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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 10

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.

Last year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. CBS and Fox were able to protect one game every week each but had to leave one week each unprotected and had to submit their protections after only four weeks.

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:

  • Begins Sunday of Week 11
  • In effect during Weeks 11-17
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 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.
  • Two other rules were established earlier: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and can't protect any games Week 17 this year.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five; the Pats and Cowboys already have six) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC.
Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 18):

  • Selected game: New England @ Buffalo.

Week 12 (November 25):

  • Selected game: Philadelphia @ New England.

Week 13 (December 2):

  • Tentative game: Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: Very much in trouble. The Steelers (7-2) look great but the Bungles (3-6) are anything but. Also a factor: the Steelers' high number of primetime games. NBC will want to flex this out for a better Steelers game later.
  • Protected games according to Hiestand: Jaguars-Colts (CBS) and Giants-Bears (Fox)
  • Other possible games: Chargers-Chiefs doesn't look as good as you might think at 5-4 versus 4-5. 6-3 vs. 3-6, as Lions-Vikings is, is just more lopsided. Titans-Texans, at 6-3 vs. 4-5, might be the best unprotected pick.
  • Prediction: I don't see Bengals-Steelers keeping its spot, but so much depends on what happens Sunday. The only chance for Chargers-Chiefs is for the Chiefs to beat the Colts, which isn't as crackheaded as it sounds, considering the Chargers did the same thing this week. San Diego beating the Jaguars wouldn't hurt either. The Texans should beat New Orleans to secure Titans-Texans; for Lions-Vikings to get in, the Vikings need to beat Oakland and ideally there should be some hope Adrian Peterson will be back by this point. But the Vikings also need the Texans to lose and for either the Titans to lose on Monday Night or the Lions to win against the Giants. At the moment, Titans-Texans is likeliest (but very dependent on the Texans), followed by Chargers-Chiefs (but very dependent on the Chiefs), followed by Lions-Vikings (but very dependent on the Vikings). If the Texans, Chiefs, and Vikings all lose? Then a Cincinnati win over the Cardinals brings the no-change option back into the fold, and I believe NBC and the NFL will lean towards no-change when possible.

Week 14 (December 9):

  • Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: Might be vulnerable with Baltimore below .500 and the Colts suddenly on a losing skid.
  • Protected games according to Hiestand: Steelers-Patriots (CBS) and Giants-Eagles (Fox)
  • Other possible games: Ignore Cowboys-Lions because of the primetime appearances. Chargers-Titans is the leading candidate, while Jags-Panthers is slipping along with the QB situation in Carolina. Chiefs-Broncos may be a dark horse but a problematic one.

Week 15 (December 16):

  • Tentative game: Washington @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: Might have the best chance to keep its spot, unless things break the Ravens' way. Being in the same division as the Cowboys hurts, but these are two teams on fire (especially the G-Men) and the thrilling finish of their last meeting will help write the storyline.
  • Protected games according to Hiestand: Jags-Steelers (CBS). Hiestand mentions no Fox game but that doesn't mean there isn't one.
  • Other possible games: Seahawks-Panthers still has a chance but there are a lot of ifs involved. Titans-Chiefs keeps rolling along. Lions-Chargers might be the favorite - unless it was protected, but given the Chargers' early-season struggles that's less likely than you might think. Look out for Browns-Bills, a textbook case of why flex was adopted. Lions-Chargers and Redskins-Giants are the only other two games involving only teams with winning records.

Week 16 (December 23):

  • Tentative game: Tampa Bay @ San Francisco
  • Prospects: Very problematic, even with the Bucs' success, which just makes it look lopsided.
  • Protected games according to Hiestand: None mentioned, but Skins-Vikings, Giants-Bills, and Dolphins-Pats (the latter two restricted by high number of primetime appearances) are all unprotected.
  • Other possible games: Texans-Colts (needs the Texans to improve), Packers-Bears (also in trouble but an appealing matchup regardless of respective records), Ravens-Seahawks (struggling). There aren't a lot of attractive matchups this week. Lions-Chiefs might be becoming the favorite if the Chiefs can get back on track, while Giants-Bills is a legit dark horse.

Week 17 (December 30):

  • Tentative game: Kansas City @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: Awful. The Chiefs are starting to fall back down to earth.
  • Other possible games/Playoff Positioning Watch: Cowboys-Redskins out due to number of primetime appearances.
    • AFC East: The Bills are starting to give the Pats something to worry about. If the Pats lose all their remaining games, they're 9-7. The Bills are 5-4. The Jets and Dolphins are already eliminated. The Pats are on NFL Network, and while the Bills play the Eagles, it's still an unlikely scenario.
    • AFC North: Every team is theoretically in it. The Steelers are running away with it and the Browns are the closest competitor, two games back. The Browns can push Steelers-Ravens to primetime if they keep it close - but it depends a lot more on what the ex-Browns do. Right now, this game isn't looking great.
    • AFC South: The Colts are now just a game ahead of the Jaguars and Titans. If that keeps up, Titans-Colts could be the favorite. The Texans are mathematically still in it.
    • AFC West: Substitute the Chargers for the Colts and the Broncos and Chiefs for the Jags and Titans. The Chargers are playing the Raiders; the Broncos, the Vikings. Not looking likely. But the Raiders are mathematically still in it.
    • AFC Wild Card: The Jags and Titans would get the nod if the season ended today, robbing some luster from Titans-Colts. The Bills and Browns are a game back, adding some luster to Bills-Eagles, but the Eagles need to hold up their end of the bargain. The Ravens, Broncos and Chiefs wait in the wings, so Steelers-Ravens could be a dark horse in the AFC.
    • NFC East: Cowboys two games up on the Giants. The Giants are on NFL Network and Dallas, playing a Redskins team three games out, has too many primetime appearances. Philly still mathematically in it.
    • NFC North: Packers-Lions undoubtedly the NFC favorite. Another two-game gap. Bears and Vikings still mathematically in it.
    • NFC South: Bucs holding on to a one-game lead over the Panthers and Saints. The Saints play the Bears, but Bucs-Panthers remains a dark horse. Falcons still mathematically in it.
    • NFC West: Seahawks with one-game lead over the Cardinals. The former plays the Falcons while the latter plays the Rams. Niners and Rams still mathematically in it.
    • NFC Wild Card: Giants and Lions would get the nod if the season ended today. Redskins a game back. Eagles, Bears, Panthers, Saints, and Cardinals all waiting in the wings at 4-5, lending a little credence to Bills-Eagles and Saints-Bears, but not enough to pass better games.

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