Changes to the way the NFL schedules prime-time games could mean more of them for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In a multi-pronged effort to get better games on prime-time television, the NFL is taking several steps this offseason to get more of the teams that people want to see in front of more of the viewers.
One is a somewhat controversial plan to add flex scheduling to Monday Night and Thursday Night Football. Monday Night Football will have flex scheduling in 2023, for Weeks 13-17. The specifics of how those games will be flexed has not been fully released.
Thursday nights are a different story. The NFL owners tabled that plan at the owner’s meeting in Phoenix at the end of March, after old-school owners Art Rooney II and John Mara held firm in opposition of flexing games from Sundays to Thursday and vice versa. The owners will reconvene later this month to decide on the fate of that plan, but not in time for the schedule release, which is expected later this week.
In both instances, the flexible scheduling is designed to prevent matchups that look like good ones on paper but turn out to be duds from making it to prime-time television.
That shouldn’t really impact the Steelers, though. Pittsburgh has been a model of consistent, finishing with between eight and 13 wins in every season since 2004. They have also only played two games when they were already eliminated from playoff contention in that time.
So the games involving the Steelers that look good at the start of the season have held up as good games later and probably would’t have been flexed out of their prime-time spots.
However, a different change to the scheduling plan could have more of an impact. When the NFL started Thursday Night Football, it was sold to the teams as an equitable affair. The addition of the extra prime-time slots meant that every team would be guaranteed at least one prime-time game every year, and every team would have to share in the misery that is playing short-week football.
But that is changing. The NFL has done away with the requirement that all teams must play in prime time once a year and increased the number of short-week games a team can play in a season to two.
The Steelers have a large, national fanbase. When they’re at the top of their game, they almost always play the maximum number of prime-time games.
But that hasn’t been the case recently. Last year, the Steelers played five prime time games out of the maximum of seven, and were even flexed out of a prime-time game at one point.
But with the option to now schedule the Steelers more, specifically on Thursday Nights, and ignore some of the teams that don’t have big fanbases and aren’t expected to do well, the Black and Gold could be on national television even more than it has been in the past.