Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 9

USA Today’s Michael Hiestand confirmed some of the finer points of flexible scheduling that were not in the NFL’s own information earlier in the week:

  • 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) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC.

Here’s a team-by-team rundown, in the order of the new SuperPower Rankings. “PT App’s” reflects each team’s total number of appearances on NBC, ESPN and NFL Network under the current schedule. “On NBC” is self-explanatory. “Flexible NBC” is the number of NBC appearances that can be flexed out.

Team PT App’s On NBC Flexible NBC
Patriots 6 3 1
Colts 5 3 1
Cowboys 6 3 0
Packers 3 1 0
Steelers 5 2 1
Giants 5 3 1
Titans 2 0
Lions 0
Browns 0
Jaguars 1 0
Saints 4 2 0
Bucs 1 1 1
Chargers 3 2 0
Redskins 3 1 1
Ravens 4 1 1
Chiefs 1 1 1
Seahawks 2 1 0
Bills 2 1 0
Panthers 1 0
Texans 1 0
Vikings 1 0
Bears 4 2 0
Broncos 5 1 0
Cardinals 1 0
Eagles 4 3 1
Bengals 4 1 1
Falcons 3 0
Raiders 0
49ers 4 1 1
Jets 1 1 1
Rams 1 0
Dolphins 1 0

This makes the NFL’s decision to go with Pats-Bills stupefying unless CBS protected Steelers-Patriots or NBC intends to flex the Patriots out of its game with the Eagles next week. Two of the six-game teams have already been determined, assuming Pats-Eagles stays on the schedule. The Colts, Steelers, Giants, and Broncos have already hit the 5-game plateau, which might also help explain any decision to stay away from Steelers-Pats. This also explains why Redskins-Cowboys was off-limits.

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):

  • Selected game: New England @ Buffalo.

Week 12 (November 25):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ New England
  • Prospects: The Eagles are 3-5 and the Patriots make any game look lopsided. Yet Hiestand actually expects this game to keep its spot.
  • Other possible games: The Redskins took an inexplicable drop in the NBC Rankings to make Bucs (5-4)-Redskins (5-3) look more lopsided than it really is. But too many teams have other commitments on Thanksgiving or Monday night to really endorse any other games, and Texans (4-5)-Browns (5-3) is suffering with the Texans struggling. Chargers (4-4)-Ravens (4-4) is ruined by both teams losing bad. Saints (4-4)-Panthers (4-4) just may come out the winner despite both teams having worse records than either the Bucs or Redskins because it’s a key divisional matchup; it needs both teams to win, however. You start to see where Hiestand is coming from.
  • Prediction: If Fox protected Bucs-Redskins it’s hard to see Eagles-Patriots losing its spot, despite its lopsided nature. Chargers-Ravens (possibly also protected) and Saints-Panthers are the only other potential challengers, and both need both teams to win. Even then, they’re guaranteed to be going up against an unbeaten Pats team – they have a bye this week.

Week 13 (December 2):

  • Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: Very much in trouble. The Steelers look great but the Bungles are anything but. Also a factor: the Steelers’ high number of primetime games. NBC will want to flex this out for a better Steelers game later.
  • Protected games according to Hiestand: (I don’t know if Hiestand knows for certain or if he’s only speculating but the language implies he does know what he’s talking about.) Jaguars-Colts (CBS) and Giants-Bears (Fox)
  • Other possible games: With that data, Chargers-Chiefs now takes the lead. For some reason, Hiestand takes Detroit-Minnesota, which isn’t as crackheaded as it sounds when you consider how bad the Chargers’ record is (4-4) and how good Detroit’s is (6-2, same as the Steelers). The Chiefs are also 4-4 but the Vikings are sub-.500 – but with an electrifying running back, and still better than the Bungles.

Week 14 (December 9):

  • Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: Better than it used to be because of the protected games.
  • Protected games according to Hiestand: Steelers-Patriots (CBS) and Giants-Eagles (Fox)
  • Other possible games: Cowboys-Lions is eliminated due to the Cowboys’ six primetime appearances. Chargers-Titans is the leading dark horse, followed by Jags-Panthers. But their main hope lies in the Ravens’ struggles.

Week 15 (December 16):

  • Tentative game: Washington @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: Might have the best chance to keep its spot, unless things break the Ravens’ way. 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). Hiestand mentions no Fox game but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
  • Other possible games: Eagles-Cowboys is looking too lopsided to be competitive. Seahawks-Panthers still has a chance but there are a lot of ifs involved. Titans-Chiefs is gaining real ground. Lions-Chargers could also contend. (Further updates on this front next week.) Hiestand picks Jets-Pats if the Skins and Giants collapse and the Pats are still perfect, but as you can see above, that can only happen if Eagles-Pats gets flexed out, and it’s incredibly lopsided anyway.

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 Hiestand: None mentioned, but Skins-Vikings, Giants-Bills, and Dolphins-Pats (the latter two restricted by high number of primetime appearances) are all unprotected.
  • Other possible games: Texans-Colts (is probably out), Packers-Bears (also in trouble but an appealing matchup regardless of respective records), 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. Lions-Chiefs may become less of a reach. Again, more on this next week.

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 might be out. Titans-Colts and Lions-Packers are Hiestand’s favorites. Playoff positioning watch starts next week because I’m in a closing computer lab and I’m in a rush to get home.

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