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Cable Companies are Disrupting the Cable Bundle – In a Way Their Streaming Counterparts Aren’t

A little over a year ago, Verizon did something that flew under the radar, and considering how much their deployment of Fios services has slowed, wasn’t really as important as it should have been. Following ESPN’s lawsuit over its “Custom TV” service, Verizon effectively defanged the service and switched to offering two base packages, one with sports channels and one without, to comply with contracts prohibiting the biggest sports channels from being on an add-on tier. A year later, however, Verizon went to a hybrid of the old and new Custom TV packages. Today’s Custom TV service consists of seven different base packages, only three of which (Sports and News, News and Variety, and Home and Family) contain ESPN and other sports networks. It’s not quite a la carte TV, and the Verizon site gives a list price for Custom TV of $64.99/mo, but that’s for bundles containing it; if you order the slowest Internet speed that can be bundled with Custom TV, the quoted price is exactly the same as the same speed without Custom TV. The fine print indicates that you would take on only $20.88 in set-top-box rental, broadcast, and RSN fees, on par with Sling TV, and presumably the non-sports packages without RSNs would cost nearly $6 less than that. That’s pushing less than half of what streaming cable services like YouTube TV and PlayStation Vue charge.

For that price, you could get most of the most popular cable networks other than sports, news, and Discovery networks on the Action and Entertainment package, or you could regain the mainstream news and Discovery networks while losing more reality-oriented channels on the Infotainment and Drama package. Both of those packages include Disney Channel and other channels owned by the four major companies with investments in sports, so you aren’t limited to channels from a small selection of companies. A truly comprehensive lineup would require upgrading to a more expensive package with sports networks, and some combinations of networks (like both Discovery and History) would require going that route, but Verizon seems to have largely recreated the comprehensive, watch-whatever-you-want feeling cable and satellite companies tried to create in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s without the downward spiral that created.

What has attracted more attention is Charter’s soft-launch last week of Spectrum Choice, currently being offered only to 100,000 “hand-selected” customers, presumably primarily people who have threatened to cancel their existing Spectrum service and/or as a way to upsell current Internet-only customers. Programming appears to only be available by streaming to Roku or other connected devices (and thus, at least potentially subject to all the delays and problems of streaming), DVR service costs extra and is loaded with restrictions, and there is a confusing maze of restrictions to your ability to watch shows on other devices or outside the home. But once you get past all that, what it offers is remarkable: true a la carte TV. You get all the broadcast networks and Music Choice channels, and then you add any ten channels of your choice. Not all channels are available (and RSNs are among the channels that aren’t), but a sports fan could add ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, NBCSN, NFL Network, and all three channels showing March Madness, and still have two channels left over, having picked up every network showing the most popular national sports events.

But of course, what’s really attractive about this is the ability to stitch together groups of channels with no sports networks whatsoever. Nick Jr. is the most popular primetime network not to be offered, and Disney Junior is still available for families with young children. You could stitch together the most popular general entertainment or reality-oriented channels – USA, HGTV, TBS, TNT, Nickelodeon, Discovery, History, and maybe a handful of others to round it out. Perhaps more to the point, you could join Spectrum Choice with the Philo service, and then use your ten channels on channels not offered by Philo: USA, TBS, TNT, Hallmark, FX, Bravo, Cartoon Network, Freeform, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and Syfy, mixing up what channels you order based on what channels have the shows you want and maybe throwing in a news network or two if you want. You’d have access to an incredibly wide variety of entertainment – without any sports-specific networks.

The potential of this is such that to me, the biggest problem with Spectrum Choice is that there is no price feedback to your choices: you pay the same whether you include ESPN or not. This may explain why it costs $25/mo for the first two years and $30/mo thereafter, which makes combining it with Philo non-economical and arguably doesn’t even compete well with other streaming cable providers as is. It smacks of saying “we tried to offer an a la carte offering but no one took it”. Of course, if it did offer ESPN at a different price than other networks, that would smack of offering ESPN separately, as a premium service, which ESPN would probably never stand for, and the other restrictions and constraints might be necessary to appease programmers as well; Verizon may be closer to a more viable approach to shaking up the cable bundle (it’s worth noting that both Verizon’s Action & Entertainment and Lifestyle & Reality packages each contain all but one of the non-Philo networks I listed above, if you’re willing to go without major news networks). The fact that Spectrum Choice is so close to being a true game-changer, however, should not go unnoticed. They may be halting steps, but Charter and Verizon are moving closer and closer to allowing you to watch the programming you want without having to pay the sports tax.

For all the brouhaha over streaming TV services, for the most part they haven’t offered anything that truly sets them apart from the traditional cable bundle. In the name of trying to get enough programming people want to attract customers, they’ve almost all hitched their wagon to all of the Big Nine cable programmers, throwing away the one thing that could truly set them apart from the cable bundle. Even Sling, with a lower base price point and multiple smaller base packages, doesn’t offer a base package without sports networks. Philo has taken the best available approach to building a truly sports-free package and thus a package with the most potential to strike fear in the heart of ESPN. The question surrounding Philo has been whether it has enough valuable programming to attract customers without networks associated with the sports-heavy companies – without USA, TBS, TNT, FX, or Disney Channel. If the programming you want to watch is associated with those companies, you might be stuck paying the sports tax; if there aren’t enough people satisfied with what Philo offers, sports networks, especially ESPN and regional sports networks, will continue to rule the cable bundle for the foreseeable future, even as people increasingly chafe under their power. That is, assuming Disney’s pending acquisition of a large chunk of Fox, including its regional sports networks, doesn’t end up backfiring on them, as I suspect it might, by centralizing enough of the most expensive cable networks in one place that either cable operators or streaming providers decide it’s finally worth it to go without them.

But if the merger does go the way Disney thinks, then if the likes of Charter and Verizon continue to be allowed to be more flexible with their offerings – allowing people to get FX but not FS1 or Fox News, USA but not NBCSN or MSNBC, Disney Channel but not ESPN – that could finally break the stranglehold sports has on the cable bundle anyway. And in turn, that could ironically result in the collapse of the entire cable bundle if the most high-profile sports decide it’s not worth it to continue to hitch their wagon to the smaller audiences of cable networks and focus more attention on broadcast with a side of streaming, potentially starting a downward spiral of cable subscribers touched off by the departure of those that feel they need cable to watch the College Football Playoff, Final Four, or NBA playoffs, leaving the very cable networks that made it possible to either change their business models or die.

How the Government Shutdown Illustrated the Issues with American Politics that Run Deeper than Trump

In a way, it’s somewhat fitting that the one-year anniversary of the inauguration was marked by a government shutdown. For all the other scandals, crises, embarrassments, and general insanity of the Trump era, the government shutdown ultimately underscored just how much Trump has failed (if he ever even really tried) at the one thing his more non-deplorable voters hoped from him: shaking up politics as usual.

Once again, government was brought to the brink of crisis by the inability of Congress to work through its differences and work for the good of the country as a whole. The notion that Trump was some sort of dealmaker that could break through Congress’s gridlock ended up seeming laughable – not that it wasn’t already, following a year where, despite the Republicans controlling the Presidency, House, and Senate, the only major piece of policy they were able to enact was a large-scale tax “reform” that primarily benefits their rich donors, while packing the courts with Republican ideologues. The idea of Trump as dealmaker now seems to ring as hollow as… well, the notion of Obama as someone who could break gridlock through bipartisanship.

The problem facing Congress is really the same one that put Trump in the White House to begin with: America is increasingly splitting into two nations that care only about advancing their own values at the expense of the other one’s. The Republicans have established that bipartisanship and standing for the good of the country doesn’t pay off electorally, only appeasing and energizing the base while entrenching your own power as much as possible, and the only way to stop them is for the Democrats to play the same game. Most people deeply disliked Trump and what he stood for, but he energized a significant portion of the American electorate, while even the Democratic base only voted for Hillary Clinton – if they even did – because she was the only viable alternative to Trump. Gridlock is no longer a disastrous fate to be avoided, but an actual political strategy, and the Democrats’ unwillingness to follow through on it once again has left the left bemoaning that the Democrats don’t really fight for them by playing by the Republicans’ rules.

But the left has no real alternative but to vote for whoever the Democrats give them while working to change who that is from within, and the same is the case for the rest of the country, many of whom may not like the Republicans’ shenanigans but not enough to vote for the Democrats. There is not a truly “free market” for votes, because despite what supporters of third parties may claim, there really are only two viable options on the ballot due to the realities of Duverger’s law; there is no realistic option other than the Democrats that would be effective at pushing the country to the left or even just correcting the Republicans’ depredations. Third parties that don’t realize this reality can’t do better than three percent of the vote in the most third-party-friendly Presidential race in decades; none have seen the opportunity to build a party from the ground up by focusing on actually winning elections in uncompetitive districts and leaving the Presidency to secondary importance until later. Without structural incentives to avoid gridlock, thanks to a Constitution written under the assumption parties wouldn’t exist at all, the only thing preventing us from reaching this point until recent decades has been an unspoken agreement between the parties not to take advantage of it, one inevitably torn to shreds the instant the Republicans broke it as much as Democrats have been loath to admit it.

That’s why I’ve argued that the true solution to our problems requires something more radical than either side wants to admit and which I’m not convinced we’re suited to pull off: a large-scale overhaul of the Constitution. Dating back to the eve of the election, I’ve called for a Constitutional convention to update the Constitution to reflect our values and the realities of our experience under 220+ years of the Constitution, while reaffirming the Founders’ goals for those realities – creating true structural incentives for compromise, rebalancing the powers of the branches of government, and correcting some of the more corrosive Supreme Court decisions of recent years. For well over a year – really for the past year and a half – I’ve tried to bring myself to elaborate on my ideas for how to fix the system, with my most sustained successes coming in the period between the election and the inauguration as linked above, but mostly failing with the enormity of the task hanging over my head even as I’ve already done most of the work. This week I intend to try again and hope to succeed, because without the sorts of reforms I propose, we’re just going to have more gridlock and more shutdowns – and potentially, presidents that make Trump seem normal.

Predictions for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s selections are performed by a panel of 46 leading NFL media members including representatives of all 32 NFL teams, a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America, and 13 at-large writers.

The panel has selected a list of 15 finalists from the modern era, defined as playing all or part of their careers within the last 25 years. A player must have spent 5 years out of the league before they can be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. Players that last played in the 2012 season will be eligible for induction in 2018.

During Super Bowl Weekend, the panel will meet and narrow down the list of modern-era finalists down to five. Those five will be considered alongside two senior candidates, selected by a nine-member subpanel of the larger panel last August, and one contributor (not players or coaches), selected by another nine-member subpanel, for a total of eight. From this list, at least four and no more than eight people will be selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

My prediction for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018 is:

Ray Lewis
Randy Moss
John Lynch
Kevin Mawae
Joe Jacoby
Robert Brazile
Jerry Kramer
Bobby Beathard

Hall of Fame Game: Ravens v. Vikings

Can we get a do-over on this blog-day?

The first post in the history of Da Blog, written on this date eleven years ago, was written while cowering in a bus shelter. This post is being written under the overhang outside a library. To be sure, this is only because my computer won’t play nice with my mom’s Internet connection for some reason, and I wasn’t able to get to the library before it closed. But it is, in a way, a fitting way to end what might be the most disappointing year in the history of Da Blog.

Very little has changed since my last blog-day post. I spent the entire year following the inauguration much the same way I spent most of the latter half of 2016: lamenting that I couldn’t bring myself to work on the sorts of posts I had planned. This is the 36th post since my last blog-day post, and I actually think that might be a record low that holds up, between my policy of putting up at least one post a month and the Flex Schedule Watch posts towards the end of the year. I did get out some of the posts I wanted to get out about what’s gone wrong with our politics, but they ground to a halt after the inauguration – not because of the madness the Trump regime actually turned out to be, though it is making it that much harder to continue the series, but because the post I was working on at the time, the post I’d been planning since 2008, was made far more difficult and complicated by the election. Honestly I’ve been mentally transitioning to thinking about the projects I want to work on once I’m done with this series, but I keep telling myself I need to finish the series (much of the work on which is actually pretty close to done), but in order to finish the series I need to have some sort of post re-introducing it. Which is something I actually tried to do, but which didn’t end up bearing out in the form of getting any actual posts written before enough time passed to make it not-timely again.

I actually have some optimism that this coming year won’t be quite so much a lost year as the last year was. I’ve actually started the process of taking steps to actually improve my work habits and actually get some of the stuff I want to get done done. The chintziness of how Mom’s connection works with my computer might actually work in my favor on this front; without the distractions from the rest of the Internet I might actually be able to put the finishing touches on one of my posts sufficiently to get it ready to post in the new year, and the work on that might put me enough in the mood that it can help with working on the other posts. Still, I wouldn’t expect any new posts on Da Blog after this until after the new year.

I may also move to a new host at some point in the new year. Some of you may have noticed that Da Blog went down at several points in the latter half of the year. This is because I moved to only renewing my hosting on a monthly basis and had it recommended to me to find a cheaper hosting option for the long term. That has proven not to be as much of a slam dunk as it was when I first signed up with Hostmonster, in part because of a number of hosts, including Hostmonster, being gobbled up by huge impersonal organizations, making it hard to find a host that would actually be a suitable replacement. I have some ideas, but I would need to discuss them with people and reassess how the landscape may have shifted since I did my original round of research, and in any case having to move everything, including the customization I’ve done to my theme, would be a major hassle.

I’d like to think we can just throw away Year Eleven as a lost year in the history of Da Blog, and I’ll be spending Year Twelve doing most of the things I said I would do in Year Eleven in the last blog-day post and firmly and officially moving on to the next phase of my life. Considering what I’m facing in terms of my financial situation (and the fact that I’m turning 30 in the next year!), I don’t have much choice. But who knows what my mental state will be and what it’ll allow me to do in the next year.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 15

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-8)
WEST
48-6
58-6
7-7
SOUTH
310-4
68-6
8-6
NORTH
211-3
8-6
CLINCHED 7-7
EAST
111-3
CLINCHED
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-7)
SOUTH
410-4
510-4 ALL OTHER TEAMS
ELIMINATED
10-4
WEST
310-4
69-5
8-6
NORTH
211-3
8-6
CLINCHED 8-6
EAST
112-2
8-6
CLINCHED
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Bills-Dolphins, Jaguars-Titans, and near as I can tell, that’s it.
  • Jaguars-Titans will be picked if: The Jaguars lose AND the Titans win. The good news is that the Titans might have to win just to make the playoffs; the bad news is that the Jags have already clinched a playoff spot and this game needs another Niners upset and the Titans to upset the Rams to happen at all. For NBC, the good news is they might not be stuck with this game; the bad news is that they lose this game as a potential fallback option. The Jags could have a shot at a first-round bye with a win, and the Titans could be fighting for their playoff lives with a loss, but there’s no way to guarantee either team would have something to play for by the time Sunday night comes around.
  • Bills-Dolphins will be picked if: The Bills lose AND the Ravens lose AND the Chargers lose AND the Dolphins win AND the Bills have clinched the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Ravens AND the Jags-Titans scenario doesn’t happen. This would create a situation where the Dolphins could potentially make the playoffs with a win, but more importantly, the tiebreaker they’d have over the Bills would eliminate them from the playoffs, making this close to a win-and-in, lose-and-out game for the Bills. However, the league would probably prefer to maximize what the Dolphins have to play for, so might only pick this game if the Dolphins are completely out of the playoffs win or lose.
  • Panthers-Falcons might be picked if: The Falcons beat the Saints AND the Panthers win AND neither of the other scenarios happen. As mentioned last week, the Peach Bowl will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 12:30 the following day, making it unlikely the game even can be moved even to the late afternoon unless it’s moved to, say, the Georgia Tech campus (as is the turnaround time is similar to what the Big 12 title game would have faced if it was played the day after Indians-Cowboys the week after Thanksgiving, and that wound up getting it played early Saturday afternoon instead). Theoretically they can pull it off if they need to – there were multiple times this year that the Coliseum hosted a USC game on Saturday and a 1:05 or 1:25 PM local-time Rams game on Sunday, and I don’t know if a grass field is harder or easier to turn around than FieldTurf – but it’s not likely to make anyone happy even before considering that’s going from college to an NFL game, not the other way around and not when dealing with a major bowl game, which may have bigger logistical issues to deal with. Still, the fact I haven’t seen any actual reporting about the ability or lack thereof to play Panthers-Falcons later in the day might make me cautiously optimistic, though of course that also means there’s nothing saying it is possible like there was for Eagles-Rams.

Even if Panthers-Falcons can be moved to a later time slot, it’s still not guaranteed to happen and in fact the Saints are favored over the Falcons. That opens up the very real possibility that the NFL has no game that, by their usual standards, is suitable for the Sunday night Week 17 game – just about every game featuring a playoff team or contender will need to be played before or simultaneously with another game to ensure each team has as much to play for as possible, or at least to minimize the possibility of playoff positioning being determined by a team with nothing to play for, compounded by the potential of ratings going in the tank on New Year’s Eve. That could be instructive in terms of what the league prioritizes in such a situation. Here are some games to look for, and what scenarios might favor them, in very rough order of preference:

  • Cowboys-Eagles could be picked if: The Cowboys lose OR the Eagles win OR the Vikings lose. This at least eliminates the scenario where the Cowboys could make the playoffs by beating an Eagles team resting their starters, when the Eagles would have played their starters if they were playing before or simultaneously with the Vikings, or conversely where the Eagles can win home field by beating a Cowboys team eliminated from the playoffs, when the Cowboys would still be alive for the playoffs if they were playing before or simultaneously with the other NFC wild card contenders. This also assumes there’s no scenario where the outcome of this game affects tiebreakers but the Cowboys can’t actually win a tiebreaker. The theory for many of these is that, if all else fails, it’s okay for one team not to have anything to play for they otherwise would have as long as that doesn’t affect any races, especially if we’re just sacrificing a game to tank in the ratings against New Year’s Eve parties. One problem with this is that Raiders-Eagles is the Monday night game, which could hamstring the league’s ability to announce the game in a timely fashion and finalize the Week 17 schedule.
  • Jets-Patriots could be picked if: The Patriots and Steelers either both win or both lose. This would sort of create a cheat where the league assumes the Steelers will beat the lowly Browns and so forces the Patriots to defend their #1 seed. (Steelers-Texans is being played on Christmas on NBC, so this could run into much the same issue as Raiders-Eagles, but it’s not as acute and the game could still be announced on NBC itself as has been a semi-tradition.) If the Patriots win, Steelers lose, but the Jaguars win, the Patriots could still have to defend their #1 seed if the Jaguars go on to beat the Titans. One big problem with this is that New York is the home of what amounts to America’s New Year’s celebration; do we really want to make New Yorkers choose whether or not to watch the hapless Jets as the clock counts down to midnight?
  • Browns-Steelers could be picked if: The Browns lose. This is all about the trainwreck potential of the Browns going 0-16, and while the Steelers could be playing for playoff positioning, if their seed ends up getting locked in earlier in the day it’s fine as long as no one else is counting on them to win or lose. (I actually considered putting this game in the main section but decided against it because of the question of what the Steelers would have to play for.)
  • Packers-Lions could be picked if: The Lions win AND aren’t eliminated from the playoffs or face a scenario where their game determines who gets in without any chance of it being them. This is mostly about the Packers’ name value and relative quality even without Aaron Rodgers.
  • Saints-Bucs could be picked if: The Saints and Panthers both lose. If the Saints have already clinched the division, but are eliminated from a first-round bye, but can still affect whether they get the 3 or 4 seed, it’s not clear they’d care about that or even which wild card team they’d rather face.
  • Raiders-Chargers could be picked if: The Raiders lose OR the Titans win. If the Raiders enter Week 17 still in the playoff hunt, their playoff hopes need to still be alive when the game kicks off since it’ll still affect the Chargers’ playoff hopes, and with losses to the Bills and Ravens already in the bag that’s pretty likely.
  • Chiefs-Broncos could be picked if: The Chiefs lose AND the Chargers win. Two teams with passionate enough fanbases they’ll watch even if the Broncos are out of the playoffs and the Chiefs have a chance to have already clinched the division.
  • If all else fails, put Bengals-Ravens on if the Ravens are still alive and can’t affect who gets in without it being them. Or Bears-Vikings; the Bears suck but they’re still a big-market team and maybe Minnesota has a chance to steal the #1 seed. Or throw on two non-playoff teams in Texans-Colts or Trumps-Giants if you’d rather have that than subject America to the Bears (normally Trumps-Giants is preferable but having a game at MetLife Stadium that could end less than an hour before or even after midnight is even less palatable than having the Jets play that late).

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 14

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-8)
WEST
47-6
58-5
7-6
SOUTH
39-4
67-6
8-5
EAST
210-3
7-6
7-6 7-6
NORTH
111-2
6-7
CLINCHED 6-7
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-7)
SOUTH
49-4
59-4
9-4
WEST
39-4
68-5
8-5
NORTH
210-3
8-5
2 tied at 7-6 7-6
EAST
111-2
7-6
CLINCHED 7-6
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Bengals-Ravens, Jaguars-Titans, Saints-Bucs, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Cowboys-Eagles, Raiders-Chargers, Chiefs-Broncos, Cardinals-Seahawks. Some of these percentage chances are going to come off as high, but I couldn’t bring myself to put the percentage chances of Jags-Titans above 40 percent, yet all the other games either require a lot of things to break in their favor, are of a type the NFL would probably prefer to avoid (especially if Jags-Titans is an option), or in the case of Panthers-Falcons, have logistical issues that could completely preclude a move to Sunday night even if things break their way. (It didn’t help I actually miscalculated the numbers at first and had everything add up to 110 percent, with Jags-Titans reluctantly bumped up to 50.)
  • Chances of Jaguars-Titans: 40 percent. NBC would absolutely take any other game if it met the standard for being flexed into Sunday night, especially with it being very likely the loser of this game still gets a wild card spot, but nothing is a sure thing and unless the Titans fall off the face of the earth (or at least just lose one more game than the Jags over the next two), or win their next two while the Jaguars lose their next two, this has a very good chance to at least be a fallback option, and the league might actually prefer it to some of the options below.
  • Chances of Raiders-Chargers: 15 percent. There are two scenarios where this game becomes a Sunday night possibility: either the Chiefs lose enough that the winner of this game wins the division, or it becomes a win-and-in, lose-and-out game for the wild card. On the first front, the Chiefs beat the Chargers the first time they met (the second time is this weekend) and split with the Raiders. If the Chargers win this weekend the Chiefs will enter the last week with a 3-2 division record, same as the Chargers, while the Raiders enter at 2-3 and having already lost the first game to the Chargers; in that scenario the Chargers might then have to lose to the Jets just so the tiebreaker between the teams isn’t decided by strength of victory, and that would still probably require a Chiefs loss to the Dolphins. On the wild-card front, the Raiders have losses to both the Bills and Ravens while the Chargers beat the Bills, but the teams are all currently tied for the last wild-card spot so it wouldn’t take much slippage by the Bills and Ravens to make this game for the wild card.
  • Chances of Packers-Lions: 10 percent. This is the game NBC would pick every day of the week, but the problem is that both teams are a game out of the playoffs and have to navigate the traffic of the NFC South teams and the Seahawks, not to mention the Cowboys. The Packers have wins over Seattle and Dallas but lost to the Falcons; they play the Panthers this week in what increasingly sounds like Aaron Rodgers’ return. The Lions lost to both NFC South teams but won the first game over the Packers.
  • Chances of Chiefs-Broncos: 10 percent. For reasons described here, if the Chiefs and Chargers split their next two (the winner of that game losing the next and vice versa) while the Raiders win both, this game would decide whether or not the Chiefs win the division regardless of the result of the other game. Probably the Chiefs would need to lose their next two for Raiders-Chargers to be a division title game.
  • Chances of Panthers-Falcons: 5 percent. Same deal as Raiders-Chargers, essentially, except that the Saints look much stronger than the Chiefs at the moment (and at the least, their sweep of the Panthers means the Panthers needs to be at least a game ahead of them to qualify as a division title game) and both teams, especially the Panthers, would need to move back considerably for only one of them to make the playoffs. (In any case, as one of my commenters points out, moving this game to Sunday night would leave the stadium only about 13 hours of overnight turnaround for the Peach Bowl the next day, making even a move to the late afternoon iffy.)
  • Chances of Bengals-Ravens: 5 percent. The Ravens would hold tiebreakers over both the Raiders and Chargers, so if all three go into the final week tied this might be the choice if the Chiefs have already clinched the AFC West.
  • Chances of Bills-Dolphins: 5 percent. These two teams play two of the last three weeks against one another. If the Dolphins win the first one this game’s chances likely depend on the rest of the AFC regressing enough that this is a winner-in game; if the Bills win the game’s chances depend on this being win-and-in, lose-and-out for the Bills under similar circumstances to Chiefs-Broncos and Bengals-Ravens (though if the Bills proceeded to lose out and the Dolphins won out the Dolphins would still win the divisional tiebreaker). But that’s not as clear as with the Ravens or Chiefs; the only West team the Bills have played was a loss to the Chargers, while the Raiders have played two more conference games than the Bills and lost both.
  • Chances of Cardinals-Seahawks: 5 percent. If the teams involved retain their current relative positions, the Seahawks would lose tiebreakers to the Packers or Lions with a loss. The Cardinals have an outside shot of making the playoffs themselves, but that probably can’t be assured to be on the line entering Week 17.
  • Chances of Saints-Bucs: 3 percent. Technically this game is to Panthers-Falcons what Chiefs-Broncos is to Raiders-Chargers, but the circumstances in which it would be an option aren’t actually directly covered by that post. The Saints swept the Panthers so they would need to be tied with the Panthers. But the Falcons just won the first game between them so the Saints would need to win the second to even have a chance to win the tiebreaker with them, meaning the Saints would need to lose this week and the Falcons would need to win to get back to the two teams being even a game apart entering Week 17. Supposing that happened and the Falcons and Bucs won Week 17, we’d have a three-way tie the Saints would win by virtue of sweeping the Panthers while the Falcons split with both teams. But could this game still be an option if the Saints and Panthers were tied while the Falcons were a game back after sweeping the Saints? The three-way tie then would win the division for the Falcons by virtue of a 3-1 head-to-head record to the Saints’ 2-2 and the Panthers’ 1-3. Even then a lot is likely to depend on what other games are available and what the wild card situation is, and the NFL would likely prefer to avoid this sort of situation in favor of one where both teams have something to play for.
  • Chances of Cowboys-Eagles: 2 percent. Cowboys or no Cowboys, for this to happen the Cowboys would need to win out, the Packers and Lions would need to both split, the Falcons would need to lose out, and none of the other scenarios can happen, because this game has two things going against it: it would put both games of a division rivalry on NBC (the second time this would have happened with the NFC East) and it would involve a team likely to be resting up for the playoffs, which isn’t the case for any of the other “only matters for one team” games. (Even if the Eagles enter Week 17 not yet having clinched their seed, there’s no way to guarantee their seed would still be undetermined heading into Sunday night. It would arguably be better if they had clinched their seed because then they have nothing to play for anyway.)

