Between three primetime packages, a handful of Monday Night doubleheaders, international games, Saturday games, tripleheaders on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a game on Black Friday, by the time the season ends the NFL will have presented 74 games in standalone windows, over a quarter of all the games being played, before even getting into the games being shown in the featured late afternoon windows on CBS and Fox. Yet even with all of that, there are still some great games being left to languish in obscurity, buried in the early afternoon window or even the late singleheader window, where your ability to watch the game will be dependent on the luck of the draw. Here are the best games that aren’t currently scheduled for any primetime or other standalone window and aren’t slated to be a lead 4:25 ET game.
2023 marks the beginning of the NFL’s new TV contracts including substantial changes to how flex scheduling works, not all of the details of which are known: six-day Sunday night flexing in December, Monday night flexing, and potentially even Thursday night flexing. With that will likely come substantial changes to how the Flex Schedule Watch works, which I’ve only recently started seriously thinking about… partly spurred by learning of a possible change to how flex scheduling works that could make the former format almost entirely obsolete.
If there’s one tweet that sums up the conundrum broadcast television has found itself in for going on 15 years now, it’s this:
One-time $14 purchase of HD antenna > more than $14/month broadcast network fees being tacked on to your pay TV bundle.
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) March 16, 2023
As I’ve been writing about for years, most notably in Chapter 7 of my book, this dynamic has led broadcasters to neglect their own nominal medium in the years since the dawn of the modern retransmission consent era – not merely to collect more money than they could get from advertising alone, but at least before cord-cutting caught on, as an existential lifeline allowing them to hope to compete with cable networks that could extract subscriber fees from cable operators without having their leverage undermined by the ability of people to watch their content for free. Even as cord-cutting has ramped up, the broadcast industry has remained sufficiently dependent on retransmission consent that they have not only done little to take advantage of the phenomenon, they’ve crippled any efforts to help them do so, from killing Aereo and Locast to at-best hesitantly embracing the stopgap technology allowing broadcast signals to be received by mobile devices directly.
With the Bally Sports RSNs careening towards bankruptcy, and with Warner Bros. Discovery issuing an ultimatum to teams that it intends to shut down the AT&T Sportsnet networks at the end of the month, America’s (non-NFL) major sports leagues are being dragged towards their post-RSN future faster than they probably hoped, with MLB setting up an in-house production arm in the likely scenario that they’ll have to take over production of some teams’ games, at least on the AT&T networks. That makes it look especially likely that once everything shakes out, said post-RSN future will follow, to some degree or another, the template set out by MLS’s deal with Apple TV with leagues producing games in-house for distribution on streaming services.
There are a lot of dimensions to this that I could get into, but for this post I want to focus on perhaps the least important element of it: the aesthetics of it. Every major sports entity has their own in-house production arm with their own graphics package, if not to produce games for their own network then at least to produce them for the international market, but as the leagues have typically relied on the networks (both national and regional) as the primary production and distribution mechanism for their games, they haven’t tended to devote resources towards the graphics of their in-house production arms, which as a result tend to be somewhat sub-par, okay for the relatively lower-tier games (less prominent than what the national networks get, and for the NBA, NHL, and MLB, blacked out in the local markets and usually not even using their own production as opposed to taking the RSN feed) but not necessarily suitable for being the full-time graphics package for the primary means of distribution for a local team’s games or for a league’s most prominent games. Sports entities that produce coverage that they actually expect to be seen by a significant portion of their audience, like most European sports leagues, FIFA, or the IOC, generally put enough effort into their graphics packages that they actually can claim to be worthy of being the primary graphics package for their sport, even – perhaps especially – if they’re exceedingly simple. (Notably, a prominent exception is the Premier League, whose UK partners have their own graphics packages as does NBC in the United States, and which has devolved into this mess for their international productions.)
I haven’t made a post in the Sports TV Graphics category in forever, but I have been making more comments on new and existing graphics packages, and presenting my mock-ups for what new graphics packages might look like, on Twitter in recent years. I decided to take a stab at redesigning the graphics packages for every American sports entity with more than $1 billion in annual pre-pandemic revenue, setting that as the baseline for a league with the resources to put some effort into their graphics packages if they want to. I could have gone lower – the Pac-12 Networks have a surprisingly good graphics package, though that may be partly a function of their location in the Bay Area – but that’s about the point where the quality of international graphics packages starts to deteriorate, and where the American sports leagues involved are either difficult to design a unique package for, fractured across multiple entities that can vary widely in revenue if you can even find out what that revenue is (horse racing and boxing), or that I just don’t want to address for various reasons, including their revenue being set to decline precipitously under the assumptions I’m making (individual college conferences). That leaves the traditional four major sports, plus the post-expansion CFP, PGA TOUR, MLS, NCAA, UFC, and possibly NASCAR, with some other leagues and entities getting new graphics as after-effects of the others; we’ll ignore the UFC because they already produce their own coverage for everything and have a good enough graphics package as a result.
For each sport I sought to balance the competing imperatives of simplicity, aesthetics, accommodation of advanced statistics, and mobile/old-person-friendliness, with this last resulting in certain minimum font sizes that constrained some of my design decisions and might make some people unhappy with what I came up with. I also have some thoughts about how the production might be set up, including general availability of games, main commentators, and theme songs, with the assumption that each league would poach the networks’ commentators and themes for their own coverage (despite Fox putting their own commentators and graphics on top of MLS’ feeds), but these are mostly fanciful and the emphasis is on the graphics. Without further ado:
Congratulations to Darrelle Revis, Joe Thomas, DeMarcus Ware, Zach Thomas (finally!), Ronde Barber, Don Coryell, and the three senior candidates on their induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now it’s time to look at how this year’s selection process affects who the players most likely to get in next year are, and with the 2022 season fully at a close, what active and recently-retired players have most built their resumes for eventual induction into Canton.
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.
As we approach the end of the year we see the arrival of the season for reflecting on the past and predicting the future, and in the sports media business there’s always something going on that make the business of predictions exciting; whenever big rights deals come up for renewal the possibilities seem endless for what might happen, and as the legacy television industry struggles to come to terms with the advent of cord-cutting moves taken now will have ramifications for decades to come. John Ourand’s annual prediction column in the Sports Business Journal is generally good for a mix of bold predictions, assessment of the current landscape, and surprisingly odd analysis for someone so well-connected. 2021’s column was more accurate than I thought it would be, but 2022’s column had more misses than hits, especially in the most prominent areas, though I can’t say my assessments fared much better. Here, then, is my take on Ourand’s predictions for 2023:
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.
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:
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.
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: