With the NFL at the halfway point, it’s time for us to take a look at one of the great scheduling innovations of this millennium: the flex game. Since the NFL instituted the flex game, it’s ensured that NBC has a relevant, interesting late-season game to provide in the league’s marquee timeslot. And with the parity that always exists in the NFL, there are certainly some worthy teams and notable games that could deservedly get moved into primetime.
The NFL’s flex rules are a bit more complicated than you might think, but you can find the best explanation here. Keep in mind that both CBS and Fox get to protect a certain amount of late season games for their own interests as well, so it’s not quite automatic that the best game every week will move to Sunday Night Football. But as you’ll see below, there are still quite a few intriguing games to choose from.
The NFL hasn’t flexed the Week 10 SNF game, Patriots-Broncos, so the earliest we can see a flex game is Week 11.
Week 11 – Philadelphia at Dallas
This is a no-brainer. There’s no way the NFL would be giving up the team with the best record in the league playing the biggest ratings draw in the league. This will be a huge showcase for Carson Wentz and his MVP hopes as the Eagles will have a ton of hype heading into this one. It’s equally as important for the Cowboys though as they hope to jump back in the NFC East race. No Flex.
Week 12 – Green Bay at Pittsburgh
While on paper at the start of the season, Rodgers-Roethlisberger sounded like a great idea, the unfortunate injury to the Green Bay signal caller has likely put this game up for grabs. The Week 12 slate is an interesting one with a few good options like Buffalo at Kansas City and maybe even Miami at New England. But the best pick and the most intriguing matchup features two of the biggest surprises in the league, the Saints and the Rams. Seeing Jared Goff and the Rams’ high-powered attack against the Saints’ suddenly stringent defense would be a fascinating battle. Flex – New Orleans at Los Angeles.
Week 13 – Philadelphia at Seattle.
Get used to seeing A LOT of the Eagles in primetime as we reach November and December. This is by far the best game on the Week 13 slate with potentially Carolina at New Orleans in an NFC South showdown being the other best flex option. Odds are the NFL and NBC will want to stick with the Eagles and Seahawks, though. No Flex.
Week 14 – Baltimore at Pittsburgh
While Ravens-Steelers has been one of the league’s best rivalries over the last 15 years, it doesn’t quite have the same juice this year with the Ravens hovering around the .500 mark and the Steelers already comfortably winning their first matchup in Baltimore. Here’s where protection might come into play, though. Fox has Eagles-Rams set for a late afternoon national window that week which could be for the #1 seed in the NFC. (Who would have thought that at the beginning of the season?)
That game will likely be protected since Fox is losing so many Eagles games to primetime late in the season already. Another interesting choice is Seattle at Jacksonville in a cross-conference tilt, but I’m willing to bet that NBC thinks Ravens-Steelers will still be a big enough draw if both teams are mathematically alive in the AFC North. No Flex.
Week 15 – Dallas at Oakland.
Here’s another tough choice for the NFL and NBC. It’s going to be really hard for the peacock to give up a Cowboys game, even though the Raiders have been one of the league’s bigger disappointments so far this season. Do you dare move the Cowboys out of primetime? The other two options are Rams-Seahawks and Patriots-Steelers.
You can bet CBS will protect the latter game and it all might come down to how close that NFC West race truly is. If it were all about ratings then the Cowboys would stay, but I’m going out on a limb and saying the NFL will want to give the NFC West some love. Flex – Los Angeles at Seattle.
Week 16 – Pittsburgh at Houston
The NBC game actually takes place on Monday, December 25th at 4:30 PM ET as there is no Christmas Eve contest. Therefore there can’t be a flex in Week 16 and America gets Tom Savage for a Christmas gift. Enjoy debating all of your uncles on why Colin Kaepernick would be a better option at quarterback for Houston.
Week 17 – TBD
In past years, the NFL won’t make the announcement for who is playing on Sunday Night Football to close the season until after all of Week 16’s games have been completed. This is a great move to make sure the last game of the regular season carries as much weight as possible. Looking at the schedule, there is one surefire game that will look mightily attractive to NBC: Dallas at Philadelphia. Yes, it’s another Eagles game.
Yes, it’s another Cowboys game. And yes, it would come six weeks after they were already on SNF. However, the primetime restrictions don’t apply to the Week 17 game and imagine the possibilities if Philly is fighting for the #1 seed and Dallas needs a win to make the postseason. It would draw such a huge number that it would momentarily squash any concerns about the league’s ratings.
As far as the rest of the slate goes, there aren’t really many other contenders. Carolina at Atlanta, Buffalo at Miami, Jacksonville at Tennessee, and Kansas City at Denver are really the only ones that could conceivably have both teams playing for a chance at the postseason come Week 17. Flex – Dallas at Philadelphia.