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Wrinkles added to flex scheduling system

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (no. 80) is

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (no. 80) is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher (no. 24) during the first quarter. (Oct. 27, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

With the first NFL Sunday upon us, viewers who follow the system by which the league is televised will notice changes in the flex scheduling system for 2014.

The first relates to the now-familiar procedure in which the league seeks to avoid awful late-season matchups on NBC on Sunday nights by replacing them with games that had been set for the afternoon on Fox or CBS.

That system remains in place, including CBS and Fox having the right to protect five games apiece between Weeks 11 and 16.

The new wrinkle is that in Weeks 5 through 10, the league can swap out Sunday night games a maximum of two additional times, with no protection rights for Fox and CBS.

The added flexibility mostly is designed to protect against an early injury ruining an otherwise appealing matchup -- most infamously when the Saints beat the Colts, 62-7, on a Sunday night in 2011 with Peyton Manning not in the lineup because of an injury.

That game went head-to-head against Game 4 of the World Series, helping turn it into a ratings bomb.

Barring something on the magnitude of the Manning injury, it is possible -- probable, actually -- that none of NBC's games in Weeks 5-10 will be flexed out, given how attractive the matchups are. (The Giants play the Eagles in Week 6.)

The other new schedule wrinkle, called "crossover flex," is a bit more complicated. The idea is to take games that would have been on Fox or CBS and move them to the opposite network to maximize potential viewership.

It is a viewer-friendly system, and mostly should be neutral for the two networks, since by the end of the season there must be as many games moved from Fox to CBS as the reverse.

CBS might get a slight advantage in that, overall, AFC teams and markets are not as attractive as those in the NFC, especially toward the bottom end of each conference.

Some crossover flex games will be identified as the season goes along; others already are baked into the schedule going in.

Week 1 offers an early example, with the Bills visiting the Bears in a game that in the past would have been on CBS but now will be on Fox.

Because CBS is committed to the U.S. Open in the late afternoon, it has only 1 p.m. games Sunday. If Bills-Bears had not been moved, CBS would have had seven 1 p.m. games and Fox would have had three early and two late games.

Instead, CBS now has six games early in the day and Fox four, a better balance for regional coverage.

Perhaps the biggest impact of the crossover flex concept will be seen on Thanksgiving Day.

Because the Lions host only two AFC teams per year -- the Bills and Dolphins this season -- the options for CBS' game under the old system would have been limited.

By instead sending the Bears to Detroit -- a game that in the past would have belonged to Fox -- the NFL has created an all-NFC tripleheader that might shatter previous Thanksgiving ratings records: Bears at Lions, Eagles at Cowboys, Seahawks at 49ers.

New York Sports