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 written with the 2007 season in mind):
- 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 8:20 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 8:20 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.
- 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, and could not protect any games Week 17 in 2007. Unless I find out otherwise, I’m assuming that’s still the case this year, especially with no tentative game listed Week 17. When looking up info on what the protected games might be, I found out that games were protected after Week FIVE this year, and presumably in some of the previous years. Previously all I knew was that games were protected after Week 4 the first year of flexible scheduling.
- 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. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.
- A rule that may have come to light late last year but that, given its restrictiveness and lateness in coming to light, I’m having trouble accepting, is that the balance of primetime games taken from FOX and CBS can’t go beyond 22-20 one way or the other. The current tally is FOX 15, CBS 20; with tentative games, the tally is FOX 19, CBS 22. With this rule in place, Weeks 11 and 14-16 cannot be flexed away from NFC road games without making up for it in Weeks 12, 13, and 17, and even with that at least one more game would have to be flexed to an NFC road game in said weeks.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:
Week 11 (November 22):
- Selected game: Philadelphia @ Chicago.
Week 12 (November 29):
- Selected game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore.
Week 13 (December 6):
- Tentative game: New England @ Miami
- Prospects: 6-3 v. 4-5. An improvement over last week, but still lopsided.
- Protected games: Cowboys-Giants (FOX) and Titans-Colts (CBS). (What does it say that the Titans are on a winning streak after their terrible start and Titans-Colts STILL looks like a terrible flex pick out of context?)
- Other possible games: Eagles-Falcons, Vikings-Cardinals, and Jags-Texans.
- Analysis: Eagles-Falcons and Jags-Texans are both 5-4 v. 5-4; Vikings-Cardinals is 8-1 v. 6-3. Last week I thought there might be some question as to which game NBC might pick, but the only chance either game has to pass Vikings-Cardinals is for the Cardinals to lose and the two teams in the other matchup to win – and possibly the Vikings as well, to make Vikings-Cardinals questionably lopsided, though even then the game is likely to have playoff implications, and it’s still Brett Favre. Still, 5-4 currently leads the NFC Wild Card (although it effectively splits the difference in the tentative game), and NBC still has other and possibly better chances to worship at the Favre altar, so I’m not quite ready to pick it yet; I’ll try to call it sometime on Monday.
Week 14 (December 13):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ NY Giants
- Prospects: It’s an NFC East game (always = ratings), and while it doesn’t currently have the NFC East lead on the line it’s still a battle of playoff contenders. Still a pretty good shot to keep its spot – the Giants’ troubles might help it in the long run if the game would have become lopsided as opposed to 5-4 v. 5-4. However, there are strong flex contenders…
- Protected games: Chargers-Cowboys (CBS) and Packers-Bears (FOX).
- Other possible games: Bengals-Vikings, Broncos-Colts, and Saints-Falcons all remain very strong contenders. Broncos-Colts is still the most compelling candidate to flex away from Eagles-Giants (even if the Broncos are no longer unbeaten), given the NFL’s reticence to pull the flex – but with the Favre factor, Bengals-Vikings at 7-2 v. 8-1 looks mighty compelling, and Saints-Falcons not only has a non-undefeated team almost as good as the Broncos, it might be the Saints’ best chance for a loss all year. I’m not likely to call this one during the week either.
Week 15 (December 20):
- Tentative game: Minnesota @ Carolina
- Prospects: Still lopsided, with the Vikings 8-1 and the Panthers 4-5. There are better chances to worship at the Favre altar the previous two weeks, against teams that are actually winning, not to mention the Giants Week 17 if that game has playoff implications.
- Protected games: Packers-Steelers (Fox) and Bengals-Chargers (CBS).
- Other possible games: Two good protected game choices mean that NBC can only select from games involving other teams with losing records. At least in the case of Falcons-Jets, 49ers-Eagles, and Bears-Ravens, one team is 4-5 and the other is above .500 (albeit 5-4 in all three cases). Given how good and otherwise appealing the Vikings are, and the NFL’s reticence to pull the flex, Vikings-Cardinals may keep its spot yet; the main point against it is lopsidedness, especially since a 4-5 team is far from out of the playoff picture, especially in the NFC.
Week 16 (December 27)
- Tentative game: Dallas @ Washington
- Prospects: Lopsided at 6-3 v. 3-6, but it is the NFL’s biggest rivalry so never count out its chances of keeping the spot.
- Protected games: Ravens-Steelers (CBS).
- Other possible games: Broncos-Eagles and Jags-Patriots, both 6-3 v. 5-4. (I eliminate Jets-Colts because the Jets fell below .500, but the Colts are still unbeaten.) The Eagles and Jags, by not being laughingstocks like Washington but instead being alive for playoff spots, make appealing cases for the flex, but are they enough to sweep the NFL off its feet?
Week 17 (January 3 Playoff Positioning Watch):
- AFC East: Patriots lead, Dolphins and Jets two back, Bills a game behind that. New England plays Houston, the Jets play Cincinnati, Miami plays Pittsburgh and the Bills play the Colts.
- AFC North: Bengals lead, Steelers a game back, Ravens waiting in the wings. The Bengals play the Jets, while the Steelers play the Dolphins and Baltimore plays Oakland. Browns mathematically in it.
- AFC South: Colts running away with it; Jags and Texans a full four back. The Colts play Buffalo while the Texans play New England and the Jags play the Browns.
- AFC West: Broncos and Chargers tied, Chiefs and Raiders four back. The Broncos play the Chiefs while the Chargers play the Redskins and Oakland plays Baltimore.
- AFC Wild Card: If the season ended today, the loser of the AFC West would get the nod along with the Steelers, with the Jags, Texans, and Ravens a game back. The Dolphins and Jets are waiting in the wings. Bengals-Jets and Texans-Patriots the main AFC contenders, though Dolphins-Steelers is appealing as well.
- NFC East: Cowboys lead, Eagles and Giants a game back, Redskins mathematically in it. Cowboys and Eagles play each other, while the Giants play the Vikings.
- NFC North: Vikings lead by 3 games over Packers with the Bears a game behind that. The Vikings play the Giants while the Packers play the Cardinals and the Bears play the Lions (who have already been eliminated from the North by being swept by the Vikings).
- NFC South: Saints lead by 4 over Falcons, with the Panthers a game behind that. The Saints and Panthers play each other, as do the Falcons and Bucs (who have also been eliminated from this race, this time outright).
- NFC West: Cardinals lead by 2 over 49ers with the Seahawks a game behind that. Arizona plays Green Bay, while the Niners play the Rams and the Seahawks play the Titans.
- NFC Wild Card: Any two of the Eagles, Giants, Packers and Falcons would get the nod if the season ended today, with the Bears, Panthers, and Niners a game back, giving Panthers-Saints dark-horse appeal. The Redskins, who play the Chargers, and Seahawks wait in the wings, meaning if you’re mathematically in any division race, unless you’re the Rams you have a surprisingly realistic shot at the Wild Card. The NFC definitely has the better games with Cowboys-Eagles, Giants-Vikings, and possibly Packers-Cardinals, but the NFL showed last year they’re more concerned with making sure the game has playoff implications no matter what happens when we get to primetime, so we’ll see how the rest of the season plays out. And how shocking would it be to see Redskins-Chargers in that spot?