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. 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.
- Two other rules were established earlier: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and can’t protect any games Week 17 this year.
- Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five; the Pats and Cowboys already have six) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 18):
- Selected game: New England @ Buffalo.
Week 12 (November 25):
- Selected game: Philadelphia @ New England.
Week 13 (December 2):
- Selected game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh. Minor surprise that this game would be picked over Titans-Texans. The NFL and NBC don’t care about the lopsided nature of Bengals-Steelers, only about the Steelers. Wonder if the Titans’ loss turned them off.
Week 14 (December 9):
- Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Baltimore
- Prospects: Might be vulnerable with Baltimore struggling at 4-6 and the Colts suddenly struggling as well at 8-2.
- Protected games according to Hiestand: Steelers-Patriots (CBS) and Giants-Eagles (Fox)
- Other possible games: Ignore Cowboys-Lions because of the primetime appearances. Chargers (5-5)-Titans (6-4) is the leading candidate, while Jags (7-3)-Panthers (4-6) is slipping along with the QB situation in Carolina. Chiefs (4-6)-Broncos (5-5) may be opening things up for other dark horses: Bucs (6-4)-Texans (5-5) and Cardinals (5-5)-Seahawks (6-4).
- Prediction: Colts-Ravens might be safe with a Ravens win, given what I found out this week about just how tied to the tentative picks the NFL is. Should the Ravens lose it would be to the Chargers, so Chiefs-Broncos is probably out and the Texans and Cardinals need to win to save their respective games. Jags-Panthers is counting on the Colts losing again and the Jags and Panthers both winning. The Texans and Cardinals may be critical to their respective games’ chances, but the 6-4 teams may be even more critical, or Colts-Ravens could keep their spot anyway.
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.
- Protected games according to Hiestand: Jags-Steelers (CBS). Protected Fox game according to Awful Announcing: Lions-Chargers.
- Other possible games: Seahawks-Panthers still has a chance but needs both teams to become more consistent. Titans-Chiefs had a setback this week. Browns-Bills might be emerging as the favorite, recent Bills loss to the Pats notwithstanding, but it’s hard to see any of these teams beating a game with potential playoff implications.
Week 16 (December 23):
- Tentative game: Tampa Bay @ San Francisco
- Prospects: Very problematic, even with the Bucs’ success, which just makes it look lopsided.
- Protected games according to AA: Texans-Colts (CBS) and Packers-Bears (FOX).
- Other possible games: There aren’t a lot of attractive matchups this week. Lions-Chiefs might be becoming the favorite if the Chiefs keep winning and the Lions get back on track, while Giants-Bills is a legit dark horse. And don’t count out Ravens-Seahawks yet, either, or even Skins-Vikings.
Week 17 (December 30):
- Tentative game: Kansas City @ NY Jets
- Prospects: Awful. The Jets probably aren’t climbing into playoff contention, recent win aside.
- Other possible games/Playoff Positioning Watch:
- AFC East: The Bills would need the Pats to lose all their remaining games and the Bills to win all their remaining games because the Pats have locked up the tiebreaker. Yes, the Pats can lock up the division in Week 12.
- AFC North: Every team is theoretically in it. The Steelers are leading but the Browns are just a game back. The Browns can push Steelers-Ravens to primetime if they keep it close – but it depends a lot more on what the ex-Browns do. Right now, this game isn’t looking great.
- AFC South: The Colts are now just a game ahead of the Jaguars and two ahead of the Titans. If that keeps up, Titans-Colts could be the favorite. The Texans are mathematically still in it.
- AFC West: Chargers and Broncos are tied for the lead with KC a game back. The Chargers are playing the Raiders; the Broncos, the Vikings. Not looking likely. But the Raiders are mathematically still in it.
- AFC Wild Card: The Jags would get the nod if the season ended today, with the Browns and Titans tied for the second spot. The Bills, Texans, and the loser of Chargers-Broncos are a game back, adding some luster to Bills-Eagles, but the Eagles need to hold up their end of the bargain. Note the Jags-Texans matchup, probably the only serious competitor to Titans-Colts in the AFC. The Ravens and Chiefs wait in the wings, so Steelers-Ravens could be a dark horse in the AFC.
- NFC East: Cowboys two games up on the Giants. The Giants are on NFL Network and Dallas has too many primetime appearances. Philly and Washington still mathematically in it.
- NFC North: Packers-Lions the NFC and possibly overall favorite, but the Lions, back three, need to win this one on Thanksgiving. Vikings and Bears a game away from needing tiebreakers, which in the Vikings’ case means elimination.
- NFC South: Bucs goes up to a two-game lead over the Panthers and Saints. The Saints play the Bears, but Bucs-Panthers remains a dark horse. Falcons still mathematically in it.
- NFC West: Seahawks with one-game lead over the Cardinals. The former plays the Falcons while the latter plays the Rams. Niners and Rams still mathematically in it.
- NFC Wild Card: Giants and Lions would get the nod if the season ended today; even if the Lions lose, wild-card implications could lend enough credence to Packers-Lions for the Favre factor to take over from there. Redskins, Eagles, Cardinals a game back, lending a little credence to Bills-Eagles, but not enough to pass better games. Vikings, Bears, Panthers, and Saints all waiting in the wings at 4-5, making Saints-Bears an extremely dark horse and lending some credence to Vikings-Broncos, though it needs a lot more.