor where the Seahawks currently lead.
  • Rams-Niners may go to Saturday if: The Rams lose AND the Seahawks win AND the game involving the Vikings-Packers loser is the first game AND the Niners have the opposite result to the Lions (winning while the other loses or losing while the other wins). Same deal here, except the Rams are actually playing a conference game where a loss drops them to 6-5 in conference, and if the Packers win to catch the Rams from a game back, the Packers beat them head-to-head. Ideally the Niners should be clearly behind the Lions in the pecking order or have already eliminated them from the 1 seed, but the same isn’t the case with the Eagles if they still have to shake off the Cowboys for the division.
  • Eagles-Giants may go to Saturday if: The Eagles lose AND the Cowboys beat the Lions AND the Niners lose AND, optionally, Vikings-Lions is the first game. The Cowboys took a “better” loss, from a tiebreaker perspective, losing to the Dolphins than the Eagles would losing to the Cardinals, as now a Cowboys win would give them the edge on conference games. An Eagles loss to clinch the division for the Cowboys would still leave the ‘Boys with the 1 seed to play for, with Dallas having lost to the Niners so the Niners would need to enter the week tied with the NFC East leaders.
  • Cowboys-Sheriffs might go to Saturday if: The Cowboys beat the Lions AND the Eagles win; OR the Lions beat the Cowboys AND the Eagles and Niners lose. The Niners also beat the Eagles so Philadelphia still has the 1 seed to play for regardless of the Cowboys result as long as the Niners don’t take a one-game lead. The Eagles could also have the 2 seed to play for but if the Eagles lose, Lions win, then those results reverse Week 18, the tie between them would be broken by strength of victory, which I really don’t want to count on for a situation where teams are playing for a seed that, while it would convey home-field advantage in the divisional round, doesn’t convey a bye. Because of the situation where the first game between these teams was on CBS on Thanksgiving, this would unfortunately (for ESPN) be a last resort.

AFC Saturday games (note that outside the AFC South games these scenarios may not properly account for the possibility of the Jaguars being in the wild card race)

