Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

Also known as “Why NBC’s only flex game might NOT be Week 16”.

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 cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 the first year of flexible scheduling, but are now protected after Week 5.
  • 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. At this writing, no team is completely tapped out at any measure, although the Jets have five primetime appearances and can’t be flexed out of any of them, which is a problem since five other teams also have five primetime appearances and can be flexed out of them. (So naturally this turned into the Year of Parity!) A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.
  • A rule that may have come to light late 2008 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 18, CBS 17; with tentative games, the tally is FOX 21, CBS 20. With this rule in place, Weeks 12, 13, and 16 cannot be flexed away from AFC road games without making up for it in Weeks 11, 14, 15, and 17.

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

Week 11 (November 21):

  • Tentative game: NY Giants @ Philadelphia
  • Prospects: Both teams at 4-2 and tied for the division lead in the most attractive division in the league. Extremely good chance to keep its spot.
  • Likely protections: Packers-Vikings (FOX) and Colts-Patriots (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Jets-Texans, Chiefs-Cardinals, Redskins-Titans, and Saints-Seahawks, with Falcons-Rams and Raiders-Steelers as dark horses, all very dependent on how everything shakes out. Right now if any of them had a shot it would begin and end with battle of 1-loss teams Jets-Texans. (I think the Raiders have shown enough flashes of brilliance to potentially make the playoffs, especially in a division where they’re only 1 1/2 games back and tied for second, so I’m including every team at 2-4 or above.)

Week 12 (November 28):

  • Tentative game: San Diego @ Indianapolis
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 2-4, but the Chargers always start slow. But there are some ominous signs in the Colts’ losses…
  • Likely protections: Reportedly, Eagles-Bears (FOX) and Titans-Texans, Jags-Giants, or nothing (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games. Besides the potentially protected games, Packers-Falcons, Bucs-Ravens, and who knows, maybe even Vikings-Redskins or Chiefs-Seahawks.

Week 13 (December 5):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 4-2, potentially deciding the AFC North. Extremely good chance of keeping its spot.
  • Likely protections: Falcons-Bucs or Cowboys-Colts, more likely the latter (FOX) and Jags-Titans if anything (CBS). This week has only one good CBS game but a better tentative compared to the other CBS unprotected candidate.
  • Other possible games: Redskins-Giants or the potentially protected games, with Chiefs-Broncos and Rams-Cardinals as potential dark horses, and Saints-Bengals a big long shot.

Week 14 (December 12):

  • Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 1-4; an NFC East game always = ratings, but at what point do the Cowboys’ struggles become too much to take? This is NBC’s only shot at a Cowboys game during the flex scheduling period, but they could come in to this game 3-9 or something gruesome like that. On the other hand, look at the alternatives…
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Bears (CBS) and probably nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Giants-Vikings and Bucs-Redskins are the main Fox protection candidates if they did protect something. Bucs-Redskins and Rams-Saints are the only available games that don’t involve teams below .500; neither feels like a game you’d abandon Eagles-Cowboys for. Broncos-Cardinals, Jags-Raiders, and Chiefs-Chargers are dark horses. Bengals-Steelers is hanging by a thread.

Week 15 (December 19):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ New England
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 3-3, so NBC better hope the Packers look more like the first of those “3”s, or this could get disturbingly lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Jets-Patriots (CBS) and Saints-Ravens or Redskins-Cowboys, more likely the latter, but see below (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Eagles-Giants could well take this, but that maxes them both out of NBC appearances, and Fox would not be happy about losing both games of the divisional matchup, which makes me wonder if Fox may have in fact protected that game. Saints-Ravens would also be very attractive. Texans-Titans, Jags-Colts, and Chiefs-Rams are also options, with Falcons-Seahawks as a dark horse.

Week 16 (December 26)

  • Tentative game: San Diego @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 2-4 v. 2-3, and the Bengals will have trouble catching up to the Ravens and Steelers.
  • Likely protections: Jets-Bears (CBS) and Giants-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Titans is your best option with two teams above .500. Texans-Broncos, Colts-Raiders, Redskins-Jaguars, Seahawks-Bucs, and Vikings-Eagles are also options. So as far as interest in the game goes, flexing won’t improve this game much. It is conceivable that the Titans fall out of the division running behind the Colts and Texans, the Chargers make their usual mid-season surge, the Bengals hover around .500, and the NFL decides to stick with two name teams.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

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