Pregame, Halftime & Postgame ‘NFL on CBS’ Coverage
CBS airs all the pregame, halftime and postgame coverage for NFL on CBS, with the exception of the local radio stations airing their own versions that are uniquely themed to their team and market.
'The NFL Today' on CBS is a one-hour pregame show that airs directly before every kickoff of the first game CBS is airing that Sunday afternoon. The show is hosted by James Brown and Bill Cowher and they are joined by analysts Phil Simms, Nate Burleson, Boomer Esiason, Jason La Canfora and Jim Rome.
'The NFL Today' crew is also responsible for all postgame coverage for every NFL on CBS game. Analysts and contributors often change or rotate with each segment. The show is nationally broadcast on CBS regardless of the market or game being shown.
How the NFL Determines Which Games Air on CBS
Since a bulk of NFL games are scheduled on Sunday afternoons and there’s only two national TV channels airing upwards of 13 games/wk in a grand total of 4 time slots, both CBS and FOX divide up the country into regions and air games on local CBS and FOX stations based on the location you live in and/or the importance/popularity of the matchup.
Primary & Secondary NFL Markets
All 32 NFL teams are assigned a primary market - a metropolitan area where the team is located. Most teams also have secondary markets which are cities and towns in the surrounding area, roughly a 75-mile radius. Unofficial secondary markets can be assigned to locations in 100+ mile radius if the team is close enough and relevant/popular enough in that city/town.
So all Sunday afternoon NFL games featuring an AFC team will most likely air in the primary or secondary market for that team, on their local CBS station.
And all away games by default air on local CBS stations in their primary and secondary markets. This allows fans to watch all the games that are difficult to travel to. Same goes for sold out games; if a home or away game is sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff it will by rule air in the primary and secondary markets for that team on their local CBS station.
CBS Classifies NFL Games as A, B or C Games
CBS runs a complicated algorithm to determine its regional schedule for Sunday afternoon NFL games. They must satisfy their responsibility to air local AFC games in every region of the country, but they often get to pick and choose when and where to air each game.
They accomplish this by classifying each AFC game as either an A, B or C game.
‘A’ games are deemed the highest profile and given the primary timeslot. If CBS is airing a doubleheader, the ‘A’ game gets the late time slot. ‘A’ games typically feature teams or matchups with the most national appeal and feature the primary NFL on CBS announcer pairings of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo. These games are the most likely to air nationally, especially in regions that don’t have another AFC local team playing at the same time.
‘B’ games are considered secondary games to CBS and get the early time slot on doubleheader weeks. These games have decent national appeal but aren’t considered quite as popular as ‘A’ games. CBS has multiple announcer pairings and typically uses #2 announcers for these games: Ian Eagle doing play-by-play, Dan Fouts as the color commentator and Evan Washburn as the sideline reporter. If a CBS station isn’t airing a local team’s AWAY or sold out game, CBS has the option to either show the ‘A’ or ‘B’ game nationally and in any region they chose. ‘B’ games can air in some places nationwide if they feel that the game is more popular in a specific region over the ‘A’ game.
And ‘C’ games are deemed the least appealing matchups and only air in local markets of the teams playing. ‘C’ games can also air in regions that aren’t local to either team if the game has playoff implications. And ‘C’ games get #3-8 announcer pairings which vary greatly by region and change frequently.
CBS & FOX Split Doubleheaders
Every NFL market airs three games every Sunday afternoon of the regular season. Only one network each week gets to air a doubleheader, meaning either CBS or FOX will air an NFL game in both the early and late afternoon time slots. And the other network only gets to air one game that week, in either time slot of their choosing.
If CBS is airing a doubleheader, the early game coverage will start at 1pm ET and the late game will begin at 4:25pm to allow for the early game to go long if needed. If CBS is only airing one game that week in the early time slot, it will still kickoff at 1pm ET. But if the single CBS game is a late game it will start at 4:05pm ET instead.
Both CBS and FOX each get to air eight doubleheaders the first 16 weeks of the season, but the networks aren’t allowed to air 3 doubleheaders in a row. The one exception to this rule is the final week of the season where both CBS and FOX air doubleheaders.
CBS & FOX Split Conferences
CBS owns the NFL AFC broadcasting package, which includes Sunday afternoon games featuring an AFC team, a single game on Thanksgiving and all the playoff games for the AFC conference.
The exception to this rule is the ‘cross-flex’ policy the NFL instituted in 2014, allowing some CBS games to be moved to FOX and vice versa to ensure every market shows their home teams playing on each network on Sunday afternoons at least one time per season.
Mid-Game Switches, Bonus Coverage & Which Game Has Priority
CBS can switch live coverage to another NFL broadcast mid-game if the game is no longer competitive, meaning one team is up by at least 18 points in the second half. The exception is the ‘Heidi Game’ rule, where the station has to show a game to completion regardless of how competitive it is if the primary media market is showing a local team. Also sometimes teams or stations can request a particularly popular game to be shown in its entirety.
Bonus coverage can be shown on CBS if their regionally aired game ends early. They can switch to another competitive or relevant game for that market and air that game until the end of the time slot - either 4:25 for early games or until the other doubleheader ends in the late time slot on FOX.
And finally when a team is playing in a doubleheader weekend, that team’s game has regional importance over the other timeslot. Meaning if the early game goes late, CBS stays with that game locally until it concludes so fans can watch their team’s game to completion. Same goes for the start of the late game; if the early game in the doubleheader runs late and the second game of the afternoon features the local team in that market, CBS will switch to the late game, regardless of how long the first game lasts or how competitive it is.
NFL’s Flexible Schedule for Sunday Night Football Games
The NFL uses a flexible schedule for Sunday Night Football games to ensure quality primetime matchups and to give surprise teams a chance to play their way onto the big stage. Flex scheduling begins Week 5 and runs through the end of the regular season. Any game scheduled for Sunday afternoon on CBS can be moved to the Sunday night slot.
The league is required to give no less than 12 days notice of a schedule change between weeks 5-16, but this requirement is lowered to 6 days for Week 17 to ensure the final SNF game has playoff implications. And finally only two games max can be moved to Sunday night between weeks 5-10.
Thanksgiving Games for ‘NFL on CBS’
The one exception for NFL on CBS games not airing on Sunday afternoons of the regular season is the Thanksgiving Day game which falls on a Thursday afternoon. CBS and FOX take turns airing games in the early and late time slots on Thanksgiving Day; it changes any given year.