  • Broncos-Raiders may go to Saturday if: The Raiders beat the Colts AND the Steelers lose AND the Texans win. I’m just throwing up my hands at this one. The Colts beat the Steelers who beat the Raiders who would have beaten the Colts, and any three-way tie between them would result in the three having identical conference records, with the Patriots being the only common game the three have aside from each other. Right now the Steelers would have a substantial edge over the other two in strength of victory so it might be preferable if it were the Colts in this spot (or at least if other games allowed the league to forgo putting on this game and instead schedule it along with the Colts and Steelers in the late afternoon window) but I don’t think that’d stop them, although the Texans would have a worse conference record than any of the others so they should preferably hold the last wild card spot entering the final week or else a Raiders or Steelers win would eliminate them.
  • Browns-Bengals may go to Saturday if: The Bengals, Texans, Steelers, and Colts all win OR the Bengals, Texans, Steelers, and either Colts or Bills all lose, AND the Browns win OR the Bills lose OR the Ravens beat the Dolphins. The Bengals have a winless division record, including being swept by the Steelers, and a relatively woeful conference record. What they do have is a win over the Colts, and because the Colts would hold the conference-record tiebreaker over the Texans if they follow up a win with a loss to the Texans, the Bengals can afford to drop a game back of them and still have at least an outside shot at the playoffs. That would actually mean a Bengals win would eliminate the Texans unless the Bills lose to potentially open up another playoff spot for them to take. Speaking of the Bills, the Browns would hold the conference record tiebreaker over the Bills so we ideally want to avoid them competing for the 5 seed, or if they are, at least give the Bills a division title game; if the Browns are still alive for the division it means the Ravens are fighting the Dolphins for the 1 seed, so the Browns can play before them. (The Browns have filled this part of it at least.)
  • Steelers-Ravens may go to Saturday if: The Steelers win AND the Colts win AND the Texans and Bengals lose AND (the Bills win OR the Texans are guaranteed to finish behind the Bills or Steelers in strength of victory) AND the Ravens beat the Dolphins. The Steelers lost to both the Colts and Texans, so we need to eliminate one of them for the Steelers to be last in the pecking order behind the other; as above, that could be accomplished by having the Colts win and Texans lose so the Colts would win the tiebreaker either way. But if the Bills lose out, the Steelers lose, and the Texans beat the Colts, then the Colts would get the 6 seed and the tie between the Steelers, Bills, and Texans would be broken by strength of victory. Meanwhile, if the Ravens lose then the Dolphins will have clinched the division and another Ravens loss would give them the 1 seed, so the Ravens need to have already locked up the 1 seed themselves.
  • Bills-Dolphins may go to Saturday if: The Bills lose AND the Ravens beat the Dolphins AND the Bengals beat the Chiefs AND the Texans lose AND (the Colts win, OR the Steelers win AND Texans-Colts is the early game). The Bills’ late-season surge has masked the fact that their tiebreaker situation for wild card positioning still isn’t great; their conference record would be worse than the Colts, Texans, or Steelers, and they have a head-to-head loss to the Bengals. All they need is for two teams to tie them and they’d be right back out of the playoffs and in the back of the pecking order for tiebreakers, and the Bengals beating the Chiefs would also help give the Dolphins nothing to play for that would require them to play at the same time as another division winner (though without a bye, the 2 seed might not be enough of a thing to play for for the league to take it into consideration). As with the Steelers, the Colts and Texans playing each other complicates things, and again the solution is that only the Colts should be tied with the Bills.
  • Jaguars-Titans may go to Saturday if: The Jaguars lose AND the Texans and Colts win AND the Steelers win. The Jaguars have wins over the Steelers and (should they lose) Bills, but lost to the Bengals, so this sets them up a game behind the teams they beat, and even if the Bengals and Bills both win they can still get the edge for the last playoff spot if the Steelers and Bengals both lose.
  • Chiefs-Chargers may go to Saturday if: The Chiefs lose AND the Jaguars win AND at least one of the Texans and Colts win AND if the Broncos win, they aren’t eliminated from the wild card. In this scenario the Chiefs need to win to clinch the 3 seed, but if they lose the Jaguars still need to worry about winning the division at all. The Chiefs might not actually care about the 3 seed, but this could still fill space on the schedule if needed, if ESPN wants a quick Chiefs/Swiftie ratings bump, or just to keep from needing to move too many games into the late afternoon window.
  • In addition to the scenario in the Steelers-Ravens SNF section, Texans-Colts might go to Saturday if: The Jaguars, Texans, and Colts win AND (the Bengals win OR the Steelers win OR the Bills lose); OR the Texans win AND the Raiders beat the Colts AND the Broncos lose AND (the Bills lose, OR the Jaguars lose AND the Steelers win AND the Bengals lose); OR the Texans and Colts lose AND the Jaguars lose OR the Bengals win OR the Bills lose. In each of these scenarios this game determines the order of finish between the teams involved; the remaining results attempt to ensure the game doesn’t affect whether other teams have anything to play for, with the main concern being the Bengals as already covered – making sure they’re either already eliminated or have a path to the playoffs no matter the result, possibly by the Bills losing to open up a spot.

Even though my attempt at streaming last week ended up getting cut short, I’m seriously tempted to start streaming again tomorrow afternoon, following all the scenarios as they develop, at twitch.tv/morganwick42; either way, I’ll keep everyone updated on Twitter.

49 thoughts on “NFL Flexible Scheduling Watch: Week 16”

  1. As noted in my other comments concerning Week 17, Dolphins-Ravens was NEVER being moved off of 1:00 PM. In spite of what Baltimore’s Mayor said a few weeks ago (link is in a prior article where the article itself is behind a paywall), the NFL and the Ravens remember full well what happened in 2017, the last time New Year’s Eve fell on a Sunday:

    In that case, the Ravens were hosting the Bengals in what was a meaningless game for the Bengals but where if the Ravens won, they would have been in the playoffs that was one of several games moved to 4:25 PM ET (Week 17 in 2017 was the final week of the regular season). M & T Bank Stadium, the Ravens home field was half-empty for that game because many ticket holders did not go because they went to New Year’s Eve celebrations in Baltimore that started around 8:00 PM local time. The Ravens lost that game to the Bengals, costing them a playoff berth and the Ravens and John Harbaugh as I remember specifically blamed the game being moved to 4:25, causing Ravens fans not to go.

