The National Football League doesn’t get much right.
In fact, as far as multi-billion dollar corporations go, the NFL probably has more scandals and bad publicity than most Fortune 500 companies.
That being said, the higher-ups in the league deserve credit for the scheduling decisions they made Sunday.
In case you missed it, the NFL — along with NBC and its broadcast partners — announced a few changes to its Dec. 15 slate.
Most notable amongst them is that the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers would be “flexed” from their original 1 o’clock start to the nationally televised Sunday Night Football slot at 8:20 p.m. on NBC.
Should the Bills upset the Baltimore Ravens at home next week and the Steelers take care of business on the road against the 3-8-1 Arizona Cardinals, it would be a matchup between 10-3 Buffalo and 8-5 Pittsburgh.
But that’s not the only reason the NFL was smart to make the change.
Despite being one of the league’s smallest markets, the Bills have some of the NFL’s most loyal and passionate fans.
In Buffalo’s 26-15 statement win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving evening, the team helped to set history. The contest was the most watched game on CBS on Turkey Day in 27 years and was also the most watched regular season NFL game on any network (FOX, CBS, NBC, ESPN) in three seasons.
Oh, sure, a big portion of those 32.5 million viewers were Dallas fans or a good chunk of Americans who enjoyed their stuffing and mashed potatoes with a side of watching the Cowboys lose.
Nevertheless, according to Nielsen ratings, over 200,000 households were watching the game in Western New York alone and 71 percent of people watching television at that time in the region had their TVs tuned into CBS.
The Bills did not have a single primetime game this season when the schedule was announced in April, but are more than deserving of sliding into the coveted SNF position with how they’ve played of late. And as the win over the Cowboys proved, this Buffalo Bills team isn’t phased by the league’s brightest lights.
The Steelers, meanwhile, will play in their fifth primetime game of the season. That may sound like a bit much for a team already with five losses, but not when you consider how deep of a fanbase Pittsburgh has as well as the unfortunate fact — sorry to bring this up again Steeler faithful — that the team was a circus for the better part of a year and certainly plenty of off-the-field noise. Now, Devlin “Duck” Hodges has helped to create better on-field storylines for the black and gold as they push towards an AFC Wild Card berth, something that both the league and the NFL deservedly took notice of.
Both teams should now embrace the chance to play in what should be a competitive game in front of a national audience.
And, regardless of the outcome, something tells me there will be plenty of people coming in late to work across McKean County on Monday, Dec. 16.
Some local notes…
— This Friday marks the start of the winter sports season across District 9 with a full slate of basketball games and wrestling matches. The first few days of the high school hoops season is always filled with tournaments, and that is no exception this year with 13 tournaments featuring schools in McKean, Elk and Potter Counties.
Good news for local basketball fans is that this season should be especially competitive on the hardwood in several of the leagues. Two District champions a season ago on the boys side (Elk County Catholic and Ridgway) lost their leading scorers and most of their respective starting lineups, while Coudersport (runners-up in Class A a season ago) will have to replace District 9’s all-time leading scorer in Owen Chambers. It’s just as wide open on the girls side, particularly in the North Tier League, as three of its top four teams from a season ago graduated their leading scorers.
— The stellar start to Nate Sestina’s season with the Kentucky Wildcats came to an unfortunate and abrupt halt late last week when it was announced that the Cameron County native had broken his left wrist. Through six games, Sestina was averaging 7.3 points per game, grabbed 43 rebounds and also chipped in 11 assists and four blocks. The injury was announced with a 3-to-4-week timetable to return. If rehab goes well, the 22-year-old could be on track to return for Kentucky’s nationally televised game on Dec. 21 against Ohio State on CBS.
— Speaking of Sestina, over the last few months the Era has been highlighting the successes of local athletes who have gone on or will be going to continue their athletic careers at the next level. We’ve found out about nearly all of the stories and accolades of those athletes through tips from parents, athletic directors or coaches. We can’t keep track of everything, so if you have a worthwhile story, please feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know.
(Anthony Sambrotto, the Bradford Era Sports Editor, can be reached at email@example.com)