For a second time this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers prepared for a game that did not take place at the previously scheduled time. Last month, the Steelers saw their Week 8 bye disappear after the NFL adjusted their schedule following the Tennessee Titans' COVID-19 outbreak. Instead of receiving a mid-season bye, Pittsburgh instead received a Week 4 bye before facing the Titans in Week 7. The Steelers then had to face a Ravens team that was coming off a bye week after both teams were initially slated to play each other in Week 7.
While their schedule underwent changes, one thing that did not change was Pittsburgh's success on the field, as the Steelers are currently 10-0 and off to the best start in franchise history. Pittsburgh, after a 27-3 win over the Jaguars in Week 11, were hoping to defeat the Ravens on Thanksgiving Day then get 10 days off before hosting the suddenly surging Washington Football Team in Week 13.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, the Ravens' current rash of positive COVID-19 cases forced the NFL to postpone Thursday night's game to Sunday afternoon, then from Sunday to Tuesday night. The initial decision to reschedule the game was made prior to Thursday night's news of Lamar Jackson and several more Ravens testing positive for COVID-19. The current situation not sitting well with the Steelers and their fan base, as the Steelers will now have just four days off before they host Washington, a team that will have 10 days between games after playing on Thanksgiving.
The Steelers and their fans' frustrations are understandable. Pittsburgh seamlessly navigated through its first schedule shift and, despite not having a weekend off in seven weeks, is relatively healthy heading into December. At 10-0, the Steelers currently have a one-game lead over the Chiefs for the race to secure the AFC's No. 1 seed. And instead of having a mini bye week now, the Steelers are still waiting to play their 11th game of the season.
The initial postponement of the Ravens-Steelers game was the right call. Ravens players were still testing positive as of Thursday night, the same time they were initially supposed to be on the field in Pittsburgh. That may have led to positive cases for the Steelers, which could have put them in the same position as Baltimore heading into their next game against Washington. Beating the Ravens on Thursday night would have been the short-term win, but in the end, it could have led to more issues for the Steelers down the road.
While the initial postponement of the game was the right decision, the league should have postponed the game indefinitely, with the game being canceled altogether also being a possibility. Why didn't the league do this? Because that would have opened the door to possibly adding an 18th week while also expanding the playoff format to 16 teams. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, a member of the NFL Competition Committee, recently acknowledged that an expanded playoff field is a possibility if the NFL is forced to cancel games. Tomlin added that, while that is an option, the league's primary goal is to play each regular season game. The league's desire to avoid canceled games is the reason why the Steelers and Ravens will play on Tuesday.
An expanded playoff field would certainly be a good thing for the Ravens, who would be the eighth and final AFC playoff team if the postseason started today. Baltimore, if the playoffs started today, would face the Steelers, as a bye for the No. 1 seed would be eliminated in a 16-team playoff format. And while a canceled game would have benefited Baltimore, the fact that players on both sides would not receive a game check is something that both sides surely would not have been happy about.
The NFL should have considered postponing the game and begun investigating the Ravens' current outbreak. If it turns out that the Ravens' outbreak is correlated to the team's recent discipline of a staff member, the game should at that point be canceled. Baltimore at point would likely be fined, with the fine exceeding the total recently given to the Raiders, who have been multiple offenders of the league's COVID-19 policies. The league could use that money to compensate Steelers players who would have lost their game checks if this game is indeed canceled.
Furthermore, it would make sense for the league to make a formal announcement on whether or not there will be an 18th week as well as an expanded playoff format. At this point, no game would have to be played in Week 18, so it doesn't make much sense to add an extra week at this point in time. It does make sense, however, to announce a playoff extension that would allow leniency as it relates to the regular season schedule moving forward.
It's not a perfect solution, but it's safe to say that Steelers players and fans would have been OK with this scenario. While extending the playoff field would eliminate a possible playoff bye, Pittsburgh would have received a week off now before playing its final five regular season games. The Steelers would have kept their lead over the Chiefs in the AFC as well as in the North without having to play. And while the No. 1 seed would lose some significance without a bye week at state, the top seed would still have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, an advantage that is certainly worth trying to obtain.
This scenario may have led to the Steelers playing the Ravens again in 2020, but instead of that game taking place on Thanksgiving, it would take place in the first round of the playoffs. And while some fans may not have liked the prospect of having to face the Ravens in the playoffs, rest assured that the Steelers, based on their current frustration, would surely relish the chance to start their 2020 playoff run by ending Baltimore's.