    What I was surprised did NOT happen was the NFL, knowing this game was potentially for the #1 seed in the AFC didn’t wait until at least the Cowboys-Dolphins game ended and if necessary the Ravens-49ers game on Monday night (not necessary since the Dolphins won on Christmas Eve) before making a decision on the exact schedule for Week 17. While Packers-Vikings was likely remaining on Sunday Night Football no matter what as the NFL likely knew local authorities in many cities would not have allowed a game to be moved to SNF on short notice (in most cases, likely not having enough law enforcement to cover both the game and New Year’s Eve celebrations simultaneously, especially at a time when many police departments are severely understaffed due to mass retirements during the pandemic), what the NFL could have done by at least waiting on the Dolphins game to finish was make New Year’s Eve a rare reverse doubleheader with CBS having the main game of Dolphins-Ravens by itself at 1:00 PM (while on FOX, having most likely Rams-Giants as its sole 1:00 PM ET game since Chargers-Broncos was at 4:25 PM ET on CBS) and then ALL of the regional games (headlined by Bengals-Chiefs on CBS and Saints-Bucs and Steelers-Seahawks on FOX) at 4:05 PM ET on FOX and 4:25 PM ET on CBS (or possibly because of 1:00 being the main game on CBS in that scenario those at 4:15 on FOX (with a 3:30 PM ET pregame as used to be the case when the single game was at 4:00 ET) and 4:40 on CBS) as I would have announced two schedules, one with Dolphins-Ravens being for the #1 AFC seed and the other with that not the case (what turned out to be the actual schedule). What I suspect happened there was two things:

    1. Local authorities in the Eastern and Central time zones (except for KC that always was scheduled for 3:25 PM local time) told the NFL games scheduled for Noon or 1:00 PM local time could not be moved under ANY circumstances, again citing concerns of likely not enough law enforcement available to cover both a later NFL game AND New Year’s Eve celebrations.

    2. The networks informing the NFL they needed a firm schedule for Week 17 and could not wait for the results of the Dolphins and/or Ravens games because with it being New Year’s Eve, airlines and hotels were informing them they had to have everything firmly in place due to their otherwise likely being booked with people looking to hotel space for New Year’s Eve parties and so forth.

    Too much to happen on New Year’s Eve before we can speculate on Week 18.

  2. Dolphins-Bills and Texans-Colts both primetime book it. Dolphins-Bills SNF texans-colts Saturday fs. The third game options now look kinda week because both 1 seeds were clinched

  3. Now that the early games are complete:

    Bills-Dolphins is the obvious choice for SNF as that will be for the AFC East no matter what (and depending what happens ahead of it, the Bills might still have to win that game to make the playoffs).

    As for Saturday, Texans-Colts, which at worse is likely an elimination game for an AFC Wild Card will be one of the two Saturday games. If the Seahawks lose to the Steelers, I could see Bears-Packers being the other Saturday game regardless of the outcome of the Packers game with the Vikings tonight since the Bears would have to win to stay alive.

  4. My W18 Schedule Predictions
    Saturday
    4:30 Falcons-Saints
    8:15 Texans-Colts

    Sunday
    CBS Early
    Ravens-Steelers
    Jags-Titans
    GB/MIN Loser

    CBS Late
    Eagles-Giants
    Seahawks-Cardinals with SEA win, GB/MIN winner with SEA loss
    Chiefs-Chargers

    FOX Early
    Bucs-Panthers
    Browns-Bengals
    Jets-Patriots

    FOX Late
    Cowboys-Commanders
    Rams-49ers
    Broncos-Raiders
    GB/MIN winner with SEA win, SEA/ARZ with SEA loss

