Ask Sam Farmer: Might the NFL flex the Chargers’ Week 6 game out of prime time?

Chargers receiver Keenan Allen beats Texans defensive back Justin Reid to score Sept. 22, 2019.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen beats Texans defensive back Justin Reid to score last Sunday.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

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:

In your picks this week, and on Twitter, you mentioned that the NFL might consider flexing out of the “Sunday Night Football” game between Pittsburgh and the Chargers in Week 6. Is that really a possibility? Isn’t it too early in the season for that?

Charles Moore, Glendale


Farmer: Yes and no. Yes, it’s early to do that. No, technically, it’s not too early.

First, let’s back up and look at the situation. The Steelers are 0-3 and playing Cincinnati on Monday night. The Chargers are 1-2 and playing at Miami on Sunday. The Chargers should win. The Dolphins are terrible, and even though the Chargers are coming off back-to-back losses, I don’t see them face-planting against a team this bad. Like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati is winless, and I think the Steelers — even with the inexperienced Mason Rudolph at quarterback — are going to hold serve at home on national TV. But we’ll see.

Now for the flexing part. Starting on Sunday of Week 5, the league’s flex window opens, so a really unappealing game can be removed from that Sunday night slot on NBC and be replaced by a better game. Remember, it’s not about getting the absolute best game into prime time, but getting a hopelessly bad one out of it.

For planning purposes, the NFL would have to announce by early this upcoming week if it were flexing that game. And yes, there’s at least one Week 6 matchup more attractive: San Francisco at the Rams. But it’s not as simple as that.

The Los Angeles Chargers (1-2) and Miami Dolphins (0-3) are hurting as they prepare to share the field at Hard Rock Stadium to determine which is hurting more.

The NFL would have to take a number of factors into consideration. Does the league really want to send the message to the Chargers and Steelers — and Pittsburgh’s robust national following — that they have played their way out of prime time? Who knows if 49ers-Rams would even outperform Steelers-Chargers in terms of national viewership?

The rule of thumb for the NFL — and of course everything is negotiable — is that a team can appear in prime time a maximum of six times in the regular season. Ten teams have five prime-time games this season: Chicago, Dallas, Green Bay, Kansas City, Minnesota, New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle and the Rams.

In the case of the Rams, does the league really want to max them out now and run into issues if they would want to flex them later in the season?

Also, there’s Fox and CBS to consider. If you’re taking away good games from their inventory, what are those networks going to get back later in the season?

It’s basically like a big Jenga pile. You pull out one piece, and a bunch of others move.


Some quarterbacks are really good at snapping the ball just as the play clock hits zero. When they’re calling audibles at the line of scrimmage and trying to figure out what the defense is doing, how do they simultaneously watch the play clock? Or do they count down in their head and just have it down to a science?

Mike Share, Brentwood

Farmer: It really is uncanny how good some quarterbacks are at this. There’s certainly a lot going on, yet they always seem to have an instinctual feel for how much time they have left. For your question, I went to Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman to get his thoughts on monitoring the play clock while in the eye of the storm.

“When I was playing, I knew what the play clock was on every play,” the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback said. “I think you have to. As a quarterback, Rule No. 1 is you’ve got to know how much time you have to operate at the line of scrimmage, or how much time you have from when you get the play to when you have to go up there and get the ball snapped.

The Rams get another test against a former No. 1 pick in facing Jameis Winston, a big-bodied quarterback with a penchant for throwing longer passes.

“The first thing I would do in pregame warmups when I took the field is locate where the play clocks were. Then you check everything else. They’re not always located in the same spots in all stadiums. And depending where they are located, sometimes a defender can block the sight lines. Sometimes they’re low.

“I’ve seen guys get called for delay of game and have no idea the clock was running down. I find that incomprehensible.”