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How Could Flex Scheduling Potentially Affect the Minnesota Vikings?

Anthony Carter. . .not THE Anthony Carter, I assume, but who knows. . .brought up something worth pondering in one of the FanPosts yesterday, and that's whether or not the NFL's "flex scheduling" rules will affect the Minnesota Vikings in some way, shape, or form as we move down the stretch.  It's getting to that time of year, and the Vikings are becoming a bit of a hot ticket, so it might be worth examining if any of the Beloved Purple's games could end up getting placed into a prime-time slot.

For those unfamiliar with the rules of the flex scheduling, here's a rundown, and we'll look more specifically at the Vikings after the jump.

-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.

Now, the one thing that hurts the Vikings when it comes to flex scheduling is that they only have one game this season against a team from the NFC East. . .and official studies casual observations by people that have even an iota of common sense have shown that games involving one or more teams from the NFC East are ten to fifteen times more likely to end up on NBC's Sunday Night Football than games that don't involve any NFC East teams.  (Hey, if you think I'm making that up, go back and look at the SNF schedule since it moved to NBC.  The imbalance is freaking outrageous.)

So, how many of the Vikings' last seven games have a chance to get flexed into a prime-time slot?  Let's take a look at this week by week. . .both the Vikings' scheduled opponent for that week, and the game that NBC has tentatively scheduled for the Sunday night slot.

Week 11
Vikings schedule
: vs. Seattle
Current SNF game:  Philadelphia at Chicago

There's no way that Seattle at Minnesota is intriguing enough for the NFL's schedule makers to move to Sunday night.  The Seahawks have been pretty bad this year. . .they'll be 4-5 at best coming into the Metrodome (more than likely 3-6) and aren't looking at a whole lot of post-season prospects, so I don't give this game much of a chance of being flexed.  I don't know if Philly/Chicago will stay in that spot, though. . .there's a pretty juicy looking matchup with Indianapolis traveling to Baltimore that would look good in that spot.  However, NBC has a game that fulfills their NFC East criteria, so I don't see the current game being moved from its slot.

Week 12
Vikings schedule
: vs. Chicago
Current SNF game:  Pittsburgh at Baltimore

Sufficient to say. . .I think NBC has exactly the game they want for Week 12.  The Bears, despite not being that good in 2008, were somehow scheduled for five prime-time appearances this season, based largely on their acquisition of Jeff George v2.0 to be their starting QB.  How many NFL and network executives do you suppose are kicking their own asses over that brilliant idea right now?  (I, personally, hope that somebody has been fired for their ignorance.)  So, I think that the NFL would like to forget that fiasco, and I think the only way the Bears are going to get flexed into prime time is if they somehow go against a team from the Lingerie Football League.

Week 13
Vikings schedule
:  at Arizona
Current SNF game:  New England at Miami

This could provide NBC with an intriguing option.  The Cardinals, if they can turn it around, should be in position to take the NFC West title again, and after all, they are the defending NFC champions.  There's the angle of Warner vs. Favre to look at as well.  The only other game that appears to be a candidate to be moved would be Philadelphia at Atlanta.  NBC could very well keep the game they currently have, but the Dolphins haven't had a lot of success this year against teams not named the New York Jets, and are fading a bit quickly in the AFC.  But I think this game definitely has some flex potential.

Week 14
Vikings schedule
:  vs. Cincinnati
Current SNF game:  Philadelphia at New York Giants

NBC currently has a game that features not one, but TWO NFC East teams scheduled for this week, so we can probably take that game away from NBC when we pry it from their cold, dead hands.  But Bengals/Vikings, based on the way things look right now, might be the best game of Week 14.  We have the Saints/Falcons rematch, but they've already had one prime-time game, and there's a game between the Chargers and Cowboys that could potentially have some post-season implications for both teams, but again. . .I'd be surprised if the current game gets moved from Week 14 at all.

Week 15
Vikings schedule
:  at Carolina
Current SNF game:  Minnesota at Carolina

The Vikings are already scheduled for Sunday night in Week 15. . .but is there a chance they could get flexed out?  The Panthers haven't been very good, and if Jake Delhomme keeps performing like. . .well, like Jake Delhomme. . .there's a very good chance that they'll already be looking to 2010 by the time this game comes around.  There are two other solid possibilities for flex scheduling this week, those being Packers at Steelers and Chargers at Bengals.  If Carolina's season continues to keep trending south, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Vikings get bumped to an afternoon slot in favor of one of those two games.

Week 16
Vikings schedule
:  at Chicago (Monday night)
Current SNF game:  Dallas at Washington

Monday night games can't be affected by flex scheduling, so there is no chance that the Vikings will conclude their season sweep of the Bears at any time but Monday night.  Will Dallas and Washington remain on Sunday night that week?  There is a matchup between the Ravens and Steelers out there, although that would make a second SNF matchup for those two teams, as well as the Broncos traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.  It will be interesting to see whether this game gets changed.

Week 17
Vikings schedule
:  vs. New York Giants
Current SNF game:  None

The Week 17 SNF matchup won't be decided until after the Week 16 games have concluded. . .presumably by Sunday night, since the Monday nighter that week should have no post-season implications (except, possibly, for home field advantage through the NFC playoffs for the Vikings).  This game could potentially have implications for a first-round bye, among other things, so there's a chance that Giants/Vikings could be the Sunday night game of choice.  From the look of the schedule right now, the only other game that appears to have the remote possibility of intrigue is Green Bay at Arizona. . .the rest of the Week 17 matchups look like real stinkers, for the most part.

So, the Vikings do have a bit of flex possibility for the last seven games of 2009.  Hopefully the league will see that the Vikings should be in prime-time more frequently. . .certainly more than their division rivals deserve to be. . .and adjust the schedule accordingly.

EDIT:  DangerDale has pointed out a thread over at The 506 that says both CBS and FOX get to protect five games from flex scheduling.  According to that list, the protected games are as follows:

FOX:  Washington/Dallas (Week 11), Chicago/Minnesota (Week 12), Dallas/New York Giants (Week 13), Green Bay/Chicago (Week 14), Green Bay/Pittsburgh (Week 15)
CBS:  New York Jets/New England (Week 11), Tennessee/Indianapolis (Week 13), San Diego/Dallas (Week 14), Cincinnati/San Diego (Week 15), Baltimore/Pittsburgh (Week 16)