  5. One thing I did want to note after fully reading Morgan’s piece above:

    I seriously doubt under any circumstances Eagles-Giants was a candidate for Saturday. Met Life Stadium shares the grounds of The Meadowlands with The Meadowlands Racetrack, which traditionally has its big night of the week on Saturday and the winter months are usually handle-wise the big part of the Harness racing season there. I suspect Harness Horsemen would have blocked any attempt to move Eagles-Giants to Saturday because in January 2003 with the Jets won the AFC East, their wild card round game with the Colts was on the corresponding Saturday costing the track their biggest handle night of the week. Unlike in 2003 when the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority owned both the racetrack and Giants Stadium, the racetrack is privately now owned by Jeff Gural (as has been the case since 2012) and I suspect he along with Harness Horsemen would make clear Saturday is their night (the track races Fridays and Saturdays only) and I think would demand a ton of compensation from the NFL that would include making a major contribution to the purse fund for Horsemen affected from losing a Saturday night (as the horsemen also remember a situation just after Christmas in 2000 (start of the 2001 racing season) where the Meadowlands lost the first Saturday of the season due to snow and many attributed that to two purse cuts that occurred during that season). That to me would have put the kibosh on Eagles-Giants being moved to Saturday.

  6. Isaiah: you’re right. Falcons-Saints looks like a good option, however if Pittsburgh holds their lead and the Packers win, the league will very likely choose Bears-Packers instead.

  7. “Walt’s Lover:”

    Actually, I now think Bears-Packers will be the other Saturday game regardless of the outcome of Packers-Vikings (as long as the Bears remain alive for a playoff berth).

  8. Remember whoever wins the Vikings Packers Sunday Night Game will eliminate the Bears from the Playoffs since the Rams won earlier today at the NY Giants. Assuming this game doesn’t end in a tie.

  9. Robert: Hi, Robert. Happy New Year. We’ll see what happens on the Vikings vs. Packers game in Minneapolis tonight. Fingers crossed. If Gb wins, maybe Packers vs. Bears game at Lambeau Field could be primetime on Monday Night football ABC with Joe
    Buck and Troy Aikman announcing on a Saturday. But I am hoping Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills game at Miami week 18 be flexed to SNF NBC for the AFC East division title.

  10. With the way the afternoon games turned out, the almost-lock for SNF is the Houston-Indianapolis game. The winner is in, either as the AFC South champ (if Jacksonville doesn’t beat Tennessee) or as a wild-card (if Jacksonville beats Tennessee to take the AFC South), and the loser is out.

    That leaves three possibilities for Saturday:

    – Buffalo-Miami for the AFC East, with Miami already in and Buffalo having a backdoor way in if Pittsburgh doesn’t beat Baltimore
    – The winner of the SNF game, which would have a win-and-in game (Green Bay at home against Chicago, or Minnesota at Detroit)
    – Atlanta-New Orleans, which only matters if Tampa Bay loses at Carolina

    Buffalo-Miami is the most likely to go to Saturday, specifically Saturday night. I was about to say tonight’s winner would be more likely to go to Saturday afternoon than Atlanta-New Orleans, but the NBC crew might have just let slip that the Packers will play on Sunday despite being up 20 midway through the 3rd quarter. I haven’t seen anything official on that though.

    I discount the Pittsburgh-Baltimore and Tampa Bay-Carolina games as Saturday candidates because that would take away guaranteed meaningful games from Fox and, if both Saturday games are AFC matchups, CBS.

  11. I think Saints v Falcons and Colts v Texans will be the two Saturday games as the result of either game doesn’t really effect any other game.

    Packers (after winning tonight), Vikings and Seahawks will all need to play at the same time.

    Steelers and Jags will need to play at the same time as will the Cowboys and Eagles.

  12. One thing I forgot to predict – Dallas-Washington will be Fox’s “America’s Game of the Week”, with the two NFC West games relegated to local coverage, because the team for which they’re the home broadcast home has a win and win the NFC East game.

  13. Make that two things I forgot to predict – the Jacksonville-Tennessee game will be the CBS national game because the Jaguars can win the AFC South with a win.

    There’s about 5 minutes of game time before we find out the schedule.

