Allegany Communications Sports­­

#NFLTheTVShow schedule makers/scriptwriters thought it through from the beginning when they slated the match-ups for Week 18, the final regular-season week of the 2023 season.

Everywhere you look you find games that pit long-time rivals with one another, with most of the games likely to have a big hand in determining seeds and scheduling for the upcoming playoffs.

The fun begins at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday when the Pittsburgh Steelers pay a visit to Baltimore to take on the Ravens, who secured the top seed in the AFC last Sunday. While the game shouldn’t mean anything to the Ravens since they’re looking at a week off and all of their games being played at home (provided they play more than one this time), anytime the Ravens play the Steelers it’s meaningful to the franchise and to the fans of Baltimore.

Plus, the Steelers beat the Ravens back in Week 5, a game Baltimore gift-wrapped for Pittsburgh and its playoff chances that will come to a head this week. And that’s the rub with this one.

If the Steelers win, and they’re favored by 3 1/2 points, they’ll have a 64% chance (according to the NFL) to make the playoffs as a suddenly hot team that four weeks ago was left for dead by nearly everybody, beginning with Steelers fans. Thing is, there are at least five different scenarios for Pittsburgh to get in, with the most convenient ones beginning with a win at Baltimore.

The Ravens, while they are going to be resting starters this week, beginning with Lamar Jackson, still do not want to face the Steelers early in the playoffs, which, given what the seeds would be for the teams should the Steelers get in, is what would happen.

Not only that, the Ravens would take great delight in throwing the knockout punch to the Steelers’ playoff chances, given A.) the Ravens and the Steelers hate each other and B.) the Ravens helped keep the Steelers’ playoff hopes alive with seven dropped passes — three in the end zone — in that early 17-10 Pittsburgh win.

Of course, the Ravens kept the hopes of the Indianapolis Colts alive as well, as they turned in an abysmal performance in Week 3, a 22-19 Colts win in Baltimore. The Colts’ fortunes will be determined following Steelers-Redskins as Indianapolis hosts the Houston Texans, with both teams at 9-7 in a three-way tie with Jacksonville for first place in the AFC South.

Jacksonville will play Sunday in Tennessee against the 5-11 Titans and would seemingly be the favorite to win the division, but who the heck ever knows with this screwy TV show?

Another great rivalry game will be the final game of the regular season when the Buffalo Bills visit the Miami Dolphins, and while the Dolphins are in the playoffs, they will be out to clinch the AFC East, as the Bills are just one game behind them and seem to need a win just to get into the postseason.

We have the battle of Ohio with Cleveland at Cincinnati, even though it’s a meaningless game for the playoffs, as the Bengals are out and the Browns are in.

There’s Minnesota at Detroit, two longtime rivals from the old Black and Blue division, the Jets at New England in another bleh game, Chicago at Green Bay, likely the oldest rivalry in the league, Eagles at Giants, Broncos at Raiders, Rams at 49ers, and … Dallas at Washington.

Remember when Dallas-Washington was annually the two biggest games on the NFL regular-season schedule? Remember when Dallas vs. Washington was the biggest rivalry in the NFL, up there with Ohio State-Michigan, Yankees-Red Sox and Carolina-Duke?

You don’t? No, of course, you don’t, because it’s been that long since Daniel Snyder torpedoed the once-great franchise in Washington, then known as the Redskins, and pretty much made most of the games played in dismal FedEx Field (not Snyder’s fault) next to irrelevant.

This used to be the game of Landry, Allen, Staubach, Gibbs, Riggins, Dorsett, Doomsday, the Hogs, Summerall and Madden and the choicest TV programing slot on the NFL dial.

Now? While the Cowboys, who are already in the playoffs, must win to take the NFC East title, the Commanders (that’s the name of the Washington team now) could be in line for the second pick in the NFL draft with a loss that would send head coach Ron Rivera out the door, as, win or lose, this will surely be his final game as the Commanders coach.

It will mark a new beginning for the Commanders and their new ownership group, which will enter its first offseason in charge with much to offer a new head coach and general manager in terms of a potentially solid rebuild process.

The stands will be full Sunday at FedEx, but you can rest assured with Cowboys fans, just as the place was filled last week with 49ers fans and has become the home away from home for most visiting NFL teams, long after the days when a ticket to a Redskins game (to see the Redskins play anybody) was the hottest ticket in professional sports.

Even though he hasn’t been seen or heard from since the beginning of last summer, the biggest storyline of Sunday’s Dallas-Washington game will be that it will mark the once-and-for-all end of the Daniel Snyder reign of terror and ineptitude.

And that’s something all football fans, not to mention the NFL itself, can be very happy about.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. 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]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT