Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

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

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

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

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

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 6 Picks

Week 6 (October 13):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ LA Chargers
  • Prospects: 0-3 v. 2-2. As with last year’s early flex, I was surprised this game was picked to begin with, simply because I thought the league would stay far, far away from featuring a game at tiny Dignity Health Sports Park with mostly visiting fans in the stands in primetime, with it even more likely to be an effective Steeler home game given the Steelers’ national fanbase. Ben Roethlisberger’s injury makes this all the more of a chintzy proposition, and the case for flexing this game out would have been more straightforward had the Chargers lost and the tentative came in to this post with one win between the teams. Instead, it’s possible the Chargers aren’t chopped liver but this isn’t necessarily a blowout in the making either (especially given, again, the lack of home-field advantage and the possibility the Steelers still win Monday night), making this a telling experiment in just how hopeless a game needs to be to pull the early flex, especially given the lack of games not involving 2-2 teams.
  • Possible alternatives and their records: CBS: Texans (2-2)-Chiefs (4-0), Saints (3-1)-Jaguars (2-2). FOX: Seahawks (3-1)-Browns (2-2), Eagles (2-2)-Vikings (2-2), 49ers (3-0)-Rams (3-1).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: The Steelers have a chance to put a win on the board, which could be critical for the tentative’s chances to keep its spot.
  • Predicted protections: Texans-Chiefs (CBS). For Fox, see below.
  • Analysis: Niners-Rams is clearly the best game on the current slate in terms of records, would be the most straightforward game to swap out for another game in LA, and is currently mired in 4:05 singleheader purgatory. (With byes and a London game on NFL Network, both CBS and Fox have only three games in the early slot, so flexing in any other game could require moving the only East Coast game currently in the late time slot – Cowboys-Jets, itself a game of questionable value with the Jets nursing their own 0-3 record, albeit one pitting the biggest market against the biggest name – to the early slot and crossflexing Niners-Rams to CBS to serve as the new main doubleheader game.) The question is whether the league can “convince” Fox not to protect it; it’s not clear it would be Fox’s first choice to protect in any case, as they might lean more towards their third-best game in Eagles-Vikings that involves their two most favorite divisions. What could be a bigger problem is that the return match at Levi’s Stadium is one of the games that could move to Saturday in Week 16, and that would, presumably, count as the Rams’ sixth primetime appearance. That might preclude the league from adding a potential seventh. (Also, we have seen the league be reticent to take away both halves of a division matchup from the normal Sunday afternoon partner, but as mentioned any other flex might require this game to be crossflexed to CBS anyway, and in any case Fox would still produce the Week 16 game on NFL Network and presumably distribute it to its own stations.)

    So the question becomes whether a 3-1 v. 2-2 game beats 1-3 or 0-4 v. 2-2. (Well, unless CBS wants to protect Cowboys-Jets even with the Jets playing as poorly as they are and let the league flex in Texans-Chiefs, though that would max the Chiefs out on primetime appearances.) Whether the Steelers win Monday night could make all the difference there: one scenario produces a tentative only one game worse on each side than the best alternatives involving a Steelers team only a game out of the division lead even at 1-3, while the other is an 0-4 team without its biggest star that just handed the Bengals their first win of the season (though the Steelers were at least competitive in their first full Big Ben-less game at Levi’s Stadium). In terms of which game gets flexed in, Seahawks-Browns is clearly the more attractive game (especially with the Saints still dealing with their own star quarterback’s injury, and being a much less attractive name without their star quarterback than the Steelers) but that would max the Seahawks out on primetime appearances; on the other hand, it’s not clear we’re going to have another flex the entire rest of the season. If we do, though, there’s a very real possibility Vikings-Chargers Week 15 gets flexed out for Seahawks-Panthers; the Chiefs play the winless Broncos that week, so if the NFL is willing to max a team out (and Niners-Rams isn’t an option; the Rams play the Cowboys in the current main DH game on Fox that week, so that’s a mortal lock to be protected if the Rams aren’t already maxed out) Texans-Chiefs could be the safer bet.

    I should note that Athletic Bay Area writer Steve Berman apparently wrote on Friday that Niners-Rams was “highly likely” to be flexed in. I don’t have an Athletic subscription, I’m not willing to give iTunes my payment information as would be necessary to sign up for the Athletic’s free trial on their mobile app or give the Athletic payment information I don’t intend to use, and in any case I don’t want to start the only free trial I’d ever get to read one article I probably wouldn’t get much from, so I don’t know if that was based on inside information or was pure speculation, but if the former it at least suggests the Week 16 situation doesn’t completely override the prospect of flexing in Niners-Rams (and it’s not like the league has a history of looking that far ahead anyway).

  • Final prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Los Angeles Chargers (no change) (if the Steelers win tonight), Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs (if the Steelers lose tonight and CBS protects Cowboys-Jets), Seattle Seahawks @ Cleveland Browns (if the Steelers lose tonight and the NFL wants to keep Rams-Niners as an option to flex to NFLN Week 16), San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams (if the Steelers lose tonight and the NFL doesn’t care about the Week 16 return match being on NFLN or is willing to bend their own rules to let it happen).

Sizing Up the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team

With the injuries to Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, and with Eli Manning being benched for someone that was considered a massive reach when the Giants took him sixth overall and pretty much everyone being fine with it even before Daniel Jones’ star-making performance in his first start, many have spent this past week wondering whether we’re seeing a changing of the guard in the NFL.

As in culture more generally, the 2010s have felt more like a weird extension of the 2000s than a decade in their own right, certainly at the quarterback position. Many of the biggest names at quarterback played large chunks of the previous decade. Of the six quarterbacks with five or more Pro Bowl selections, only two, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, entered the league after the 2004 draft that boasted Roethlisberger, Manning, and Philip Rivers. Tom Brady has been so timeless he’s likely going to become the first quarterback to be on two different All-Decade teams – and not only that, make the first team on both. Part of this has been the result of the reduction in practices after the 2011 CBA, and part of it is simply because quarterback is a position where it’s easier for a player to stay in the game for a decade or more, but it definitely feels like the game has been in stasis for the past decade.

Besides marking the 100th season of the NFL, 2019 marks the end of the decade of the 2010s, and with it will come the selection of the All-Decade Team of the 2010s. Selection to the All-Decade Team can mean more than bragging rights; the selection committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame also selects the members of the All-Decade Team, and Hall voters seem to tend to favor All-Decade players when possible. Below I’ve attempted to figure out what players are likely to make the All-Decade team and what it could mean for their Hall of Fame chances (or at least provide a starting point for the latter), based primarily on first-team All-Pro selections and Pro Bowl selections from 2010-2019 only, which along with the All-Decade teams (and to a much lesser extent excellence in Super Bowls) seem to be the currency by which Hall of Fame players are assessed, especially when comparing players from different eras where statistical comparisons can be misleading. Pro Bowl selections refer to initial selections only, not later selections to replace players that did not play in the actual game due to injury, Super Bowl participation, or otherwise being unable or unwilling to play for any other reason. All-Pro selections are also divided in the tables below between selections by the AP, which are the most widely reported All-Pro teams and the ones you’ll see in the Pro Football Reference pages linked, and total years selected All-Pro by the AP, Pro Football Writers Association, and Sporting News, all of which name their own All-Pro teams that may have at least limited currency with Hall voters. I’ve also listed points racked up in NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players” lists (where being ranked #1 is worth 100 points and #100 is worth 1) determined by polls of fellow players, but this is only used to help break ties for comparison purposes, in conjunction with statistical comparisons for positions where that applies. Even so, I reserve the right to be way off on any of these by not incorporating whatever other factors the voters might look at.

In terms of how many players are selected at each position, I’ve mostly gone off of the structure of the last All-Decade team, checked by looking at the most recent set of All-Pro teams. The 2000s All-Decade team, for example, named two running backs, a fullback, two wide receivers, a tight end, and two players each at tackle and guard without separating into specific positions on each of the first and second teams. This mirrors what the 2010 AP All-Pro team did, but the 2018 All-Pro team replaced one of the running back spots with a flex selection (possibly partly inspired by fantasy football), with the first-team flex pick also getting a second-team selection at their main position, did not name a fullback, and named individual All-Pro players at each of the five offensive line spots. The PFWA and Sporting News still name their All-Pro teams the same way they did at the start of the decade (both of them already went without a fullback); the PFWA named only one running back but that may have been because they had a tie for the second wide receiver. On defense the All-Decade team was selected consistent with the 4-3 defense while the 2010 AP All-Pro team named two players at each of both the two defensive line and two linebacker spots; the 2018 team lumped all linebackers together and named three on each team, but named two each of “edge rushers” and “interior linemen” and had a fifth spot for defensive backs the others didn’t that did not appear on the second team at their normal position. The Hall’s treatment of the defense matches that that the PFWA had that year, so I’m assuming the All-Decade Team will have the same structure as last decade, but without a fullback and leaving open the possibility of a flex position being introduced in place of one of the running back spots. On special teams I’m not looking at kick and punt returners because Pro Football Reference doesn’t break them out and this is running late enough already; I was originally hoping to get this out before the Week 3 games.

The thin black line separates first-team and second-team selections; the thick one separates All-Decade selections from non-selections. Names in bold are considered at least probable to make the All-Decade team; anyone else could make it or not depending on how they or others do in the current season. Names in italics are retired.

Read moreSizing Up the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team

I actually accomplished something this month!

I updated my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer page for the new season!

What do you mean I only did it over the course of the last hour if not half-hour of the month and I still may make some further edits at some point?

I really do think I’m going to get back into Steven Universe this week, if only because Cartoon Network is airing a marathon of every episode leading up to the movovie this weekend, even though I have to wake up at 8:30 to catch one of the episodes that’s been holding me back from finishing my Season 2 recap post.


I said last month would be the last streak-filler post and I had two or three different ideas for substantive posts this month, and none of them panned out. I still intend to get back to Steven Universe in August, but I’m also finding one of the mobile games I’m playing may have just become even more of a drag on my time. So I’m going ahead and running a new Da Blog Poll until at least the end of February to see if I really need to continue the streak of monthly posts outside of football season, or if I’m the only one who cares about that.

Last streak-filler post I promise!

Right now I fully intend to jump back into Steven Universe in July – I might end up putting it off until August but that would start to impinge on football season and I’d like to stop feeling useless as soon as possible – so this should be the last post that just serves the purpose of making sure I have a post every month at least until February, but man, I’ve just been doing the bare minimum of posting in the first half of 2019. I’ve actually started to run out of things to say in these posts. If I’m still struggling to maintain posting every month when I don’t have something like the Flex Schedule Watch to make it automatic I may just ask whether anyone other than me even cares that I have a post every month. At this point, if I do become more active with Da Blog again it’ll be like I have two periods of prominence in the history of Da Blog, the period before 2016, and whatever period starts up again after.

Da Blog: Still, evidently, a vast wasteland

Back in February I listed a number of things I wished to do with Da Blog over the next month or two, none of which actually panned out. Many of those ideas and several others besides remain backed up for me to attempt to do in the coming months. With the release of the Mueller Report it hasn’t been timelier for me to work on my series on fixing the Constitution since the election, but until earlier this week I spent more of my time working on notes for a project that may or may not turn into another book or some other project that gets put up somewhere, notes I originally intended to work on after my Constitution series but which I find easier to engage with. It’s easier to immerse myself in a fantasy world than the real world that seems to be circling the abyss.

At this point I likely won’t pick up Steven Universe again until July, partly because I’m facing a monetary crunch with renewals for my website hosting and domain name coming up this month, partly because I got sick earlier this week which made that crunch worse as I loaded up on medicine and other things. There’s a slight chance the site will go down briefly in about two weeks, but I doubt it and I’m trying to spend the rest of the month in more of a savings mode. The site already went down earlier in the month after something broke without me changing anything, and that coupled with how the issue got resolved made me a little antsy about signing up with A2 again, but I don’t think there’s anything too serious that would lead me to abandon the status quo.

Read moreDa Blog: Still, evidently, a vast wasteland

What to Make of the NFL’s Experiment with Putting the Draft on Broadcast, Part 2

Last year, after the NFL Draft aired on broadcast for the first time ever, I wrote a blog post looking at the resulting ratings and what it meant for the NFL’s desire for “presidential election”-style coverage of the draft on every major network. This year, ESPN agreed to air all three days of the draft on ABC, with the first two days being college-focused coverage from College GameDay that aired on ESPN2 last year. This was somewhat surprising to me, because last year Grey’s Anatomy significantly outpaced Fox’s coverage in the 8 PM ET hour, and ABC was hosting what amounted to side coverage alongside the existing coverage on ESPN and NFL Network. I figured the league would want to repeat last year’s experiment another year, and if ESPN did decide to put the draft on ABC they would put it on only ABC, making pre-empting Grey’s more palatable and allowing both ESPN and ESPN2 to air NBA playoff games on Friday if needed. Still, it is understandable; ESPN is desperate to maintain their relationship with the league entering contract renegotiations, including pumping up ABC as a broadcast outlet for the league, while still preserving whatever impact the draft still has on their carriage fees.

Did we learn anything more about the future of the draft on broadcast? Let’s find out. This is going to be significantly shorter than last year’s analysis, and I’m going to assume, for the most part, you already read last year’s post for context.

Read moreWhat to Make of the NFL’s Experiment with Putting the Draft on Broadcast, Part 2

What Would a Conference-Free NFL Television Schedule Look Like?

Last month, Variety reported that the NFL was looking into the possibility of decoupling its Sunday afternoon television contracts from each conference in its next television contract beyond 2022 (no link because Variety’s site is too ad-laden and required me to reload something like three times before I could actually read the article; here’s a brief summary). I could swear I at least saw speculation to that effect during or even before last season, because I’m pretty sure I had the idea for this post back then, but I couldn’t find anything and nothing I saw passing on the Variety report tied it to anything earlier, and in any case it might have just been the sort of baseless speculation my commenters like to get into. If the Variety report is the first time this has come to light, it’s worth noting that the specific phrasing used in the report was that Fox and CBS “could get to air packages that include games from both the NFC and AFC, as opposed to the current system, which keeps the NFC on Fox and the AFC on CBS”, so it’s not even clear that it would mean more than an expansion of the current cross-flex system as opposed to the full decoupling it’s easy to interpret it as (assuming anything like this comes to fruition at all, which it might not).

If the NFL does completely sever Fox and CBS’ respective slates of games from conference affiliation, it would do away with what might seem like an archaic relic of the days before the AFL-NFL merger, but it would also pose a considerable logistical challenge. The NFL is unique among major professional sports leagues in the United States in that television production and distribution for all 256 games are handled by national networks; any game not selected to air in primetime is produced by Fox or CBS for regional distribution in one of their Sunday afternoon timeslots. If which network gets which game isn’t determined by which conference the road team is from, what does determine it?

Read moreWhat Would a Conference-Free NFL Television Schedule Look Like?

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Number of Primetime Appearances Per Team for the 2019 Season

Here are each team’s number of appearances across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network for the season, useful for determining what games can be flexed into or out of Sunday night for my Flex Schedule Watch. Recall the appearance limits are six primetime games for three teams, five for everyone else, and four NBC appearances. In the “Flexible” column, a plus sign indicates SNF games in the Week 5-10 early flex period. Note that the Bucs, Panthers, Jaguars, and Texans may each have one more appearance than I’m crediting them for, as each have games in London airing on NFL Network, and three of the following games will move to Saturday Week 16 on NFLN, increasing their counts: HOU/TB, BUF/NE, DET/DEN, OAK/LAC, or SF/LAR.

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Number of Primetime Appearances Per Team for the 2019 Season