Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 13

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 even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • 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.
  • 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 starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • In the past, three teams could 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. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Giants, Cowboys, Packers, and Eagles don’t have games in the main flex period, and of those only the Giants don’t have games in the early flex period. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

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

Week 11 (November 22):

  • Selected game: Cincinnati @ Arizona.

Week 12 (November 29):

  • Selected game: New England @ Denver.

Week 13 (December 6):

  • Selected game: Indianapolis @ Pittsburgh.

Week 14 (December 13):

  • Selected game: New England @ Houston.

Week 15 (December 20):

  • Selected game: Arizona @ Philadelphia. Hoo boy, I can’t wait to hear what inscrutable thought process went into this one; have we ever seen a team below .500, certainly with more than a game’s difference between wins and losses, flexed into Sunday night (at least with a game involving only teams at .500 or above as an option)? Certainly I didn’t consider any teams below 5-6 last week despite the tire fire the NFC East is this year, but that’s offset by the fact this maxes out the Eagles on primetime appearances with a Week 17 game against the Giants still potentially deciding the division, and the decision came down before seeing if the two would come out of this week tied for the division lead. If you’re going to disqualify yourself from airing Eagles-Giants, why not put on Panthers-Giants, a game that honestly isn’t that much more lopsided even if the Panthers lose? If Fox protected Panthers-Giants, and you really don’t want to put the Texans on consecutive weeks or you want to address an imbalance of games taken from CBS or Fox, why not put on Bears-Vikings, two bigger markets and a less lopsided game? Yeah, the Vikings’ lease at the University of Minnesota’s stadium only allows them one primetime home game to be played when classes aren’t in session, but I can’t imagine Minnesota would still have classes in session when Christmas is the following Friday, and their Week 17 potential NFC North title game against the Packers is at Lambeau. Hell, Bills-Original Americans would at least be competitive and wouldn’t squeeze you out of a potential Week 17 game. The more I think about this the more I think this is the worst actual flex I’ve ever encountered in the ten years we’ve had flex scheduling, worse than the multi-week clusterbleep of two years ago that put the absolute worst Week 16 game the NFL could have for the purpose of determining the Week 17 game into SNF, which was at least an otherwise understandable choice with a two-game gap and without outright ruling out any potential Week 17 game. The only flex that might come close would be the very first flex known to be a flex way back in 2007 (when I wasn’t sure protections or appearance limits even existed), and even that involved the undefeated Patriots in their 18-1 season. Seriously, do you realize this is only a game less lopsided than the tentative?

Week 16 (December 27):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: 7-5 v. 4-8. One of the NFL’s better rivalries, but not in the best shape right now. Probably would be a better flex choice than Cardinals-Eagles though.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Jets (CBS) and Packers-Cardinals or Panthers-Falcons (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Fox’s unprotected game has been far and away ahead of any other contenders all season, with Giants-Vikings in second. Of course that involves a 5-7 team, so for completeness’ sake let’s mention Bears-Bucs and Colts-Dolphins. Hell, let’s throw Cowboys-Bills in there for the hell of it.
  • Analysis: Well, with the Packers still hovering a game short of being maxed out and this now potentially representing the second straight week for the Cardinals on SNF, I guess we can rule that game out. Meanwhile, the once-mighty Falcons have fallen to .500 and the Panthers have clinched the division and might not have much of anything to play for by the time this game comes around, and it’s not like the Giants have a Week 17 candidate game to worry about getting maxed out for anymore. The worst-case scenario for Giants-Vikings is probably 8-5 v. 5-8, which probably still beats 7-6 v. 6-7 for Bears-Bucs and Colts-Dolphins given the name factor and NFC East bull-dropping fire, but might be close with 7-6 v. 5-8 for a game involving America’s Team that could still win the division. Of course the Cowboys would also be maxed out with their own potential Week 17 candidate game, but does anyone really want to see Indians-Cowboys in primetime again? Really the biggest threat to Giants-Vikings might be the tentative, whose best-case scenario is identical to Giants-Vikings’ worst with both the rivalry-game factor and the tentative game bias on its side, but after this flex I’m not even so sure about that. Hopefully I’ll be less sleep-deprived and more informed about just what the hell the NFL was thinking by Sunday night when I make my Last-Minute Remarks.

Week 17 (January 3):

AFC Playoff Picture
7-5 6-6
NFC Playoff Picture
2 tied at 5-7
8-4 4-8
7-5 6-6
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Jets-Bills, Raiders-Chiefs, Indians-Cowboys, Vikings-Packers, Seahawks-Cardinals. Only three of these games involve teams within a game of each other at the moment (which would have been two if the Cowboys hadn’t won Monday night), but sure, let’s carelessly throw away the possibility of a fourth for whatever unfathomable reason!

