MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation

Now it’s really time for #NFLTheTVShow to kick in. It’s time for what the suits in this TV business call the sweeps period. You’re likely more familiar with what most of us folks in the normal-person world call it and that, of course, would be the playoffs.

The sweeps period – or the playoffs, if you prefer – begins Saturday and then, carries us through the month of January (Lord knows something has to), into the month of February (ugh!) and right up to the #NFLTheTVShow season finale, known to most of us as the Super Bowl, which will air on Sunday, Feb. 13 (which, thankfully, will mean that gawdawful miserable, nothing month will be nearly half over).

There will be two games played this coming Saturday, three on Sunday and, for the first time in history, one NFL playoff game will be played on Monday.

The reason this is the first time a scheduled NFL playoff game will be played on a Monday is because professional sports leagues, led by the NFL and Major League Baseball, have never sold their soul to the devil as freely as they do now, and the devil in this, and every, instance is television.

Forget competitive fairness. Forget the actual players in the games and the league having the proper rest and health to play back-to-back playoffs games that, in theory, are the most meaningful, the NFL is first and foremost a TV show (or, an information conductor for Vegas) and the TV shows are controlled by the television networks (see Vegas), and the networks pay the bills, so the networks want Monday night playoff games and, so, the NFL once again sells it soul.

This is just one of the many reasons some of us do not believe the NFL. I have believed since my youth – Super Bowl III marked the end of my innocence – that the NFL is a television show, first, foremost and always.

Halftime shows on both Sunday networks, for instance, are on the air at the same time regardless of how the respective games have been playing out; the same commercials are shown at the same time on all of the broadcasts (go to a sports bar with about a dozen TVs showing the NFL at the same time if you don’t believe me); there is an unwritten (wink-wink) “60 Minutes Rule” so that games do not last too much longer than 7 p.m. (see the one 10-minute overtime rule) and there is now professional football on television four days a week. Six if there’s a pandemic.

Take from that what you will, but so much for “On any given Sunday.”

Thus, here in Two Hours from Everywhere, the lone wolf of our three dogs still in the hunt is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers, of course, beat the Baltimore Ravens on an overtime field goal, 16-13, in what is likely to have been future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s final regular-season game, as he has pretty much admitted he will be walking off into the sunset as soon as this season is over.

The Steelers needed to beat Baltimore to even have a chance to get into the playoffs, and they did. They also needed to have a couple of other things happen – or not happen – to get in, and they did – or didn’t. One of those things was for the Sunday Night Football (television) game between the Las Vegas (yes, Vegas) Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers not to end in a tie.

The extraordinarily rare chance of a tie that would have altered the picture and prevent another team from getting in while putting the two teams that would tie in the playoffs? In the NFL? C’mon … Why even discuss it?

Well, it took until the very end of overtime during the regular-season’s final game (ahem) for it not to happen. So, uh, yea-uh …

So now the Steelers, the seventh seed in the AFC, will play the Kansas City Chiefs, the No. 2 seed, on Sunday night (the game is on television, by the way), with the Chiefs opening the week as a 12.5-point favorite. Thus, it would appear the Steelers have little or no chance, despite the Jacksonville Jaguars, 15.5-point underdogs to the Indianapolis Colts, beating the Colts last Sunday to allow one of those things to happen that helped the Steelers get into the playoffs.

Still with me?

Conventional wisdom tells us the Steelers have little or no chance, but, remember, this is sweeps season for #NFLTheTVShow.

The Steelers are a veteran team that was desperate to get into the playoffs, and they just got in during the very final seconds of the season. That in itself makes them dangerous. But what really makes them dangerous is their outgoing Hall of Fame quarterback who has nothing to lose and is sure to let it fly in a crapshoot (yes, I said crap) that a lot of people would be sentimental about seeing.

After all, everybody with no dog in the hunt loves to pull for the old, retiring veteran to win it all in his final game — even a schmuck like Roethlisberger.

And the networks would love it even more because it’s called ratings, and ratings is spelled $-$-$-$-$-$-$.

Too far-fetched, you say? No way, Jose, you say? Couldn’t happen; no way, no how, you say?

Okay, call John Elway, Jerome Bettis, Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning and see what they think. See how far-fetched they think something like that could be.

Watch and see. Enjoy. Our belief in what we see and are willing to enjoy will be based on the degree of how much we’re willing to believe, or not believe, to begin with. Or, in the words of the late G. Gordon Liddy, “The trick is in not minding.”

Hey, I never said it wasn’t a good TV show.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT