NBC flex-skeds Bears-Giants game


NEW YORK -- The NFL's much-vaunted flexible scheduling will debut this season on Nov. 12, with NBC carrying the game between the as-yet-undefeated Chicago Bears and the NFC East-leading New York Giants.

The game had been scheduled for 1 p.m. ET that day; the new kickoff time is 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC's "Sunday Night Football." Fox, as the NFC rights-holder, could have had the game but will host the New Orleans Saints-Pittsburgh Steelers game beginning at 4:15 p.m. ET.

This will be the first time flexible scheduling has been used since it was written into the Fox and CBS rights deals when they were announced two years ago. Flex scheduling begins in Week 10 of the season, with Fox and CBS having the right to protect five games during that period and NBC having the ability to ask for a game that will ensure viewers' high interest. The NFL has the final call.

For the Giants-Bears game, however, it appeared to be a fortunate turn of events for NBC. When the schedules were announced in April, the NFL picked one game a week to protect for NBC; the Giants-Bears game was the one for Nov. 12.

"They've (Fox and CBS) known the game this week was preselected for us a long time ago," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said.

Ebersol declined to reveal the other protected games, saying that the league had asked that they remain confidential. But sources said the other games are Washington-Tampa Bay (Week 11), Philadelphia-Indianapolis (Week 12), Seattle-Denver (Week 13), New England-Miami (Week 14), Kansas City-San Diego (Week 15) and Pittsburgh-Cincinnati (Week 17). There is no flexible scheduling for Week 16.

That doesn't mean, however, that NBC will carry those games. Several were selected in April and wouldn't offer matchups of teams that were headed for the postseason. NBC has until 12 days before game day to ask the NFL for a flex-schedule game; Fox and CBS had to pick their protected games after the fourth week of the season.

"SNF" executive producer Fred Gaudelli said he was happy about the flex scheduling. He should know as the former exec producer of ABC's "Monday Night Football."

"It's great not to have my fingers crossed and my mother saying novenas that the rest of the season will have compelling games, unlike the 17 other seasons that I produced, especially last year, the last five games we produced," he said.

Tuesday's announcement came a week earlier than planned to be timed to the owners meetings in New Orleans, Ebersol said.

"These are the two best teams in the NFC, and I am a big one on the way a game sounds," analyst John Madden said. "The Chicago Bears. The New York Giants. That sounds like the NFL. That sounds like history. ... Those are the kinds of games that you really want when you get to this part of the schedule."

The NFL has seen a strong opening to its season, with higher ratings for Fox, good numbers at NBC (compared with "Monday Night Football" on ABC last year) and ESPN (compared with "Sunday Night Football" on the network last year). CBS is likely to be flat or up slightly season-to-date.