  14. It’s out:

    Saturday afternoon – Pittsburgh-Baltimore
    Saturday night – Houston at Indianapolis

    CBS eastern/central late game 1 – Chicago-Green Bay
    CBS eastern/central late game 2 – Philadelphia-New York Giants
    Fox eastern/central late game – Dallas-Washington
    (note, Fox also gets Denver-Las Vegas)

    Sunday night – Buffalo-Miami

  15. Falcons-Saints and Bears-Packers probably weren’t Saturday because they could eliminate other teams before kickoff is my guess. Steelers need help and won’t eliminate anyone if they win so it was the ideal choice for Saturday.

  16. My realistic prediction on the CBS announcers of announcing Packers vs. Bears game at Lambeau field week 18 is Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson. Thanks to Kansas City Chiefs that successfully clinched the AFC west division tonight this season and LA Chargers not in the playoffs this season, it doesn’t make any sense for Nantz, Romo and Wolfson announcing the Chiefs vs. chargers game at LA week 18 since the chiefs will most likely rest their starters on week 18. Just to give you the heads up, folks.

  17. I think the NFL is absolutely stupid and I bet NBC bitched at them for the matchup they wanted instead of the matchup that deserved to be on SNF. I had the following:

    – Falcons vs. Saints on Saturday, Game 1

    – Bills vs. Dolphins on Saturday, Game 2

    – Texans vs. Colts on SNF

    Texans vs. Colts is a do-or-die game. Winner gets in either as a division winner or as a wild card, loser goes home.

    Dolphins already clinched a playoff spot. Do they have something to play for? Sure. But the Dolphins season doesn’t end if they lose.

    Flex scheduling has become stupid as it has become a ratings grab, not just for NBC, but for all the networks with all of their stupid protections.

  18. Cheng:

    The Steelers if certain other things happened on Sunday could have eliminated the Colts and Texans before SNF. The prime time Saturday slot much MUCH more sense for that game.

    Bills-Dolphins is the logical SNF game. If things break certain ways, the Bills may have to WIN that game to make the playoffs after the afternoon games on Sunday. It’s for the #2 seed in the AFC which means home field for BOTH the first round AND the Divisional round playoff game. That is a big game on a lot of fronts.

  19. Wow I Found Out Last Night Before Midnight which was right before the start of 2024. That It Would Be Bills Dolphins Being The Final SNF game of The 2023-24. And I was Right about that. And I Am Going To Watch The Game This final SNF Game Is a Special New Year’s Treat. Mike Tirico Cris Collinsworth And Melissa Stark Are going to call the game and it will be very special indeed. This will be a good final game before the playoffs. But following the divisional round will be the NHL on TNT And the NBA On TNT which i will watch for the rest of the season. Come back next season for More Sunday Night Football On NBC in 2024. Enjoy The Playoffs and will see you next season.

  20. Here is an educated guess for the Wild Card schedule:
    Sat 4:30, NBC: Browns vs. AFC South winner
    Sat 8:15, Peacock: #6 vs. Lions
    Sun 1:00, CBS: #6 vs. Chiefs
    Sun 4:30, FOX: #7 vs. Cowboys
    Sun 8:15, NBC: #7 vs. AFC East winner
    Mon 8:15, ESPN: Eagles vs. NFC South winner

  21. Here’s what I think will happen following the early games and knowing the field is now set in the AFC (other than the east/actual WC seeds) as I believe CBS has the late divisional game on Sunday in Round 2 and the FOX the NFC Championship Game in the late window that week:

    Wild Card (1/13-15):

    Sat. 4:30 PM ET NBC: Browns at Texans

    Sat. 8:15 PM ET Peacock: Cowboys or Eagles at Buccaneers (also shown locally in Philadelphia or Dallas and Tampa on NBC stations)

    Sun. 1:00 PM ET FOX: #6/7 NFC seed at Lions

    Sun. 4:30 PM ET CBS: #7 AFC seed at Bills or Dolphins

    Sun. 8:15 PM ET NBC: #6 AFC Seed at Chiefs

    Mon. 8:15 PM ET ESPN/ABC: #6/7 NFC Seed at Eagles or Cowboys

    Divisional Playoff (1/20-21):

