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: 5-2 v. 4-3, with the Giants leading the most attractive division in the league and the Eagles a game back. Extremely good chance to keep its spot.
- Protected games according to this: 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 1-loss vs. 2-loss in Jets-Texans.
Week 12 (November 28):
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Indianapolis
- Prospects: 4-2 v. 2-5; the Chargers always start slow, but something about this year feels different (especially with how much better the Chiefs and Raiders are), and there are some ominous signs in the Colts’ losses…
- Protected games: Eagles-Bears (FOX) and Jags-Giants (CBS).
- Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, though less so than in years past. Your options are Titans-Texans, Packers-Falcons, Bucs-Ravens, Chiefs-Seahawks, and who knows, maybe even Vikings-Redskins. This game is very much at risk with three battles of 2-loss teams (although all involve iffy markets, so if the decision came this week it might default to Packers-Falcons).
Week 13 (December 5):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 5-1 v. 5-2, potentially deciding the AFC North. Extremely good chance of keeping its spot.
- Protected games: Cowboys-Colts (FOX). This week has only one good CBS game but a better tentative compared to the other CBS unprotected candidate last week.
- Other possible games: Redskins-Giants, Falcons-Bucs, and Jags-Titans, with Rams-Cardinals an emerging dark horse, and Saints-Bengals a big long shot.
Week 14 (December 12):
- Tentative game: Philadelphia @ Dallas
- Prospects: 4-3 v. 1-5; an NFC East game always = ratings, but at what point do the Cowboys’ struggles become too much to take, especially with Tony Romo on the shelf? 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; its only shot at keeping its spot may be if it’s the game Romo comes back in, and that probably won’t be known 12 days in advance. On the other hand, look at the alternatives…
- Protected games: Patriots-Bears (CBS).
- Other possible games: Bucs-Redskins is the only available game that doesn’t involve teams below .500, and it doesn’t feel like a game you’d abandon Eagles-Cowboys for. Rams-Saints and Jags-Raiders are dark horses. Giants-Vikings is an important wild card, but Brett Favre’s career may be over by then. Bengals-Steelers is hanging by a thread.
Week 15 (December 19):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ New England
- Prospects: 5-1 v. 4-3, a bit lopsided but both teams are at least tied for their respective division leads.
- Protected games: Jets-Patriots (CBS) and Eagles-Giants (FOX).
- Other possible games: Saints-Ravens is very attractive. Texans-Titans, Falcons-Seahawks, and Jags-Colts are also options, with Chiefs-Rams as a dark horse. I originally didn’t think Fox would protect Eagles-Giants thinking they’d always want to hang on to the NFL’s biggest rivalry, but unless the Cowboys make an unprecedented comeback with Jon Kitna at QB Redskins-Cowboys might not even be Fox’s own spotlight game.
Week 16 (December 26)
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Cincinnati
- Prospects: 2-4 v. 2-5, and the Bengals will have trouble catching up to the Ravens and Steelers, while the Charger mid-to-late season magic may have run out with the rest of the division improved.
- Protected games: Jets-Bears (CBS) and Giants-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games: Chiefs-Titans and Seahawks-Bucs both involve two teams above .500. Colts-Raiders and Redskins-Jaguars are also options, with Vikings-Eagles as a Brett Favre wild card.
Week 17 (January 3):
- Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.