NFL Week 18 Schedule Post-Mortem

Obviously the attention of the NFL world in the past two weeks has been focused on Damar Hamlin and the aftermath of his collapse in the first quarter of what was supposed to be a huge Monday night game between the Bills and Bengals. Thankfully his condition is not nearly as bad as was feared at the time, and less than a week after his collapse he was discharged from the hospital and returned to Buffalo with his release from a Buffalo hospital coming only nine days after the incident, and the NFL world seems to be moving on and returning to a semblance of normalcy, even if the NFL did end up imposing some odd contingencies to make up for the pivotal game that ended up being abandoned (though not nearly as odd as some of the proposals for delaying the playoffs that were floating around, including from me). Still, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m diminishing the Hamlin situation or anything. To be sure, certain forms of empathy don’t come as naturally to me as to most people, and I might sometimes come off as indifferent in my reaction to certain tragedies, but I think since writing that post I’ve come to a better understanding of why people react in the way that they do in those sorts of circumstances, maybe a better one than society itself has, and understand why those things have the import they do even if I don’t necessarily feel it myself.

Nonetheless, I also don’t feel that just because of the undeniably unfortunate situation the NFL world has gone through in the last week, that means the league should be off the hook for what they did in the 24 hours before Hamlin collapsed. Because as it turned out, the decision to flex Steelers-Ravens into the preceding Sunday night, which I called potentially the worst flex decision since 2015, was only a prelude to what, before the Sunday night game was even announced, would be the absolute worst flex decision of the entire flex scheduling era, and it’s not even close. Were it not for Hamlin’s collapse and the way the league dealt with it, the NFL’s boneheaded decisions about which games to move to Saturday could have had a material impact on what teams make the playoffs in both conferences (and the Sunday night pick could still have had that impact in the NFC), and it was entirely avoidable. 

Read moreNFL Week 18 Schedule Post-Mortem

Cantonmetrics: The Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Snub Team

Who are the best players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

The following chart contains the top 20 players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, any other players on the “All-Snub Team” based on the top non-Hall players at each position, and any senior candidates that would fill spots on the All-Snub Team currently filled by modern-era players to form the All-Senior Candidate team. Note that this is based on Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame Monitor metric only, so it does not necessarily reflect my opinion about who the best or most deserving players are, and even to the extent that it does, it doesn’t necessarily mean these players should be in the Hall of Fame, especially the players closer to the bottom, nor does it mean I would object to any player not on this list being inducted. It also means the list does not include any players who played the bulk of their career before 1950, as the Hall of Fame Monitor doesn’t include such players.

Note also that players who were modern-era finalists in the most recent cycle are generally not considered snubs unless they are new finalists in their last five years of eligibility. Most players who became finalists before their last five years of eligibility, all but a handful who got there before their last eight, and to my knowledge, every player since 2002 who got there before their last ten, eventually made the Hall of Fame. Since 2002, Bob Kuechenberg is the only player who was a finalist for at least the last four years of his eligibility who did not get inducted before his eligibility ran out, and since the introduction of the two-tier cutdown of finalists in 2005, the only player to make the cut to the final 10 before his last three years of eligibility not to be inducted. This explains why I’m rolling this out right after the announcement of the finalists rather than waiting to see who gets inducted. 

Read moreCantonmetrics: The Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Snub Team

Predictions for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s selections are performed by a panel of 46 leading NFL media members including representatives of all 32 NFL teams, a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America, and 13 at-large writers.

The panel has selected a list of 15 finalists from the modern era, defined as playing all or part of their careers within the last 25 years. A player must have spent 5 years out of the league before they can be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. Players that last played in the 2017 season will be eligible for induction in 2023.

Before Super Bowl LVII, the panel will meet virtually and narrow down the list of modern-era finalists down to five. Those five will be considered alongside three senior candidates and one coach or contributor, each selected by nine-member subpanels of the larger panel last August, for a total of eight. From this list, at least four and no more than nine people will be selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

My prediction for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023 is:

Darrelle Revis
Joe Thomas
Zach Thomas
Torry Holt
Andre Johnson
Chuck Howley
Joe Klecko
Ken Riley
Don Coryell

Hall of Fame Game: Dolphins v. Rams

After the jump, the chart of notable honors for the finalists as well as the semifinalists that failed to make it to the final 15. 

Read morePredictions for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 16

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 17; and week 18. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10. Note: This year NBC’s press release indicated that the main flex period begins in Week 11 even though Christmas falls on Sunday. I’m assuming this is correct and the result of NBC still being able to have six weeks in the main flex period despite this because of the expansion of the season.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturdays in December in recent years – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games, historically in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in may receive the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 18, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. More rarely, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and 2018 and 2020, respectively, were the first times it showed such games. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET, except for two games moved to Saturday to be simulcast on ESPN and ABC.

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

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 16

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 15

Note: This post (mostly) does not incorporate the result of the Thursday night game. Hey, at least I didn’t skip it entirely like last year.

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 17; and week 18. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10. Note: This year NBC’s press release indicated that the main flex period begins in Week 11 even though Christmas falls on Sunday. I’m assuming this is correct and the result of NBC still being able to have six weeks in the main flex period despite this because of the expansion of the season.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturdays in December in recent years – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games, historically in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in may receive the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 18, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. More rarely, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and 2018 and 2020, respectively, were the first times it showed such games. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET, except for two games moved to Saturday to be simulcast on ESPN and ABC.

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

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 15

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 17 Picks

Week 17 (January 1):

  • Tentative game: LA Rams @ LA Chargers
  • Prospects: Effectively flexed out already with the Chargers now maxed out on primetime appearances without it. The Rams’ surprisingly woeful season has sealed its fate.
  • Likely protections: Vikings-Packers (CBS) and Saints-Eagles, Jets-Seahawks, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Jets (7-7)-Seahawks (7-7), Dolphins (8-6)-Patriots (7-7), Steelers (6-8)-Ravens (9-5), Browns (6-8)-Maroons (7-6-1), Niners (10-4)-Raiders (6-8), Panthers (5-9)-Bucs (6-8).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: Miniscule but not nonexistent; the Rams technically still haven’t been eliminated from the playoffs, and the league’s options are limited enough there’s a slim chance they decide to have this game keep its spot, effectively giving the Chargers a seventh pre-Week 18 primetime appearance a year early. The more relevant factor, at least for when the league might announce a flex, is probably how comfortable CBS is with Vikings-Packers as their standalone late national game.
  • Analysis: The NFL has a tough decision to make, as nearly every game got worse; you might think all the losses would cancel each other out and Jets-Seahawks, still only a game worse on one side of the ledger than Dolphins-Patriots but pinned to the late singleheader otherwise, would still have the edge, but neither team looks particularly deserving of a playoff spot at the moment – yet the same could be said of the Patriots after the mess their game ended in. (Did that finish firmly shut the door, if the last two seasons of Brady greatness and Patriot mediocrity didn’t already, on Belichick being in the “greatest of all time” conversation?) The real winner might have been Panthers-Bucs, as the Bucs now only have a one-game lead over the other three teams in the division, the Panthers actually control their own destiny, and even if they lose next week a win over the Bucs would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker. If the league and NBC don’t want to showcase the NFC South tire fire (at least before Week 18), or if Fox would rather keep Panthers-Bucs to anchor its own singleheader, Dolphins-Patriots probably carries the least risk of a team being eliminated from the playoffs by game time otherwise, but barring a crossflex losing Dolphins-Patriots would leave CBS with Steelers-Ravens as their best early game, though the situation isn’t quite as dire as when Eagles-Giants was in a similar situation some weeks back, as the Steelers are at least on the periphery on the playoff picture and Fox has Browns-Maroons, Panthers-Bucs, and now Saints-Eagles available in the early window, with both the Steelers and Browns creeping closer to .500 and staying at least on the periphery of playoff contention this week.Appearing on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” two weeks ago, NFL Vice President of Broadcast Planning Michael North suggested that the Week 18 schedule might not be set until after the Bills-Bengals Monday night game in Week 17, and while that likely applies more to the Sunday afternoon slate (which has been held until after the Monday night game in the past) than the Saturday or Sunday night games, it’s not like the league has much of a history of taking that sort of thing into account when setting the penultimate Sunday night game anyway. With the Bengals holding a game’s lead over the Ravens but the Ravens having won the first matchup between the teams, Ravens-Bengals has a very good chance of deciding the AFC North and may well be off-limits for a move to Saturday with the quick turnaround the Bengals would have, so the league may figure it doesn’t matter what game is on Sunday night when it comes to when they can set the Week 18 schedule, if they even take it into account. But if they do want to minimize the chance of needing to wait for the Sunday night game to set, at minimum, the Saturday games (themselves dependent on the Sunday night game), or even just want to minimize the chances that a team could be eliminated from the playoffs by Sunday night, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pull another six-day hold out of their ass, though that would require deferring the decision to either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day when league officials would really prefer not to have to be working.