11 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 13

  1. I’m honestly as surprised as you that ARI-PHI was flexed. To me, it must mean that they decided now that they want to flex NYG-MIN in Week 16. Because with that decided, they couldn’t flex CHI-MIN for Week 15. But still, I don’t see how the game they picked is better than HOU-IND, both in terms of quality of teams, competitive balance, and importance of the game in determining the AFC South winner. Just bizarre.

  2. For the sake of argument, let’s assume 1) because of rules regarding the balance of primetime games taken from Fox or CBS, both of the next two weeks have to be Fox games in order for the NFL to be able to take a CBS game Week 17 and 2) Fox protected Panthers-Giants. That means Texans-Colts and Bills-Warriors this week is out and so is Colts-Dolphins, the more appealing of the 5-7 v. 6-6 games, next week, as well as both tentatives. If you’re trying to stay away from any NFC East teams with non-offensive nicknames as well as the Packers, literally your only options for games each of the next two weeks involve the Bears, meaning you have to put the Bears, a sub-.500 team with playoff chances that are a long shot at best, on in consecutive weeks. But that’s not really a disaster; Chicago is a big market and Bears-Vikings is a divisional rivalry involving a team in the thick of the playoff chase. In fact, it occurs to me now that Giants-Vikings, even with Eagles-Giants off-limits, would actually be a repeat of the Bears-Eagles fiasco from two years ago; only Panthers-Falcons and the two 5-7 v. 6-6 games don’t involve teams in the potential Week 17 games. So Bears-Bucs might actually be a pretty good bet for Week 16.

    But in Week 15, let’s turn around and assume Fox protected Bears-Vikings. Now literally ALL your options that don’t involve going to teams at 4-8 or below with slim-to-no playoff hopes involve either maxing out Week 17 candidates or precluding taking a CBS game Week 17. Honestly? In that case I’d bite the bullet and take Texans-Colts or Bills-Original Americans. The only CBS game among the Week 17 candidates with teams within a game of each other is Jets-Bills, which has no buzz and is for the wild card (and ergo is that much less likely to be significant in the way the NFL wants). With the tire fire in the NFC East (the most TV-friendly division in the league) and the top two teams in the NFC North (the second-most TV-friendly division) playing each other, realistically your Week 17 game looks like it’s coming from the NFC anyway.

    Unless you actually have to go *three-for-three* on Fox games, but that would betray staggeringly bad scheduling; even going two-for-three means you started the season needing to flip a CBS game to Fox, which would be okay when all but one of the late flex tentatives are CBS games (after all, who knew Seahawks-Ravens would be so middling at best) but starting out needing to flip *two* CBS games to Fox seems even more irresponsible than scheduling a late-flex game with only one possible alternative would have been. And *even then* I might take Packers-Raiders on grounds that the Vikings-Packers loser is likely to still get the wild card, even if it’s more likely to have guaranteed consequences than the NFC East games, or as I say in the entry, if I feel I need to preclude Eagles-Giants I take Panthers-Giants and get a bigger market with bigger stars and at least excuse the lopsided game with the potential appeal of an unbeaten team.

    A part of me wonders if the NFL has just said “screw it” and decided if Week 17 comes down to a team maxed out on primetime appearances, they’ll override their own rules, plug in the game anyway, and make considerations to pay Fox back next year or in the selection of playoff games – heaven knows changing the rules as they go along has pretty much been Roger Goodell’s modus operandi (most relevantly for our purposes, see the Broncos-Chiefs “voluntary protection dropping” from a while back). By that logic, with all the NFC East teams equally mediocre-at-best, losing the Eagles seven times is more palatable to Fox than losing the Giants or Cowboys that many times. But it still feels like a lot would have had to go wrong for the NFL for them to *have* to even risk going that route. Fox has the singleheader Week 15; if all else fails, pull the “voluntary protection dropping” card again, on the other network than last time, and get them to relinquish Bears-Vikings (even if an at-the-time battle of undefeateds it is not).

  3. Personally, I think it’s more the NFL wanted to flex the Cardinals in again and EITHER:

    FOX protected Packers-Cardinals in Week 16 (which would make perfect sense given that game was expected to be possibly for the #2 seed that it still might be).


    The Fiesta Bowl Committee told the NFL they need Packers-Cardinals at 2:25 PM local time as they need as much lead-time as possible to get University of Phoenix Stadium (Cardinals home field) ready for the Fiesta Bowl that kicks off at 11:00 AM on New Year’s Day (and it’s quite possible fans of Notre Dame and Ohio State may be looking to arrive as early as Sunday night for that game).