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 13

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Selected game: Dallas @ Oakland.

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-7)
WEST
46-6
58-4
2 teams at 6-6
SOUTH
38-4
67-5
8-4
EAST
210-2
6-6
6-6 6-6
NORTH
110-2
6-6
7-5
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (6-6)
SOUTH
49-3
58-4
8-4
WEST
39-3
68-4
8-4
NORTH
210-2
7-5
2 tied at 6-6
EAST
110-2
6-6
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Jaguars-Titans, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Raiders-Chargers.
  • Preliminary analysis: NBC is dreading the possibility of getting a Jags-Titans division title game, with the loser likely to still make the playoffs (if the game doesn’t just determine home field for a rematch the next week), on New Year’s Eve, which might get the lowest ratings for the Week 17 SNF game in the all-division-games era, if not since the start of the package. The Chiefs’ freefall, though, is opening up the possibility that Raiders-Chargers could serve as at least a marginally more attractive division title game, one with the loser likely to be out. Games for wild-card berths between the Panthers and Falcons as well as between the Bills and Dolphins (and not even listed here, the Bengals and Ravens) seem unlikely. NBC’s dream game would be Packers-Lions for a wild card spot, but that would require teams in the AFC South and West to regress.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 12

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Selected game: New England @ Denver.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Dallas.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Selected game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Seattle.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Selected game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh. Regarding the changes that were made, for many the headline is “Fox would rather have Seahawks-Jaguars in the late slot than Cowboys-Giants”, but in fact the move indicates the opposite of what it seems to, serving as a testament to how much of a draw Cowboys-Giants still is even in the early slot. Cowboys-Giants now gets to anchor an early slate where the best worse team across all the games is Tampa Bay at 4-7, only two games better than the Giants, and salvage good or at least acceptable ratings for the early slot with two name teams that can pop a rating no matter what. Meanwhile, Seahawks-Jags isn’t being moved to the late slot to be Fox’s new feature game, but to serve as the undercard to Eagles-Rams, inflating ratings in Jacksonville and the Pacific Northwest and serving as a backup if Eagles-Rams gets out of hand, and given the mediocrity of the early slate might have actually gotten better distribution had it remained early; I suspect it was only chosen as the game to move late to keep the Seahawks from having to play at 10 AM in their normal time zone (the Niners have to do the same thing, but Houston is in Central time, not on the Atlantic coast, and the Niners almost want to lose at this point). I bring all this up because it has bearing on the Week 15 flex.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 5-6 v. 5-6, but as usual it would take the apocalypse hitting to dislodge a Cowboys game from Sunday night, and Oakland, at least, is still in playoff contention.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (CBS) and probably Packers-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Rams-Seahawks would be a good choice to flex in under more ideal circumstances. Any other games would involve going to teams below .500, and Cardinals-Trumps is the only game that stays with teams at 5-6 or above.
  • Analysis: If there is an argument for the league flexing in Rams-Seahawks, it’s the fact that right now it’s pinned to the 4 PM ET timeslot on the singleheader network when the doubleheader network’s protected game will in all likelihood determine home field in the NFC. Fox’s own protected game could feature the return of Aaron Rodgers so while Rams-Seahawks would be an attractive game to show in the home markets of teams with CBS early games, it’s probably not worth diluting Packers-Panthers distribution and undermining the CBS feature game to broaden Rams-Seahawks’ reach. The NFL has stepped in to broaden the distribution of potentially under-distributed singleheader-network games (especially those otherwise pinned to 4:05) before, most notably with the “protection override” of Chiefs-Broncos a few years ago (even Saints-Rams being crossflexed to CBS this past week arguably falls in this category, though it’s also precisely the situation for which the crossflex was developed regardless of original timeslot). But the Cowboys have never been flexed out of Sunday night, even when circumstances would absolutely warrant it with any other team, and  with a game that still has playoff meaning (certainly for the Raiders), NBC would scream bloody murder at losing a Cowboys game even when swapping two potentially 5-7 teams for an 8-3 v. 7-4 divisional clash featuring the big (but lukewarm) Los Angeles market.

    Notably (especially if you want to stick to the crossflex era), the league had a somewhat similar situation in Week 12 of 2014, and kept a matchup between the top two teams in the NFC West, the Cardinals at Seahawks, 8-1 v. 6-3 at the time the decision had to be made (with the Cardinals holding the league’s best record), in the late time slot of the Fox singleheader playing second fiddle to the 7-2 Lions at the 7-2 Patriots, while keeping CBS’ late slot anchored by a much more mediocre Dolphins-Broncos contest that stood at 5-4 v. 7-2, worse than either of those Fox games. The game the league kept on NBC that time involved a Cowboys team with a much less disappointing season (the problem was lopsidedness, not overall mediocrity), their opponents the Giants were and are a bigger draw in their own right than the Raiders, and all else being equal the Rams can probably pop a bigger rating than the Cardinals, but given the league’s other history with Cowboys SNF games color me skeptical that they’ll pull the trigger now.

  • Final prediction: Dallas Cowboys @ Oakland Raiders (no change).

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-7)
WEST
46-5
57-4
2 teams at 5-6
SOUTH
37-4
66-5
7-4
EAST
29-2
6-5
6-5 5-6
NORTH
19-2
5-6
6-5 5-6
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-6)
SOUTH
48-3
58-3
8-3
WEST
38-3
67-4
7-4
NORTH
29-2
7-4
6-5 6-5
EAST
110-1
2 teams at 5-6
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Jaguars-Titans, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Cardinals-Seahawks.

