NFL Flexible Scheduling Watch: Week 7

After a week riddled with upsets, it’s looking surprisingly plausible that we might not have any flexes this year. It had started to look like we had a pretty firm group of “bad teams” – in no particular order, the Giants, Bears, Patriots, Broncos, Cardinals, and Panthers, with the possible addition of the Jets – but most of those teams won this past weekend, many against teams perceived to be good, and now the Cardinals and Panthers are the only two teams without multiple wins, and neither was expected to be good enough to warrant primetime appearances – meaning every other team would be 3-4 or better if just one result had gone the other way, which would be strong enough to keep their spot if they had any games in flexible feature windows and even to be in the running to be flexed in. (The last NFC wild card spot is currently held by the 3-3 Bucs in a weak NFC South. That means the Giants and Bears are only a game and a half out of the playoffs.) There’s now a firmer group of the league’s “elite” teams – the Chiefs, Eagles, and 49ers, and after Monday night I’m not so sure about the Niners – than there is a group of firmly “bad” teams.

Of course, in all likelihood the “bad” teams will go back to form in future weeks, but considering the constraints on what games could be flexed in, it’s still looking like a potentially lighter year for flex scheduling than you might think considering the number of games that had been given to mediocre-to-bad teams.

How NFL flexible scheduling works: (see also the NFL’s own page on flex schedule procedures)

  • Up to two games in Weeks 5-10 (the “early flex” period), and any number of games from Week 11 onward, may be flexed into Sunday Night Football. Any number of games from Week 12 onward may be flexed into Monday Night Football, and up to two games from Week 13 onward may be flexed into Thursday Night Football. In addition, in select weeks in December a number of games may be listed as “TBD”, with two or three of those games being assigned to be played on Saturday. Note that I only cover early flexes if a star player on one of the teams is injured.
  • Only games scheduled for Sunday afternoon, or set aside for a potential move to Saturday, may be flexed into one of the flex-eligible windows – not existing primetime games or games in other standalone windows. The game currently listed in the flex-eligible window will take the flexed-in game’s space on the Sunday afternoon slate, generally on the network that the flexed-in game was originally scheduled for. The league may also move Sunday afternoon games between 1 PM ET and 4:05 or 4:25 PM ET.
  • Thursday Night Football flex moves must be announced 28 days in advance. Sunday and Monday Night Football moves must be announced 12 days in advance, except for Sunday night games in Week 14 onward, which can be announced at any point up until 6 days in advance.
  • CBS and Fox have the right to protect one game each per week, among the games scheduled for their networks, from being flexed into primetime windows. During the early flex period, they may protect games at any point once the league tells them they’re thinking of pulling the flex. It’s not known when they must protect games in the main flex period, only that it’s “significantly closer to each game date” relative to the old deadline of Week 5. My assumption is that protections are due five weeks in advance, in accordance with the 28-day deadline for TNF flexes. Protections have never been officially publicized, and have not leaked en masse since 2014, so can only be speculated on.
  • Supposedly, CBS and Fox are also guaranteed one half of each division rivalry. Notably, some Week 18 games (see below) have their other halves scheduled for the other conference’s network, though none are scheduled for primetime.
  • No team may appear more than seven times in primetime windows – six scheduled before the season plus one flexed in. This appears to consider only the actual time the game is played; Amazon’s Black Friday game does not count even though the rest of their TNF slate does, and NBC’s Saturday afternoon game Week 16 doesn’t count but their Peacock game that night does. This post contains a list of all teams’ primetime appearances entering the season.
  • Teams may play no more than two Thursday games following Sunday games, and (apparently) no more than one of them can be on the road.
  • In Week 18 the entire schedule, consisting entirely of games between divisional opponents, is set on six days’ notice, usually during the previous week’s Sunday night game. One game will be scheduled for Sunday night, usually a game that decides who wins the division, a game where the winner is guaranteed to make the playoffs while the loser is out, or a game where one team makes the playoffs with a win but falls behind the winner of another game, and thus loses the division and/or misses the playoffs, with a loss. Two more games with playoff implications are scheduled for Saturday on ABC and ESPN, with the remaining games doled out to CBS and Fox on Sunday afternoon, with the league generally trying to maximize what each team has to play for. Protections and appearance limits do not apply to Week 18.
  • Click here to learn how to read the charts.

