Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch and Playoff Watch: Week 14 (or, Part 3 of the SNF Week 16 Fallout)

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 16 (December 26):

  • Selected game: Minnesota @ Philadelphia. This does not necessarily mean the 22-20 rule doesn’t exist, but if it does exist it’s very surprising; the NFL and NBC probably are dreading the potential of putting Rams-Seahawks in prime time, but they’re basically letting Fox have a potential Bears-Packers NFC North title game or a potential Bucs-Saints play-in game (hey, it could happen). A commenter on my last post did inform me that I miscounted and that the game the NFL put up against the World Series actually added a primetime game, but I thought I counted without bias to the 22-20 rule, and in any case the reasons I can think of for its existence would seem to lean towards not changing the calculus. Regardless, the real surprise here is that the NFL would flex to this game on the same night Brett Favre’s consecutive-games streak ended, meaning he almost certainly won’t be on the field; this is the second time this season I’ve underrated the Michael Vick effect (admittedly the other NFC games were NOT attractive). If the Colts don’t make the playoffs, and the Eagles don’t get the first-round bye but don’t go to the NFC West either (precisely what would happen if the playoffs started today), expect them to play in primetime on NBC one more time. Clearly, though, the NFL was desperate to get away from Chargers-Bengals and for whatever reason preferred to keep the potential of Colts-Titans or Chiefs-Raiders than the potential of Bears-Packers or Bucs-Saints – or maybe it was Vikings-Eagles that was more attractive than any Week 17 NFC game. But Week 17, which once looked to be wide open with options, now looks decidedly tight…

Week 17 (January 2):

  • In years past, I’ve done live updates throughout the day Week 16. This year, I’ve decided to take a longer view at potential scenarios, given the 22-20 rule and the current AFC playoff situation, and I think the landscape for the Week 17 pick is already remarkably clear.
  • The NFL always prefers to pick a Week 17 game where for one team, it is win-and-you’re-in, lose-and-you’re-out, no matter what happens earlier in the day. Usually this means a game where the winner would have the edge over the loser, either in straight record or because the winning team starts a game behind and wins the tiebreaker. The only other case I can think of is if they start the day tied, and because of wonky tiebreaker situations, the outcome if both teams win is different than if both teams lose (think Jets-Bengals last year). In that case, the team that would prevail if both teams win has their game selected for primetime, but the NFL seems to have made that less likely by scheduling all divisional games Week 17, as we’ll see.
  • In the AFC, which under the 22-20 rule is the only conference that can have a game selected for primetime, there are no teams just one game back, and there are two weeks before Week 17. For a game with wild card implications to be picked, the Jets or Ravens must lose two games, and the Chargers, Colts, or Dolphins must win two games. (Shakeups in division races can change this calculus, as the South and West division leaders would be only one game back if they weren’t leading divisions; we’ll look at that later.)
  • The situation is complicated for the Chargers and Colts because they are also in division races. If the Colts beat the Jags but the Jags come back and beat the Redskins, the Colts could still win the division even if they lose Week 17, because if the Jags lose too, the Colts hold the common games tiebreaker. The Chargers are done playing their fellow division contenders, but the Chiefs need to win at least one game for Chargers-Broncos to be relevant for wild-card purposes. The division tiebreaker is even, but the Chiefs swept the non-common games while the Chargers would have to go 1-1 in non-common games, giving them the common games tiebreaker, so the Chiefs would in fact have to win both of the next two.
  • Neither the Ravens nor Jets have played the Chargers or Colts (or the current leaders in those divisions for that matter). The Ravens did beat the Dolphins, but the Dolphins and Jets split their series. If the Dolphins win their next two, both teams will enter Week 17 with 3-2 divisional records. Both teams won all their non-common games so the common games tiebreaker is even as well, but the Jets would enter with the conference tiebreaker, which wouldn’t change with both teams winning or losing. The Dolphins are one loss or one win each from the Jets or Ravens away from elimination.
  • The conference record of the Ravens and Jets would both be 7-4, as would that of the Colts and Chargers. The next step is common games, which here means whatever games the Ravens and Jets have played against the South and West, whatever games the Colts and Chargers have played against the East and North, and each team’s record against the teams the other group has played. Both Ravens and Jets played the Broncos and Texans and beat them both; the Colts split the series with the Texans, but while the Chargers beat the Broncos the first time, they play them Week 17; an opening! The Colts beat the Broncos and the Chargers beat the Texans. On the other hand, both the Chargers and Colts lost to the Patriots and (in this scenario) beat the Bengals. The Jets split their series with New England, while the Patriots beat the Ravens and the Jets beat the Bengals, but the Bengals beat the Ravens the first time and the second time is Week 17; another opening! All told, the common games record entering Week 17 is: Jets 4-1, Ravens 2-2, Colts 3-2, Chargers 3-1. Jets-Chargers and Ravens-Colts look like interesting pairs, but if both teams win in either of them, things go to the chaotic strength of victory tiebreaker, which could go either way.
  • But what if several teams go in tied? Jets-Ravens-Colts goes to the Jets and strength of victory if all win, the Colts if all lose. Jets-Ravens-Chargers goes to the Jets and Chargers regardless if all win or all lose. Jets-Colts-Chargers goes to the Jets if all lose, strength of victory if all win. Ravens-Colts-Chargers goes to the Chargers whether all win or all lose because the Chargers beat the Colts. And if all four end up tied, the Jets and Chargers win if all win or all lose.
  • So much for the wild card. What about the division? I’ve already covered why there will be no qualifying game for the South, and the West is similar. So let’s look at longshots, starting with the not-so-long-shot of Oakland. If the Raiders win their next two, and the Chiefs and Chargers both lose their next two, Chiefs-Raiders becomes an option as an effective AFC West title game. What about tiebreakers? Oakland beat Kansas City the first time, so they can be a game behind the Chiefs. If the Raiders win their next two, the Chargers lose their next two, and the Chiefs lose one of their next two, Chiefs-Raiders becomes an option as an effective AFC West title game. And what if the Chargers get involved? Do they lose tiebreakers? As implied, Chargers-Chiefs goes to the Chargers, but Oakland swept the Chargers. If the Raiders win their next two, the Chiefs lose their next two, and the Chargers lose one of their next two, Chiefs-Raiders becomes an option as a win-and-you’re-in game for the Raiders. If the Raiders win their next two and the Chiefs and Chargers each lose one of their next two, OR if the Raiders win one of their next two and the Chiefs and Chargers each lose both of their next two, Chiefs-Raiders becomes an option as a lose-and-you’re-out game for the Chiefs. Basically, if the Raiders are still in the division race, Chiefs-Raiders is an option because the Raiders would own all tiebreakers over the Chiefs and Chargers with a win, unless the Chargers have made up so much ground that such an outcome would just propel them into the playoffs if they win.
  • In the AFC South, there are 5-8 teams that can run down the teams at the top and conceivably force a division title game. Both require the Colts to beat the Jags and stop the Jags from clinching the division. After that, they need to win three games and the Jags and Colts need to lose two more games. Because both Week 17 games need to go a certain way for either to have a shot, there is no shot at an AFC South division title game of any kind.
  • Onwards to the impact of division shake-ups. For a division shake-up to occur, the currently leading team needs to lose one game to allow the trailing team in the division to catch up. However, to catch a team for the wild card in time to create a potential Week 17 game, they then need to win another game and the Jets or Ravens need to lose two games, and the trailing team needs to win both Weeks 15 and 16, or there will be a chance that the Jags or Chiefs will win the division even with a loss. As mentioned, the Jets and Ravens would be 7-4 in conference record. The Jags, losing to the Colts, would also be 7-4; the Chiefs would be 6-5 at best with no shot at winning the conference record tiebreaker. We’ve already covered how the Jets and Ravens each beat the Broncos and Texans; the Jags have beaten both but play the Texans again Week 17 for another opening. Jacksonville also beat the Bills and Browns; the Jets beat Browns and the Bills the first time but play the Bills again Week 17 for another opening, while the Ravens have beaten both teams but would have lost to Cleveland the second time. All told, the score is Jets 4-0, Ravens 4-1, Jags 4-0. Jets-Jags would go to strength of victory if both win or both lose, and the Ravens lose any tie with the Jags. That leaves only one game that could even possibly be an option in the AFC.
  • Final prediction: Kansas City Chiefs @ Oakland Raiders (if my count is accurate). I will recount and if I find the actual score after the Vikings-Eagles flex is 22-21, I’ll assess the possibilities in the NFC next week. But what I find is that it is still surprising the NFL didn’t go with Colts-Raiders. This took me hours to figure out, but it still reveals that Colts-Titans isn’t really an option and Chiefs-Raiders is far less attractive than any NFC option except Rams-Seahawks.
AFC Playoff Picture
NFC Playoff Picture
510-3 5-8
6-7 4-9
8-5 8-5

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