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 14 Picks

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 5-5 v. 9-2. Not terrible, exactly, and the Ravens actually came into the week tied for the second wild card (if Vikings-Panthers is flexed in I could see Ravens-Steelers being CBS’ lead game), but still a bit lopsided and the Steelers-Ravens rivalry has seen better days.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants (FOX).
  • Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Eagles (10-1)-Rams (8-3), Vikings (9-2)-Panthers (8-3), Seahawks (7-4)-Jaguars (7-4).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: Will the Ravens be 6-5 and tied for the second wild card, or will they fall to a 4-6 Texans team at home and potentially set up the Steelers needing only a win to clinch the division, if they haven’t clinched it already?
  • Analysis: Ravens-Steelers is likely to have immediate playoff implications for both teams, and I continue to hold that it’s hard to imagine it losing its spot if the Ravens win (even if they lose the game is really only in jeopardy because the alternatives are strong enough to overcome the tentative game bias), but if they lose things get interesting, not only in regards to the question of whether it loses its spot at all but what game it gets replaced with. The general manager of the Coliseum is on record saying that “there are no restrictions on the venue playing host to a Sunday night game”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the league would be so quick to take Eagles-Rams with Vikings-Panthers sitting there as an alternative. It’s worth noting that Fox has the doubleheader and could make Eagles-Rams its lead late game without any game time changes, while Vikings-Panthers was crossflexed to CBS, and while the league could conceivably “undo” the crossflex to get it a wider audience CBS would likely want another game to be crossflexed back at the very least (as they’d be left with five games with only three of them in the early slot), assuming such a thing is even possible at all; flexing it into Sunday night not only means Ravens-Steelers doesn’t get caught up in the crossflex rules but actually takes a crossflex off the board without replacement (which could be important, as all seven Fox-to-CBS crossflexes have been used). The Jaguars continue to be potential ratings poison, and if Eagles-Rams got flexed in Fox could always go back to their original plan, as a Cowboys game, even against the woeful Giants, is always better than most alternatives.
  • Final prediction: Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers (no change) (if the Ravens win Monday night), Minnesota Vikings @ Carolina Panthers (if the Ravens lose Monday night, CBS didn’t protect it, and previously crossflexed games can be moved to Sunday night), Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams (if the Ravens lose Monday night and Vikings-Panthers is protected or can’t be moved to Sunday night for other reasons).

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 11

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; with NBC hosting a game the Saturday before Christmas Eve, I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006, 2011, and last year. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • New this year, the flexed-out game always moves to the network from which the flexed-in game comes, regardless of which network it would air on normally. This should give the NFL some incentive to flex in games from the same network as the tentative, especially late in the year, to avoid having to deal with the rather restrictive crossflex rules more than necessary. It also affects CBS and Fox’s protection incentives; if the tentative is a game that would be valuable even if it needs to be flexed out (such as a Cowboys game), that affects both networks’ willingness to leave a week unprotected equally.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. For the entire first decade of SNF, no team started the season completely tapped out at any measure, with every team having no more than three NBC appearances or five overall appearances; however, this year the Chiefs and Steelers have been given six appearances across all primetime packages, and in the Chiefs’ case, only Week 5’s Texans game even fell within the early flex period (and both NFL Network appearances are genuinely in primetime) – especially headscratching since the Jaguars and Browns have been saved from having to play Thursday night at all (the new Week 17 rules may have something to do with this, with the Jags and Browns being saved by a quirk of the calendar). A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

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

Week 10 (November 12):

  • Selected game: New England @ Denver.

Week 11 (November 19):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Dallas.

Week 12 (November 26):

  • Selected game: Green Bay @ Pittsburgh.

Week 13 (December 3):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ Seattle.

Week 14 (December 10):

  • Tentative game: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 5-5 v. 8-2. Not terrible, exactly, and the Ravens are actually tied for the second wild card, but still a bit lopsided and the Steelers-Ravens rivalry has seen better days.
  • Likely protections: Raiders-Chiefs or Vikings-Panthers if anything (CBS) and Cowboys-Giants (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The general manager of the Coliseum is now on record saying that “there are no restrictions on the venue playing host to a Sunday night game”, but Vikings-Panthers remains a game the league (if not NBC) might prefer to Eagles-Rams even without the Eagles’ one-loss status, if CBS didn’t protect it. Seahawks-Jaguars remains a game that would be a strong option if one of the teams wasn’t the Jags.
  • Analysis: The Ravens play on Monday night against a beatable Texans team and if they win (and possibly even if both they and the Steelers lose) it’s hard to imagine this game losing its spot. But if the game becomes more lopsided, 9-2 v. 8-3, as either Eagles-Rams or Vikings-Panthers could be, would be very difficult to pass up, even though Ravens-Steelers would still have playoff implications for both teams.

Week 15 (December 17):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Oakland
  • Prospects: 5-5 v. 4-6, but as usual it would take the apocalypse hitting to dislodge a Cowboys game from Sunday night.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Steelers (CBS) and probably Packers-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Rams-Seahawks would be a good choice to flex in under more ideal circumstances. Any other games would involve going to teams below .500, and Dolphins-Bills, Cardinals-Trumps, Texans-Jaguars, and even Bengals-Vikings aren’t that appealing even then; certainly they wouldn’t overcome the tentative game bias even if the Cowboys weren’t involved.

Week 17 (December 31):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-6)
WEST
46-4
56-4
2 teams at 4-6
SOUTH
37-3
65-5
6-4
EAST
28-2
5-5
5-5
NORTH
18-2
3-7
5-5 3-7
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (4-6)
WEST
47-3
57-3
6-4
SOUTH
38-2
66-4
7-3
NORTH
28-2
6-4
6-4 6-4
EAST
19-1
5-5
5-5 5-5
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Jaguars-Titans, Packers-Lions, Bills-Dolphins, Cowboys-Eagles, Cardinals-Seahawks.