    The NFL may also be assuming that Seahawks-Cardinals in Week 17 will be meaningless with regards to playoff position. I still think the NFL is hoping the Cardinals wrap up the #2 seed before they play the Packers because of a potential nightmare scenario for the NFL if the Cardinals wind up at #3 due to their stadium hosting the College Football national championship game on Monday, January 11. (for reasons I noted in earlier responses to prior blog posts)

    Also think it’s possible the NFL wanted to flex Bills-Redskins but may have been told by officials in Washington that could not be done and if so possibly because of security concerns, especially being only five days before Christmas and some of the security personnel scheduled to work the game unable to switch to a night game (and some of it possibly enhanced well beyond normal given it’s close to Christmas and what has happened elsewhere in recent weeks).

    Anyway, as for the flexes:

    Week 16: The Dolphins hanging on against the Ravens this past week likely took away any chance of the Ravens staging a miracle comeback to make the playoffs. Assuming CBS protects Patriots-Jets and Packers-Cardinals is unavailable, best game may actually be Cowboys-Bills if the Cowboys somehow win in Lambeau this week and the Bills beat the Eagles. That game could have bearing on both the NFC East and AFC Wild Card. Otherwise, the Steelers figure to be alive for the Wild Card to the end and the Ravens are still a bitter rival, so this one likely stays, however, if the Bears and Buccaneers win this week, the NFL might put Bears-Bucs in Week 16 to showcase Jameis Winston, especially if the Packers lose to the Cowboys as well.

    Week 17: It’s quite possible Meadowlands and/or New Jersey officials told the NFL they could not have Eagles-Giants flexed to SNF due to fact it is the end of New Year’s Weekend and many people are likely to be driving back on the roads in and around The Meadowlands at a much higher volume than usual for Sunday (also, it’s well known many older Giants season ticket holders loathe night games and with the Maras that is something the NFL likely also could be taking into account). Also, I believe they are in the process of tearing down the old grandstand at The Meadowlands Racetrack (next door to Met Life Stadium, the new such is on the opposite side of the track) and converting that back into parking space, which could be a factor there.

    This is what I came up with using Yahoo’s Playoff Generator:

    Using that, Week 17 is coming up extremely thin. With that in mind, I have it where if indeed the NFL was told they could not flex Eagles-Giants AND if the Panthers are 15-0 going into the final game, NBC may decide to just go with Bucs-Panthers with the Panthers going for 16-0 and hope Tampa is still alive for a Wild Card berth going into that game.

  4. Surprised to see the Vikes not flexed as well, but the University of Minnesota actually has finals from Dec. 17-23.

  5. Thought Minnesota had classes (in this case Finals) through Dec. 23. If the NFL forced the Vikes to violate their lease to play on Sunday 12/20 and fans especially after the game were disruptive enough to where it impacted Finals (either by fans acting loud or some doing other acts and hung around well into Monday morning and bothered students), you would likely see a lot of angry faculty there. I’m sure the NFL was told they could not make Bears-Vikings the SNF game on those grounds no matter how much money the NFL was willing to pay to make it happen.

  6. I refuse to buy that the NFL would be that laser-focused on flexing in a specific team. Especially one that probably doesn’t pop ratings that much, and one that’s not the Panthers. The purpose of flex scheduling is to swap out bad games for good ones, not to go in intending to swap in a specific team at all costs even if there are no good chances to do so.

    I suppose if you’re correct that the NFL can’t flex Eagles-Giants into primetime anyway, Fox protected Panthers-Giants, and the NFL needs to take Fox games the next two weeks to keep Jets-Bills open as an option, then this move starts to make sense as the only available game not to preclude a Week 17 game that isn’t already precluded. I still think if CBS games were options, there’s no reason not to take Texans-Colts except putting the Texans on in consecutive weeks, but if that’s an overriding consideration (and considering the stakes I don’t think it should be) Bills-Original Americans, while closer, probably wouldn’t pop as high a rating.

    I feel like in future seasons, the NFL should start no more than two teams in the same division with five primetime appearances. I’m not sure whether it would be better for those teams to be in the same or different Week 17 games.

  7. Morgan:

    Under normal circumstances, that would likely be the case.

    On the surface, this seems like a strange flex, however, I think it’s not so much laser-focused than what options the NFL may have for Weeks 16-17 and not that they needed to even out FOX-CBS flexes. The only reason otherwise I can think of moving Cardinals-Eagles to SNF is that gives Philadelphia three games instead of two that Sunday, though that could have more easily been accomplished by cross-flexing the game to CBS and making it the main early game of that CBS doubleheader.

