The NFL Tells You Every Thursday Night the Lousy 2-7 Playoff Game Isn’t Going Anywhere
Troy Aikman wasn’t the only one who wished he didn’t have to be at the Philadelphia Eagles-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game on Sunday.
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were probably wondering the same thing in Kansas City Sunday night.
The Super Wild Card Weekend wasn’t so super if you were hoping for six nail-biting, dramatic football games.
Basically, of the five games played on Saturday and Sunday, only two were worthy of fans’ attention: The Cincinnati Bengals-Las Vegas Raiders game on Saturday and that wild finish in the Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers game on Sunday that had Aikman pining for an assignment change.
It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that both those exciting games pitted matchups in the 4-5 and 3-6 slots. And while the 3-6 matchup in the AFC was a colossal blowout on Saturday night, at least it was fun for Buffalo Bills fans and New England Patriots haters.
Both 2-7 games on Sunday were terrible. In two years of the seven-team format, 3 of the 4 games between the No. 2 seed and the No. 7 have been awful. But since when has the NFL cared about the quality of a game if there’s money to be made.
Sorry, folks. This playoff format isn’t going anywhere.
Thursday night football is the proof that bad games do not bother the NFL at all
The NFL has been giving you its opinion on quantity vs. quality for over a decade. The Thursday Night franchise, which began in 2006 with a handful of end-of-season games has now been a season-long entity for a decade, with TV and streaming rights increasing with each new contract.
Fans hate the Thursday games because the quality has generally been sub-standard, for the same reason that players and coaches dislike the Thursday games after playing on Sunday. The three-day window, as opposed to a full week, limits a team’s ability to practice, reduces the amount of time for injured players to fully heal before the next game, and throws out of whack a team’s schedule for implementing a game plan.
Combined together, the games tend to be sloppy affairs. Even the broadcasters dislike calling the Thursday game. For a time when NBC held the Thursday night rights, there was a controversy because Al Michaels, at his advanced age, did not want to call both Thursday and Sunday night games because of the quick turnaround and travel involved.
But all of those concerned paled in comparison to the amount of rights money the Thursday night package generates. And the ratings are there, too. For all the complaints about the games, people still watch them. The NFL knows this. The full schedule of Thursday games is set to begin a second decade this fall.
The Nickelodeon simulcast on Sunday was a goldmine for CBS and the NFL
And if the NFL is willing to put up with all the criticism of playing 17 Thursday night games a season, they’re certainly not going to lose any sleep over a couple of blowouts as part of a three-day, six-game playoff-palooza that sucks all the oxygen out of the rest of the sports world combined.
The genius of adding two more Wild Card Round games to the schedule was having the networks bid for the rights to the two extra games. CBS put up $70 million to have the rights to a second game this weekend, specifically in the coveted late Sunday afternoon time slot, and the league rewarded the AFC broadcaster by gifting them the best game on paper, which happened to be an NFC game.
So while Troy Aikman and Joe Buck grumbled from the booth at the Eagles-Buccaneers blowout, Jim Nantz and Tony Romo got to call the marquee Cowboys-49ers game, which paid off for everyone involved with its frantic, controversial final seconds.
But the real marketing coup for CBS and the NFL was the simulcasting of the game on the children’s network, Nickelodeon. For the price of $70 million, the NFL was able to sell its product to a nation of children in visuals and language all their own, undoubtedly planting a flag of enthusiasm and excitement for the next generation of content consumers while Major League Baseball is in a lockout and has no marketing appeal to younger fans.
Oh, the Chiefs-Steelers game played past most kids’ Sunday-night bedtimes on the East Coast wasn’t close? Yeah, that’s a shame.
The league would happily trade a couple of bad playoff games for the drama of Week 18
By the time Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers fell behind 35-7 on Sunday night, the NFL had already gotten what it wanted out of Pittsburgh. A week ago, the fate of the Steelers had all eyes glued to the Sunday night regular-season finale between the Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers.
With everyone aware that a tie between the Chargers and Raiders would secure playoff berths for both teams, at the Steelers’ expense – became a storyline too intriguing to pass up. The Steelers’ overtime game against the Baltimore Ravens earlier in the day was its own drama that only heightened the stakes for the night game.
And the 49ers-Rams overtime game was equally as dramatic and critical to the playoff picture. Would that drama had existed if only six teams were qualifying from each conference? Would the excitement have been just as palpable in a 17-week season?
We’ll never know, but the events of last weekend unfolded as they did, with the Raiders taking the regular season down to the last possible second of overtime to finally settle the matter. Roger Goodell could not have arranged it any better if he tried.
But, it did lead to the Eagles-Bucs and Steelers-Chiefs playing a pair of clunkers between No. 2 and No. 7 seeds, annoyed one of their top broadcasters, and set Twitter on fire with mocking comments.
And we’ll all be back next year to do it again. The league is counting on it.