The Steelers, Bengals and Ravens all put in requests to have their West Coast Games scheduled back to back. There have been numerous arguments put forth involving fairness, who put their requests in first, that preference should have been given for teams with an overall tougher strength of schedule, etc.
All of the consternation seems to be based in Mike Tomlin’s record outside the Eastern Time Zone (7-16 or .304 winning percentage), a valid concern in my opinion. But, did the NFL really screw the Steelers over? Again just my opinion; no they did not. I’ll explain.
The Ravens were granted back to back games versus Denver and Oakland. They were also scheduled back to back games versus he 49ers and Cardinals. But, as much as it pains me to write this, they should have been given preferential treatment in this instance.
They have four West Coast road games. They also approached the league before the other AFCN teams when they realized they had this many Pacific and Mountain Time Zone games. The Bengals also have four West Coast games (Oakland, Arizona, San Francisco, Denver), the Browns have two (San Diego and Seattle), the Steelers also have only two.
While the Steelers request was denied, the San Diego road trip was scheduled after the “mini-bye” resulting from the Thursday game versus Baltimore and the Seattle trip scheduled after the bye, giving the team preferential scheduling for those two games with plenty of time to recuperate and prepare for the long road trips. The league did the Steelers no favors when scheduling the San Diego game on a Monday night. But, the league is going to schedule marquee games at night in an effort to bolster the ratings for those packages, making them more attractive to their broadcasting partners.
You have to play every AFC team away at least once every 3 years and every NFC team at least every four years. Those games come up when they do and you just have to deal with them. The team will not arrive back in Pittsburgh from San Diego until sometime early Tuesday morning and will have to prepare to host the Arizona Cardinals on a six day week. That is really the only lack of consideration the league’s schedulers showed the Steelers and, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small one, especially when compared to the lack of accommodation shown to one of their divisional rivals.
The Bengals, who also made the same request, got little consideration. In fact they have a Thursday game at home after visiting the Steelers for what is sure to be a very physical game versus a division opponent. They host the Browns. Some will say they drew an easy opponent, but would you like the Steelers to be forced to host even the Jaguars or Washington on Thursday, 4 days after playing the Ravens in Baltimore? Me either.
Further, if the Bengals are banged up, slip and lose that game versus Cleveland, it’s a divisional loss. That has a great deal more significance than a non-division or non-conference game, especially in a division with three strong teams vying for the division title.
Later the Bengals get to travel to Arizona on a short week and then are in San Fran the week after hosting the Steelers, which is bound to be another physical game. They do get some consideration here as the game following the 49ers game is at Denver. But, those games are both in late December when they season may already be difficult to salvage if things have gone badly. Scheduling and road trips really should be taken into consideration and not just opponents last year’s record when discussing strength of schedule.
As for the Steelers December schedule; like a lot of you I was absolutely incensed when I initially saw the schedule for the last four weeks of the season. Sometime thereafter I was made aware of the fact that the Steelers requested the last two weeks of the season be blacked out at Heinz Field due to the dismantling of the Greenfield Bridge, the closure of Parkway East during that demolition and the associated traffic problems that will come along with that.
The Steelers could have exerted their influence and pushed back the project a month or so, to allow for the completion of their season without scheduling concerns. However, being the civic minded owners that they are, you knew they would never even consider that possibility, as much as you and I might have hoped they would.