Read moreNFL Flexible Scheduling Watch: Week 7

NFL Flexible Scheduling Watch: Week 6

Note: This post does not incorporate the result of the Thursday night game.

Apologies for this coming out so late, but I wanted to make sure I got the rules spiel below right and was satisfied with it because I’m probably going to be copy-and-pasting it for years to come. Here’s hoping this is the last time this year I have the dreaded “does not incorporate Thursday night” warning, at least until the last few weeks when I drive myself crazy trying to figure out the Week 18 situations only for the league to blithely steamroll past them!

How NFL flexible scheduling works: (see also the NFL’s own page on flex schedule procedures)

  • Up to two games in Weeks 5-10 (the “early flex” period), and any number of games from Week 11 onward, may be flexed into Sunday Night Football. Any number of games from Week 12 onward may be flexed into Monday Night Football, and up to two games from Week 13 onward may be flexed into Thursday Night Football. In addition, in select weeks in December a number of games may be listed as “TBD”, with two or three of those games being assigned to be played on Saturday.
  • Only games scheduled for Sunday afternoon, or set aside for a potential move to Saturday, may be flexed into one of the flex-eligible windows – not existing primetime games or games in other standalone windows. The game currently listed in the flex-eligible window will take the flexed-in game’s space on the Sunday afternoon slate, generally on the network that the flexed-in game was originally scheduled for. The league may also move Sunday afternoon games between 1 PM ET and 4:05 or 4:25 PM ET.
  • Thursday Night Football flex moves must be announced 28 days in advance. Sunday and Monday Night Football moves must be announced 12 days in advance, except for Sunday night games in Week 14 onward, which can be announced at any point up until 6 days in advance.
  • CBS and Fox have the right to protect one game each per week, among the games scheduled for their networks, from being flexed into primetime windows. During the early flex period, they may protect games at any point once the league tells them they’re thinking of pulling the flex. It’s not known when they must protect games in the main flex period, only that it’s “significantly closer to each game date” relative to the old deadline of Week 5. My assumption is that protections are due five weeks in advance, in accordance with the 28-day deadline for TNF flexes. Protections have never been officially publicized, and have not leaked en masse since 2014, so can only be speculated on.
  • Supposedly, CBS and Fox are also guaranteed one half of each division rivalry. Notably, some Week 18 games (see below) have their other halves scheduled for the other conference’s network, though none are scheduled for primetime.
  • No team may appear more than seven times in primetime windows – six scheduled before the season plus one flexed in. This appears to consider only the actual time the game is played; Amazon’s Black Friday game does not count even though the rest of their TNF slate does, and NBC’s Saturday afternoon game Week 16 doesn’t count but their Peacock game that night does. This post contains a list of all teams’ primetime appearances entering the season.
  • Teams may play no more than two Thursday games following Sunday games, and (apparently) no more than one of them can be on the road.
  • In Week 18 the entire schedule, consisting entirely of games between divisional opponents, is set on six days’ notice, usually during the previous week’s Sunday night game. One game will be scheduled for Sunday night, usually a game that decides who wins the division, a game where the winner is guaranteed to make the playoffs while the loser is out, or a game where one team makes the playoffs with a win but falls behind the winner of another game, and thus loses the division and/or misses the playoffs, with a loss. Two more games with playoff implications are scheduled for Saturday on ABC and ESPN, with the remaining games doled out to CBS and Fox on Sunday afternoon, with the league generally trying to maximize what each team has to play for. Protections and appearance limits do not apply to Week 18.
  • Click here to learn how to read the charts.

Read moreNFL Flexible Scheduling Watch: Week 6

Last-Minute Remarks on NFL Week 8 Flex Scheduling Decisions

Week 8 (SNF early flex #1): Here’s the situation: flexing in any Fox game other than Rams-Cowboys would force Bears-Chargers over to CBS, unless the league is willing to have Fox deliver Los Angeles a “double singleheader” where one game ends up on LA’s MyNet station KCOP. That likely means CBS would have to send Fox one of its games. Meanwhile, CBS currently has three games in the late afternoon window, all of them in the Pacific or Mountain time zones, and four games in the early window. So flexing in any game other than Rams-Cowboys or a CBS late game is going to, in all likelihood, require CBS to send Fox one of its late games. Joe Burrow has looked enough like Joe Burrow the past couple weeks that there’s no reason for CBS not to protect Bengals-Niners, and the other two West Coast games are being hosted by 1-5 teams. So the simplest move for the NFL would be to flex in Rams-Cowboys, except that might be the game Fox wants to keep the most. So the league could end up pressuring Fox not to protect it and let it go to NBC.

Of course, that might be a line of reasoning worthy of a certain commenter of mine. It’s not that difficult for the league to move games around if need be. Fox does have a worthy consolation prize in Eagles-Washington, but that game has lost the potential factor of the Eagles being unbeaten, so now all it has left is potential lopsidedness. Still, I’ve marked Fox as protecting that game partly so I can keep the notation for the Cowboys having six primetime appearances, even though I strongly doubt that’s going to be relevant the rest of the season.

If Fox does protect Rams-Cowboys, what does the league do? The Bears losing to a lackluster Vikings squad has probably sniffed out whatever hope existed that the Bears might have shown enough improvement in the Washington game to justify Bears-Chargers keeping its spot. On the 506sports Discord, the consensus seems to have been that a Washington win would be enough to get Eagles-Washington flexed in even with a Bears win, but I wouldn’t count out Jaguars-Steelers; the Jaguars may be ratings poison, but the Steelers are one of those teams with truly national fanbases, and the Jags do have a star quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. Most importantly, it’s less lopsided and, again, the Eagles don’t have the unbeaten factor that could have overcome that. In my mind, the big problem is that without Jaguars-Steelers, CBS’ cupboard would be pretty bare in the early window; the only game they’d have without a team at 1-5 or worse would be Falcons-Titans, pitting a team that might be worse than their record against a team likely without Ryan Tannehill, both with little buzz outside their home markets. So you’d probably be looking at Eagles-Washington moving over to CBS to serve as the new early-window anchor. But of course, if we’re flexing in a game that’s not Rams-Cowboys we’d be moving games around anyway, so that’s not that big of an obstacle.

To be sure, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see Eagles-Washington flexed in, but I’d like to think the league’s flexing decisions aren’t driven solely by market-based considerations, as much as it can seem that way sometimes. The Eagles would be coming off an SNF game against the Dolphins the previous week, and while the league can and does give teams consecutive SNF games through the flex process sometimes, my inclination is that they won’t do so here when there’s a viable alternative. (The Steelers do play the following Thursday night, but I don’t think that’ll factor into the league’s thinking.)

Final prediction:

  • Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys to SNF (if Fox doesn’t protect it).
  • If Fox protects Rams-Cowboys:
    • Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers to SNF.
    • Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Dead Witches to CBS.
    • Baltimore Ravens @ Arizona Cardinals to Fox.

Introducing the New NFL Flexible Scheduling Watch

The Bengals have had an unexpectedly slow start to the season with Joe Burrow not being the Joe Burrow the team needs him to be. The much-hyped arrival of Aaron Rodgers with the New York Jets came to an abrupt halt after four plays and no pass attempts – and yet the Jets with Zach Wilson still might be the better New York team, no thanks to Daniel Jones outright regressing after what seemed like a coming out party last year, leaving the Giants to stink up the joint in their primetime appearances so far. The honeymoon for Mac Jones in New England appears to be fast coming to an end as the Belichick-era Patriots may be reaching the end of their relevance. The Bears and Raiders, already questionable choices to get as many featured windows as they got, have been looking downright woeful – at least until the Bears got an unexpected win in Landover on Thursday night. The idea that Sean Payton might be able to fix what went wrong with Russell Wilson last season doesn’t seem to have panned out.

