The Pittsburgh Steelers have to win against the Cincinnati Bengals in order to reach the postseason in 2018. They also need the Baltimore Ravens to lose to or draw even with the Cleveland Browns. And we won’t know the results of these games until nighttime next week, because the league elected to extent the drama by flexing both of these games to a 4:25 PM EST starting time.
Kickoff for our Week 17 matchup vs. the Bengals at Heinz Field has been moved to 4:25 PM ET on CBS.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 24, 2018
Our Week 17 matchup with the Cleveland Browns has been flexed to 4:25 p.m.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 24, 2018
That’s the fourth consecutive week now that the Steelers will be playing an evening game, and the sixth week in a row in which they have played a 4:25 PM or later. They lost a Sunday Night Football game to the Los Angeles Chargers a few weeks ago.
By the season’s end, the Steelers will have played just seven 1 PM games all year, and that is in a year in which they only had four primetime games after the Jacksonville Jaguars matchup was flexed from a night game to 1 PM.
The NFL in recent years has changed the format to ensure that every team’s season finale comes against a divisional opponent to maximize the drama, a solution that often works. For example, in the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts will go head to head with their 9-6 records, the winner in all likelihood earning the number six seed.
They also like to play the division games at the same time, so when the Ravens and Browns game was flexed from 1 PM to the evening, the Steelers’ game against the Bengals was flexed as well. The Steelers won’t be able to know if their efforts are fruitless before the end of their game—or at least most likely won’t be able to.
These four teams have trended in opposite directions. Five weeks into the year, the Bengals were at the top of the division at 4-1, the Steelers just beginning to rebound. Cincinnati has won just two games since then, while Pittsburgh has lost four of five. These are two of the coldest teams in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Browns and Ravens are two of the hottest teams, each of them winning five of their past six games, and both starting rookie quarterbacks who are helping their teams win. Baker Mayfield has his sights set on the rookie touchdown record for the finale, while Lamar Jackson has been doing some crazy things running the ball, as the Ravens average about 200 rushing yards per game as a team in the past six.
If you thought you were going to know by dinner time next week whether or not the Steelers would have another game in them, you’d better thing again. The NFL wants to make you wait as long as they can to drain as much out of it as they are able.