(Gene J. Puskar / AP) (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Significant changes are coming to the NFL’s flexible-scheduling rules this year.

In an effort to avoid unpalatable matchups, games can now be flexed into NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” as early as Week 5 — six weeks earlier than in the past, the NFL Network reported. In addition, select games can be “cross flexed” between CBS and Fox.

There is a restriction on the new rule, though. The league can flex no more than two games into “SNF between Weeks 5 and 10. The old rules kick in after Week 11, when any given Sunday night game can be flexed. Only Sunday afternoon games are eligible to be flexed, with the Thursday, Saturday and Monday games set in stone.

The most intriguing change involves the cross-flex. Gregg Rosenthal of the NFL Network explains its significance best:

The “cross flex” mechanism will serve a similar purpose. Select games can be flexed between CBS and FOX. In the past, a game with two NFC teams had to be on FOX and a game with two AFC teams had to be on CBS. Now, the league can theoretically move an all-NFC game to CBS or an all-AFC game to FOX in select cases. This will help balance out the television schedule, especially in a week where one network has all the most intriguing games.

The league will announce any changes no later than 12 days before the Sunday night games, as it has in the past. And, as in the past, there will be no Sunday night name scheduled for Week 17 when the schedule is announced at 8 p.m. EDT tonight; the league will move a game into that spot with no less than six days’ notice to the teams.