Add it all up, and we could be in for one of the most active seasons for flexible scheduling in a long time… as the NFL’s flexible scheduling regime enters uncharted territory.

I’ve put quite a bit of thought into what I want the Flex Schedule Watch to be since the schedule release back in May, and as I gleaned as much as I could about how flex scheduling will work going forward, I fairly quickly settled on the bones of a new format that I think best reflects how I’ve been conducting the Flex Schedule Watch in recent years, how the NFL has been conducting flex scheduling, and the changes to the flex scheduling regime. Gone are the regimented bullet points of the past, which had become as much restricting as guiding, and in is a new tabular format and more freeform, in-depth analysis. I’m not sure exactly how it’ll work yet – I might not have much to say about most weeks until a couple weeks until the decision has to come down – and I’ll probably work things out as the season goes along, but I have the basic idea at least. In this post I’ll walk through how it works with reference to several key weeks on the schedule. 

Read moreIntroducing the New NFL Flexible Scheduling Watch

In the Wake of the Disney-Charter Deal, What Networks are Living on Borrowed Time?

Last month the Walt Disney Company and Charter Communications reached a landmark carriage agreement that included Charter dropping all but three of Disney’s general entertainment networks, including networks that were still airing original programming and, in the case of FXX, pretty popular original programming at that. As I wrote earlier this week, it’s a major landmark in the linear television bundle being refocused on what linear television is good at, live events such as sports and news, with other networks serving primarily as a platform to premiere content at designated times in advance of appearing on their true streaming-service home, as well as distinct brands to organize such content, while potentially serving as a stepping stone to such streaming services becoming the true heart of the cable bundle. It’s fair to wonder what other networks could be at risk of being dropped by providers if distributors insist on similar terms from the other major programmers.

Although I made my post a month after the whole thing went down, this post is surprisingly timely: earlier this week, after I made my post, S&P Global Market Intelligence put out a report listing the networks they see as being at risk from the major programmers if they end up taking similar deals to Disney-Charter. I actually think they’re way too pessimistic about some channels, but also overlook a number of channels that would seem to be very much at risk, in my view. I’m going to make my own analysis, separate from theirs, about which networks are relatively safe and which ones are at risk. To assist in this endeavor, I’m going to refer to this table from TVNewser showing how many viewers each network averaged in total day and primetime for 2022; for numbers in the 18-49 demo, I’ll be referring to this Variety article which contains more incomplete data, and only includes the top 50 networks across broadcast and cable in primetime. 

Read moreIn the Wake of the Disney-Charter Deal, What Networks are Living on Borrowed Time?

How Charter Took On Disney’s 800-Pound Gorilla and Won – and Redefined the Cable Bundle in the Process

For decades, carriage disputes have been a way of life for those still immersed in the cable bundle – a source of frustration as popular networks have been held hostage in staring contests between pay TV providers and major media companies, ending, inevitably, in rates going up for all customers. But what happened for ten and a half days at the start of September was unique, indeed unprecedented, in two different ways. First, this was the first time, at least in recent memory, a carriage dispute directly affected me. Second, and far more importantly, for all that these disputes have become more contentious over the years as providers have positioned themselves as trying to hold the line on increasing programming costs and keeping customers from paying for channels they don’t want, the company more responsible for both of those things than any other – Disney, and specifically ESPN – has been largely immune to such clashes, with cable providers too fearful of the blowback from losing the 800-pound gorilla in the sports world to risk losing it even for a moment. This, though, was the first time, possibly ever, that any major cable provider was willing to lose ESPN and the other Disney networks for as long as a week. And though the sides ended up making up just hours before a highly-anticipated Monday Night Football showdown, the much-anticipated debut (and, as it turned out, possible swan song) of Aaron Rodgers with the New York Jets, in the end Charter Communications and its Spectrum-branded services managed to win some significant concessions from Disney – concessions that could ultimately define the future of the cable bundle. 

Read moreHow Charter Took On Disney’s 800-Pound Gorilla and Won – and Redefined the Cable Bundle in the Process