    Sat. 4:30 PM ET on ESPN: Lowest remaining AFC seed at Ravens

    Sat. 8:15 PM ET on FOX: Lowest remaining NFC seed at 49ers

    Sun. 3:00 PM ET on NBC: Next lowest remaining NFC seed at next highest remaining seed

    Sun. 6:40 PM ET on CBS: Next lowest remaining AFC seed at next highest remaining seed

  22. My predictions:

    Sat 4:30 – Rams @ Lions
    Sat 8:15 – Dolphins/Steelers @ Chiefs
    Sun 1:00 – Browns @ Texans
    Sun 4:30 – Eagles @ Bucs
    Sun 8:15 – Bills @ Dolphins or Steelers @ Bills
    Mon 8:15 – Packers @ Cowboys

  23. I don’t think they will make CLE or the #2 seed play on Saturday as they will be playing on one day less rest than their opponent. Usually the MNF game is a 4/5 game and they will likely want PHI/TB as the MNF game.

    My prediction based on the above and on the assumption that BUF wins tonight:

    Sat 4:30pm Rams @ Lions (NBC)
    Sat 8:15pm Dolphins @ Chiefs (Peacock)
    Sun 1:00pm Pittsburgh @ Buffalo (CBS)
    Sun 4:25pm Packers @ Cowboys (FOX)
    Sun 8:15pm Browns @ Texans (NBC)
    Mon 8:15pm Eagles @ Buccs (ABC/ESPN)

  24. SirTinDoon:

    I based my predictions on the likely DIVISIONAL playoff schedule, which assumes the seeds hold in the Wild Card round. I expect FOX to have the 49ers in prime time on Saturday, which is why I have Eagles-Bucs (as the winner of that game would play the #1 seed if the 2 and 3 seeds are not upset) in the Peacock slot. Obviously, if there are upsets that can be changed but I do expect the 49ers to be playing Saturday 1/20 in prime time. This schedule also factors in wanting the Chiefs in prime time or the late slot for obvious reasons.

  25. Adding:

    With regard to CLE-HOU, the Browns rested most of their key players Sunday, so their playing against a Texans team on one day less rest is likely irrelevant here. That’s why I think that will be the late afternoon game Saturday. Peacock game I already noted. I suspect NBC will want the Chiefs in prime time Sunday night and then assuming they win that game CBS will want the Chiefs in the 6:40 Sunday window in the divisional round (FOX has the 6:40 Sunday window for the NFC Championship game). Chiefs might only be Monday on ABC with the NFC 2/7 game in the mix for Sunday in case the 7 upsets the 2 and the 7 gets the 49ers.

  26. And now the schedule is out:

    Very surprised they put the Chiefs game on Peacock Saturday, though given the weather forecast for Kansas City, I probably would have made that the 1:00 PM ET Sunday game. I wonder if Lorne Michaels wanted the Chiefs game to be the prime time game because of NFL broadcast rules requiring games on Peacock to air over-the-air in the home markets of the teams playing and didn’t want Philly (market #5 which overlaps with the southern edge of the New York TV market in New Jersey) on the Peacock game because it would air on WCAU-TV (Channel 10) in Philly and would likely mean Saturday Night Live would start as late as 1:00 AM in Philly (as NBC10 would be airing “Eagles GameDay Final” following the game and local news there). As big as the Taylor Swift fans are with the Chiefs now, Kansas City, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Miami are all smaller markets than Philly and that may have played into which game Peacock got because of NFL broadcast rules.

    I was right about Browns-Texans being 4:30 PM ET Saturday. That one looked too obvious. I suspect Eagles-Bucs is Monday night for reasons noted above. Also suspect NBC wanted Rams-Lions for SNF because of that being both quarterbacks facing their former teams in a playoff game. This also likely means they wanted the 49ers on Sunday in the Divisional round in case of a first-round upset where they could put any game in the 3:00 PM Sunday slot on FOX.

