The NFL schedule comes out Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET. It will arrive with two significant changes in the league's flexible scheduling procedures.
Around The League has learned that games can now be flexed into "Sunday Night Football" as early as Week 5, according to a league source. In the past, "flex scheduling" did not start until Week 11. The league can also "cross flex" select games between CBS and FOX.
The potential flex games between Week 5 and Week 10 come with a stipulation. The NFL can't change the tentative "Sunday Night Football" game every week. The league can flex up to two games total into Sunday night between Weeks 5-10. The rest of the flexible schedule procedures from previous years remains intact. After Week 11, the NFL can flex any Sunday night game.
As before, only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window. Thursday, Saturday, and Monday games are not affected. Flex scheduling allows the league to handpick a game to be moved into the Sunday Night NBC window, avoiding lackluster matchups.
The "cross flex" mechanism will serve a similar purpose. Select games can be flexed between CBS and FOX. In the past, a game with two NFC teams had to be on FOX and a game with two AFC teams had to be on CBS. Now, the league can theoretically move an all-NFC game to CBS or an all-AFC game to FOX in select cases. This will help balance out the television schedule, especially in a week where one network has all the most intriguing games.
The procedure to decide on the Sunday Night flex scheduling remains the same. The NFL will decide to flex games after consultation with the television networks. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the Sunday night game for Weeks 5-16. There is no tentative Sunday night game scheduled for Week 17, as usual. The league has to announce the final Sunday schedule with at least six days' notice.
Ultimately, this tweak gives the league greater flexibility to program high-quality matchups on Sunday night throughout the season. The league can avoid airing a matchup nationally that looks a lot worse in the cold light of October than it does on the day the schedule is released.