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.
Last year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. CBS and Fox were able to protect one game every week each but had to leave one week each unprotected and had to submit their protections after only four weeks.
Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night, and by all appearances, CBS and Fox can’t protect anything. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.
Here are the rules from the NFL web site:
- Begins Sunday of Week 11
- In effect during Weeks 11-17
- 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 4:15 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.
(Note: I have reason to believe the above rules are very incomplete.) Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 18):
- Tentative game: Chicago @ Seattle
- Prospects: In big trouble. Seattle is 4-3 and Da Bears are 3-4.
- Other possible games: Redskins @ Cowboys; Panthers @ Packers. That the NFL’s biggest rivalry did not merit a preliminary pick on Sunday night does not bode well; however, either could prove a very, very significant matchup. Panthers-Packers is helped by the Panthers’ recent performance; if Selection Day were today I would choose that game only because I suspect restrictions on the Cowboys but also because the Redskins may be a paper tiger. Chargers-Jaguars could look very appealing if the Chargers can build off their recent wins but currently is behind the other two despite having a better average NBC Sports ranking and needs some losses to fall their way.
Week 12 (November 25):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ New England
- Prospects: In trouble. The Eagles could be awful this year.
- Other possible games: Bucs-Redskins would now be a 12-14 matchup in the NBC Sports rankings. But too many teams have other commitments on Thanksgiving or Monday night to really endorse any other games, although Texans-Browns is a very dark horse. Chargers-Ravens might be a good choice but the Ravens just took a fall of their own and they might be a paper tiger.
Week 13 (December 2):
- Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
- Prospects: Very much in trouble. The Steelers may be in the top five teams in the NFL, but they just took a bad loss, and unless the Bungles pick up the pace this will be flexed out.
- Other possible games: Jaguars-Colts is the overwhelming favorite but could be threatened by the loss of Garrard. Texans-Titans has started fading. Seahawks-Eagles is probably out. Giants-Bears now looks like a dark horse if Griese leads the Bears back to their winning ways.
Week 14 (December 9):
- Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Baltimore
- Prospects: This game couldn’t afford the Ravens’ bad loss because…
- Other possible games: Steelers-Patriots may be too good to resist. Cowboys-Lions still has some time to come back but has a big hill to climb. Cardinals-Seahawks is a very dark horse. Chargers-Titans may be the dark horse with the best chance.
Week 15 (December 16):
- Tentative game: Washington @ NY Giants
- Prospects: Might have the best chance to keep its spot. Being in the same division as the Cowboys hurts, but these are two teams on fire (especially the G-Men) and the thrilling finish of their last meeting will help write the storyline.
- Other possible games: Eagles-Cowboys is looking too lopsided to be competitive. Jaguars-Steelers now looks to be the favorite, if anything. Seahawks-Panthers still has a chance but there are a lot of ifs involved. Whispers of Titans-Chiefs are fluttering but it requires several teams to collapse.
Week 16 (December 23):
- Tentative game: Tampa Bay @ San Francisco
- Prospects: Very problematic, even with the Bucs’ success, which just makes it look lopsided.
- Other possible games: Texans-Colts (in trouble), Packers-Bears (also in trouble but an appealing matchup regardless of respective records, and the Bears could come back), Ravens-Seahawks (could fall off if the Seahawks keep struggling and/or the Ravens prove a paper tiger). There aren’t a lot of attractive matchups this week. NBC may even have to reach for Lions-Chiefs.
Week 17 (December 30):
- Tentative game: Kansas City @ NY Jets
- Prospects: Awful. The Chiefs have some success finally, but that just makes the game look lopsided.
- Other possible games: Steelers-Ravens, Titans-Colts, Cowboys-Redskins, Lions-Packers, with Panthers-Bucs a dark horse. Jags-Texans fading. I moved Lions-Packers back to the long list of very good matchups after seeing their respective records. Playoff positioning watch begins after Week 9.