    It’s also possible the NFL knows (and if so does not want to make public unless absolutely necessary) that Seahawks-Cardinals and any game involving a potential Wild Card round opponent for the Cardinals would have to be moved to Saturday, January 2 should the Cardinals have not clinched the #2 seed for the playoffs after their game with the Packers, which would severely restrict what the NFL could put on SNF if 2-4 games have to be played on Saturday 1/2. That would be due to the College Football Playoff Committee insisting on being able to get University of Phoenix Stadium (the Cardinals home field) ready the weekend of January 9-10 for the National Championship Game on Monday 1/11 (with fans of the schools playing in that game arriving as early as that Friday) that would force a Cardinals’ Wild Card Playoff Game to be played on Friday 1/8 and the NFL would not want teams playing in that game doing so on four days rest (and the NFL knowing this is one time College Football trumps the NFL and elected officials in areas where college football is bigger than the NFL looking down on the NFL if they tried to force otherwise).

    Just my view on this.

  8. The comment that inspired the “laser-focused” comment was you basically saying “Packers-Cardinals might be off-limits, so the NFL flexed in Cardinals-Eagles to have a Cardinals game”, without consideration for why the NFL would be that desperate to have a primetime game involving the Cardinals specifically. If the balance of flexes from each network isn’t a factor, why not take Texans-Colts?

    Under your second full paragraph, if Eagles-Giants wasn’t already precluded by other factors, it would be sheer lunacy to preclude a Week 17 game in the NFC East, none of the teams from which would be travelling to Glendale for a wild card game. (The Vikings-Packers loser, on the other hand, could be.) That alone tells me the NFL probably has a contingency in place to avoid that nightmare scenario, even if that means playing the Wild Card game at Sun Devil Stadium as I suggested before. (And if not, it probably precludes moving Packers-Cardinals to SNF even if it’s unprotected and the Fiesta Bowl wasn’t a factor, since the NFL likes to announce the Week 17 schedule during SNF, which is why I’m leaning towards Bears-Bucs as a game not involving teams in potential Week 17 games.)

  9. It may be sheer lunacy by the NFL unless the NFL already knew they could not flex Eagles-Giants in Week 17, if so possibly because the NFL may have been told by Meadowlands and/or New Jersey officials they can’t have that game start at 8:30 due to what are likely expected to be much higher than normal traffic levels as most people are returning home from Christmas vacation that week. As also noted, it’s no secret Giants season ticket holders (many of whom are over 65 and have had such tickets going back to when they were still playing in Yankee Stadium in some instances) absolutely can’t stand going to night games and the NFL may not want to tick off such season ticket holders by having the final game of the regular season at night. If you remember, the Jets wound up actually playing the final game in Giants Stadium (which was flexed to SNF) in no small part because the Giants likely did not want to risk irking older season ticket holders by having them as the finale and that being flexed to SNF in Week 17 as the Jets actually were.

    Another factor in this could be the NFL may have to take an AFC game as you suggested the final week of the regular season for SNF due to the fact if the Cardinals did have to host a Wild Card round game, it could be no later than Saturday 1/9 in all likelihood under ANY circumstances. That would preclude taking an NFC game (especially on the I-95 corridor) in case a massive snowstorm or other weather event caused such a game to have to be postponed to Monday (or Tuesday as was the case with Vikings-Eagles in 2010), which also would eliminate taking Bucs-Panthers in Week 17, especially if the Bucs are still in the hunt for an NFC Wild Card and were a possible opponent for the Cardinals.

    Bears-Bucs I see as a possibility in Week 16 if the Bucs are in wild card contention and the Bears still have a faint hope of snatching it (and as I noted previously, a chance to showcase Jameis Winston).

    And if it were a choice of the Cardinals playing a Friday Wild Card game or playing in Sun Devil Stadium (which might not be available anyway because that may be a practice facility for one of the two schools playing in the College Football championship game), I think the Cardinals would prefer to play Friday night in that scenario, and the NFL just might have to go along with it. That’s why I’m sure the NFL wants the Cardinals to wrap up the #2 seed ASAP, especially before the Packers game in Week 16 to avoid any such scenarios from coming to fruition.

  10. The correct answer as to what happened with the Philly game is in the comments here.

    This is the NFL’s show. They make the call, in the end. Remember that.

  11. Yes, but the NFL also likely knows there are restrictions as to what could be played on the final week, The decision the NFL made for Week 15 may very well have been due to the NFL already being told The Meadowlands could not handle an 8:30 PM Eagles-Giants game on January 3 (for reasons already noted). It’s also possible the NFL got a long-term forecast that suggested a possible major snowstorm on New Year’s Weekend and especially given the Cardinals have not yet clinched the #2 seed (though they took a BIG step towards doing that on Thursday) could not take the chance of a repeat of what happened Christmas weekend in 2010 (see above comments).

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