    If they make the decision now? Jets-Seahawks would be easiest logistically, but if the Jets and Seahawks lose while the Dolphins, Chargers, and Other Washington win next week, there’s a very real chance both teams could be eliminated from the playoffs by Sunday night. A six-day hold would be a signal that the league really wants to keep Jets-Seahawks in contention, in my view. Panthers-Bucs could be an embarrassment and the potential to feature the NFC South two weeks in a row might be a bridge too far for the league and NBC, even if Brady (in the last two games of his career???) would be involved both times, and anchoring the Fox singleheader might be a more fitting fate unless Fox would rather go with Saints-Eagles. Dolphins-Patriots might leave CBS’ cupboard bare in the early window, and if the Packers lose tonight there’s a chance CBS wants to make Dolphins-Patriots their new late feature game, but the Dolphins’ playoff spot is the one the Patriots can more easily steal so the playoff implications are pretty much guaranteed, and Fox, at this point, has no shortage of games they can crossflex to CBS to backfill the early window – assuming Steelers-Ravens isn’t good enough as is.

  • Final prediction (if no six-day hold is used): Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots.
  • Prediction (if a six-day hold is used): New York Jets @ Seattle Seahawks (if (the Jets win OR no more than one of the Dolphins and Chargers win) AND (the Seahawks win OR Washington loses)), Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (if the Jets-Seahawks scenario doesn’t happen AND the Bucs win AND the Panthers win AND the Falcons lose), Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots (if neither of those scenarios happen). Not marking this as a final prediction because I reserve the right to change it as I look deeper into the Week 18 scenarios (and whether there are games that would be dependent on potential Sunday night candidates), whether Dolphins-Patriots would still be tenable if too many of the Browns, Steelers, Panthers, and Saints lose (my thinking is the scale would tip back to Panthers-Bucs at that point), and whether games involving 6-8 AFC teams could actually be flex candidates given the additional opportunity of a six-day hold.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 14

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 17; and week 18. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10. Note: This year NBC’s press release indicated that the main flex period begins in Week 11 even though Christmas falls on Sunday. I’m assuming this is correct and the result of NBC still being able to have six weeks in the main flex period despite this because of the expansion of the season.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturdays in December in recent years – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games, historically in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in may receive the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 18, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. More rarely, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and 2018 and 2020, respectively, were the first times it showed such games. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET, except for two games moved to Saturday to be simulcast on ESPN and ABC.

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

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 14

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 13

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 17; and week 18. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10. Note: This year NBC’s press release indicated that the main flex period begins in Week 11 even though Christmas falls on Sunday. I’m assuming this is correct and the result of NBC still being able to have six weeks in the main flex period despite this because of the expansion of the season.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturdays in December in recent years – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games, historically in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in may receive the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 18, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. More rarely, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and 2018 and 2020, respectively, were the first times it showed such games. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET, except for two games moved to Saturday to be simulcast on ESPN and ABC.

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

Read moreSunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 13

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF (and Saturday NFLN) Week 15 Picks

Week 15 (December 17-18):

  • Tentative SNF game: New England (6-6) @ Las Vegas (5-7). On the one hand the Raiders won again, but on the other hand the Pats didn’t exactly look ready for prime time in a listless Thursday night loss to the Bills. Apparently if this game were to be flexed out, it would force the Las Vegas Bowl the previous day into an afternoon timeslot, but considering that even before the season these teams were only expected to be around .500, it seems like it would have been a better choice for a Monday night game than Sunday night.
  • Tentative CBS 4:25 game: Cincinnati (8-4) @ Tampa Bay (5-6).
  • 3 of these games to be moved to Saturday on NFL Network: Dolphins (8-4)-Bills (9-3), Ravens (8-4)-Browns (5-7), Colts (4-8-1)-Vikings (10-2), Falcons (5-8)-Saints (4-8), Giants (7-4-1)-Riveras (7-5-1).
  • Likely protections: Probably Titans-Chargers (CBS) and Cowboys-Jaguars, Eagles-Bears, or nothing (FOX).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: A Saints win would tie them with the Falcons only a half-game back of the NFC South, giving the game between them potentially huge divisional implications. A Saints loss, by contrast, would give the Bucs a game-and-a-half lead with the Saints another game behind that, giving Falcons-Saints much less juice. On the other hand, the Bucs getting back to .500 would make whether or not I’m correct about the protections a matter of paramount importance.
  • Analysis: As mentioned on last week’s Watch, I was ridiculed on the 506sports Discord for daring to suggest that CBS might have protected Titans-Chargers over Bengals-Bucs at all, let alone that they “probably” did so, but I don’t think we’d have been hearing about a potential Saturday game moving to Sunday night these last few weeks if Titans-Chargers were available (though all the factors leading to Dolphins-Chargers being flexed in the previous week suggests the league may have felt that was a more important Chargers game to flex in than the Titans). My view is that putting a potential Saturday game on Sunday night is only really worth it if the worst game going to NFLN would still be better than putting the Raiders on; NBC’s rights fees are more valuable to the league than games on NFL Network, but there’s still a question of whether the overall set of games getting national exposure is a net positive (though I did have it suggested to me that NFLN really only needs a single “anchor” game to prop up the rest of the slate), and the Raiders getting overtime wins the last two weeks, including against a team currently in the playoffs with the best home field advantage in the NFL, and following that up against a divisional opponent with playoff hopes of their own, suggests Patriots-Raiders may not be the disaster it was looking like earlier in the year. I’m actually not sure the game would be flexed out for Bengals-Bucs even if the Bucs win tonight; the Bucs would have the same record as the Patriots and only a game better record than the Raiders, and their game would technically be more lopsided. The problem, though, is that the Patriots may not necessarily be holding up their end of the bargain, even though they still technically have a better record than the Raiders.

    The Browns won to get to the same record as the Raiders, but their game with the Ravens looks to be more lopsided, and if the Bucs win tonight that would be only the second Saturday game if one of them gets flexed in to Sunday night. A Saints win might make the league feel better about flexing in one of the Saturday games, but I’m not sure it makes them feel all that great. Moreover, the league might not be able to wait for after the Monday night game to make decisions about which games get flexed to Saturday, though it sounds like they could announce the slate during the Monday night game (and they might be able to announce Saturday games conditional on the Monday night game, something they’ve done for Sunday night games in the past). As far as which game gets flexed in, I could honestly see it going either way; the Dolphins lost to put them a game back of the Bills and creep the game closer to the NFC East tilt, which would now determine which team would win a tiebreaker that would likely be just the two of them… but there’s also a question of whether we want to showcase a game that could just slog its way to a tie again. I’d still be inclined to pick the NFC East game, but I’m not as confident about it.

    That’s especially the case because before the Sunday slate even started, someone uncovered an FCC request for a satellite uplink in Buffalo that included “NBC NFL SNF” as one of the dates for it to be used. Seems odd for the decision to be made that early and without publicly announcing it, but I’m almost tempted to go with that, because I could honestly see any of four games ending up on Sunday night otherwise. Leaving that aside, what may end up being the determining factor is that Patriots-Raiders is another West Coast game that can only go in the late afternoon window, and if it ends up going to CBS, the network it would “normally” go to and the one that, as the doubleheader network, has more need for games, it would enter an already crowded late DH window unless Bengals-Bucs either moves to the early window or gets flexed into SNF. If one of the Saturday games gets flexed to SNF, I would look for Patriots-Raiders to be “crossflexed” to Fox’s late singleheader.

  • Final prediction for SNF: Cincinnati Bengals @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (if unprotected or CBS is convinced to give it up, and the Bucs win tonight), New England Patriots @ Las Vegas Raiders (no change) (if not).
  • Final prediction for Saturday: New York Giants @ Washington Commanders (8 PM ET), Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills (4:30 PM ET), Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints (1 PM ET, if the Saints win tonight), Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns (1 PM ET, if the Saints lose tonight or the league really can’t make the game dependent on the result of the Monday night game). (If the Saints lose and a Saturday game gets plugged into SNF, my first instinct is to go with Colts-Vikings over Falcons-Saints for the third Saturday game, even though it’s badly lopsided, as a game with playoff implications for one team at least. But I could see the league thinking differently, especially with the likelihood of the Vikings clinching the division this week, and if they can’t wait for the Monday night result I would expect them to go with Falcons-Saints in the late afternoon window, justified with the Saints being on Central time.)

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 12

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 17; and week 18. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10. Note: This year NBC’s press release indicated that the main flex period begins in Week 11 even though Christmas falls on Sunday. I’m assuming this is correct and the result of NBC still being able to have six weeks in the main flex period despite this because of the expansion of the season.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturdays in December in recent years – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games, historically in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in may receive the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 18, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. More rarely, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and 2018 and 2020, respectively, were the first times it showed such games. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET, except for two games moved to Saturday to be simulcast on ESPN and ABC.

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

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