  27. It’s very intriguing that the NBC announcers announced the NFL wild card schedule release tonight. But here’s the thing. Just to be clear with you folks, on the NFL divisional round NFL playoffs this month, it should be the SNF NBC announcers announcing the NFC vs. NFC this season on the NFL playoffs divisional round because it turns out that every other season on the NFL divisional round NFL playoffs, the SNF NBC announcers would announce the NFC vs. NFC and the AFC vs. AFC every other NFL playoffs season NFL Divisional round also and that means that every season on the NFL playoffs divisional round, the SNF NBC announcers rotates like that. Also, on the NFL divisional round this month, it should be Monday night football ABC ESPN crew announcing the AFC vs. AFC football game.

  28. I got 4 out of 6 right, just really didn’t think they would play CLE on 6 games rest against a team with 7 days. I take your point though Walt, CLE didn’t really play any of their starters and so the rest day differential shouldn’t come into play.

    Early predictions:

    CLE over HOU in a close one
    KC demolishes MIA, get in while the line is only 3
    BUF gets tested by PIT but wins
    DAL by double digits in a shoot out over GB
    LAR send DET home
    TB puts PHI out of its misery

    Have a great week everyone

  29. Excellent win game on the chiefs at arrowhead stadium against the dolphins on the AFC wild card round tonight, 26 to 7. Even though that happened, I could see the chiefs either on CBS with Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson announcing or on ABC ESPN Monday Night Football with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on the NFL Divisional Round this month.

  30. I think we can safely pencil in Packers-49ers for the Saturday 8:15 PM slot in the Divisional round since the winner of Rams-Lions will play the winner of Eagles-Bucs and there is no way the NFL will have the Monday night winner play Saturday on four days rest.

    If the Rams win tonight, the winner of Eagles-Bucs hosts THEM in the divisional round next week.

  31. Walt Gekko: That’s a possibility of packers vs 49ers game divisional round matchup shown on Saturday night next weekend. I could see this matchup be shown on SNF NBC primetime on the divisional round next weekend.

  32. Brian:

    I think FOX gets that game and NBC gets a 3:00 PM Sunday game. We probably won’t know the exact setup until after the Steelers-Bills game tomorrow.

  33. Walt Gekko:
    We’ll see what happens on which channel that the packers vs. 49ers game on the NFL divisional round get this month. But remember this season on the NFL playoffs divisional round, it’s the SNF NBC primetime announcing the NFC vs. NFC. Another thing, on the AFC NFL divisional round, I could see the chiefs game on the divisional round either on CBS or on ABC ESPN Monday Night Football this month.

  34. Brian:

    I know the format. We also now know that Eagles/Bucs-Lions will now be the Sunday 3:00 PM ET game and that is likely to be NBC with CBS having the late (6:40 PM ET) game on Sunday and ESPN/ABC likely having the early (4:30 PM ET) game on Saturday.

  35. Adding:

    If the Steelers-Bills game does well enough in the ratings, I suspect as long as Monday is MLK day in future years, the NFL will look to do the playoff schedule this way:

    Saturday and Sunday: “Early” game at 4:10 PM ET, “late” game at 7:45 PM ET. I’m sure the station managers of network affiliates would prefer the prime time game to start a half-hour earlier on the weekend so late local news also starts earlier. This might also make it so the Peacock game on WC Saturday we had this year is an NBC game going forward because I do believe Lorne Michaels has never been happy with “Saturday Night Live” starting late due to sports overruns even when it’s because of an NFL playoff game and this would take out that excuse as barring overtime the game likely ends before 11:00 PM ET and SNL starts on time after local news.

    Monday (if MLK Day): “Early” game at 5:10 PM ET, “late” game at 8:45 PM ET. This acknowledges while MLK is a holiday for many, not all get that day off and most people who don’t get off would be home in time to see most of the “early” game. Perhaps if that becomes the case, the NFL deals are restructured so NBC or CBS gets an additional game in the divisional round and ESPN/ABC gets a Monday doubleheader in the Wild Card round instead of ESPN/ABC getting a divisional round game. Another possibility in this scenario if Comcast insists on Peacock keeping a playoff game, the “early” Monday game is the playoff game on Peacock if the Saturday game is starting a half-hour earlier than it currently is.

