Ask Sam Farmer: How does 'cross-flexing' affect which NFL games I see?

Sam Farmer answers your NFL questions

Have a question about the NFL? Ask Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, and he will answer as many as he can online and in the Sunday editions of the newspaper throughout the season. Email questions to: sam.farmer@latimes.com.

Question: Normally, CBS televises Sunday games involving AFC teams while Fox carries NFC matchups. But that hasn’t always been the case this season, with CBS televising some NFC games and Fox televising some AFC games. What’s the cause of that switch?

Ken Steinhorn

Tarzana

Farmer:  You’re right. For years, the rule has been that if the visiting team is from the NFC, it’s a Fox game; if the visitor is from the AFC, it’s a CBS game. With that in mind, the NFL for years has been able to “flex” games, moving their originally scheduled times either later or earlier on Sundays depending on how enticing the matchups turn out to be. This season, for the first time, the league is “cross-flexing” games, which is moving them from Fox to CBS and vice versa. It’s all part of the new TV deals, and it’s here to stay. (It’s worth noting that it’s the NFL, not the networks, that has the final say on which games are flexed, cross-flexed, played on Thanksgiving and Christmas, etc.)

So why does the league cross-flex? From time to time, one of the networks will have a disproportionate number of games that are interesting to much of the country. Usually, it’s Fox.

If Fox has three great NFC games, and CBS has a less attractive slate of AFC games, that’s not good for CBS. But it’s not good for the league, either, because at least one of those three Fox games is going to be broadcast to only a small slice of the country.

So by moving one of those games over to CBS, it not only makes that network happy, but also it provides a bigger audience for a good game.

A few of these cross-flexed games were baked into the NFL schedule in April. For instance, CBS got Chicago at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, a matchup that normally would have been on Fox. (Fox had Philadelphia at Dallas that afternoon.) Back in April, Bears-Lions looked better to the NFL than CBS’ other two options — the Lions playing host to either Buffalo or Miami.

Another example: In Week 12, CBS got Washington at San Francisco, a game that looked eight months ago like it might be a barn-burner. Fox didn’t “miss” that game, because it had the NFC West showdown of Arizona at Seattle at the same time.

The league has to strike a balance when cross-flexing, so for every game it takes from Fox, it also takes from CBS. There are a maximum of seven games per season per network that can be cross-flexed.

And that brings us to this Sunday, when Fox will broadcast one of the most interesting matchups of the season: Cleveland, with Johnny Manziel at quarterback, playing host to Cincinnati. That typically would be a CBS game, but, again, the cross-flex door swings both ways.

If all this is making your head hurt, there’s always the Red Zone Channel.

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