  36. Well, no more SNF football NBC for this season since that is over for the season. I predict chiefs vs bills game in Buffalo, New York next regular season either SNF football NBC or on CBS with Nantz/Romo announcing. I’m not ready to predict which team will get the NFL regular season kickoff opener SNF NBC week 1 of next season yet.

  37. Since Kansas City Chiefs won the NFL Super Bowl tonight, I predict the NFL kickoff opener regular season opener week 1 Thursday night on SNF NBC will be the AFC conference championship rematch KC Chiefs vs. Baltimore Ravens at KC.

  38. Brian:

    Disagree, I think they will save that for say Week 4 of Sunday Night Football. I suspect they’ll open against the Raiders since the Raiders were the last team to beat the Chiefs on Christmas Day this season.

    One important note to remember when doing schedule predictions this year: With the season effectively starting a week earlier in 2024 (which is why the Eagles are playing a Friday night game in Week 1 in Brazil since the rules that normally ban Friday night games don’t take effect until the SECOND Friday in September), Week 13 is Thanksgiving but more importantly the second Saturday in December falls during Week 15 this year with that the last Saturday the NFL is barred from having games. With the first round of the College Football Playoff in Week 16 this coming season, that means the NFL Network tripleheader that has been in Week 15 in recent years will have to be in Week 17 and I would not be surprised if in Week 17 we also see a day-after-Christmas game that Thursday 12/26 with a 5:30 PM ET start on NFL Network (accommodating the fact many people do work the day after Christmas) with the Amazon Prime game that night pushed back to 9:15 PM ET. Also would not be surprised if we have two “Black Friday” games, with one game on NFL Network at 11:30 AM ET and the other on Amazon Prime at 3:00 PM ET to make up for NFL Network losing a couple of weeks in 2024 due to the CFP and calendar quirks.

  39. Adding:

    Given the calendar quirks and the expanded College Football Playoff, what I now expect to see happen is this:

    The Eagles opening game in Brazil Friday, Sept. 6 is on NFL Network in Week 1.

    NFL Network gets its other four non-European games in Week 17, most likely with one game Friday night and the other three on Saturday. NFL Network can’t have Saturday games in Weeks 15 or 16 this year for reasons noted above.

  40. Further adding:

    If there is a year to adopt the 19-week season I would be looking to do (second bye week tied to mid-week games and all games in a conference at the same time the last week), this season and next would be the perfect time to do it. This can give Amazon Prime an additional Thursday game in Week 18 while NFL Network can have its non-Euro games spread out between Week 17-18. ESPN could have one Saturday and one Monday night game in Week 18 and a new Week 19 that has all games in one conference at 3:30 and the other at 8:30 PM ET (allowing for “60 Minutes” to air between games on CBS).

  41. So the NFL is going to after all play two games on Christmas Day: https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/39813658/sources-nfl-play-christmas-day-wednesday-2024

    The teams playing on Christmas Day to start Week 17 will be scheduled play on Saturday in Week 16 the week prior, however, given that Friday and Saturday are scheduled to have first-round games in the College Football Playoff, I wonder if elected officials and others will make clear that Saturday is off-limits to the NFL and in exchange for not playing Saturday in Week 16 let the NFL play what has been their normal Saturday tripleheader in Week 15 (Normally, this would not be an issue, however, because of the way the calendar falls in 2024 and ’25, however, Week 15 falls on the second Sat. in December, which the NFL isn’t permitted to have nationally televised games on, which is why the Brazil game is a Friday Week 1). I wonder if to accommodate the Christmas Day games AND the fact Week 16 is the week of the first round of the College Football Playoff, the NFL and the CFP Committee would agree to switch with the NFL playing Thursday-Friday-Saturday in Week 16 (what normally would be Monday Night Football that week would be Friday Night and Sunday Night Football on Saturday Night) and the CFP playing their first-round games Sunday and Monday.

    Another possibility would be to simply give the teams playing Christmas Day in Week 17 their bye week in Week 16 so they are playing that game with 1 1/2 weeks rest to avoid any potential lawsuits by the CFP and/or Congress for playing games opposite the College Football Playoff.

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