Tim Benz: Steelers-Raiders-Chargers drama raises questions about NFL ties, scheduling reform

The Pittsburgh Steelers organization (and its fans) eyed “Sunday Night Football” nervously as an AFC 2021 playoff bid nearly evaporated thanks to a nearly tie.

Two thoughts crossed my mind as the Las Vegas Raiders barely beat the Los Angeles Chargers 35-32, securing the AFC’s fifth seed for themselves and seventh seed for the Steelers.

1. We see the exact reason why the NFL has to change its format for the last week of the season.

2. We also see the exact reason why this is not the case.

With the Chargers and Raiders facing each other in a “win and you are in the playoffs, lose and you are eliminated” showdown as a standalone game “Sunday Night Football” was a very interesting television in and of itself.

Considering the strange confluence the Steelers were involved in through a possible elimination of the playoffs if the two teams were tied, the result was a very unique sports theater.

The whole game, especially the fourth quarter and extra time, was extremely convincing for all three fan bases.

And for cities in the rest of the AFC playoff series waiting for next week’s opponents to be determined.

And for a whole nation of players waiting to see who wins by a 3-point spread, on top of the season’s winning streak and playoff qualifying bets.

Somewhere you could almost see TV ratings flying through the air and seeping into Commissioner Roger Goodell’s pores by osmosis. That was everything the league office wanted in terms of creating drama when it decided to adapt the Chargers-Raiders game to Sunday night at the start of the week.

That said, the decision could have been an affront to the integrity of the game and to natural competition.

Give the maximum mark to the Chargers and Raiders franchises. They avoided being baited into a tie at the end of the game. Frankly, playing for a tie was probably the smartest and fastest thing to do as finishing the game 32-32 would have them both made it into the playoffs and left the Steelers on the outside.

The Raiders didn’t have to go for a winning placement with two seconds left. Theoretically, this kick could have been blocked and returned for a touchdown. From a pragmatic point of view, the easiest thing to do would have been to run into the line of scrimmage.

But, well, why not avoid a trip to Kansas City in the playoffs next week? Get the Steelers to do it.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley didn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t have) called for a time-out with 38 seconds left to (um) “make sure he had the right defense package on the ground “.

Luckily for the Steelers, that’s what Staley did, however. Too bad for the Chargers. Happy times for the Raiders and the rest of the NFL.

The league got the best of both worlds. The match was thrilling and avoided the result of two teams manipulating the end of a draw.

If there is a next time, maybe the league won’t be so lucky. Maybe the two teams won’t play so directly.

Oh, and there will be a next time. Something identical to this scenario – or at least similar to this one – will happen again in the future. Especially with 18 weeks into the NFL season now (with the prospect of 19 or 20 on the horizon) and seven teams in each conference playoff.

There’s no way the league will adjust its schedule for the past week next year after Sunday’s impressive peak in TV audiences. So for those of us who are hoping the NFL can sacrifice this final week of prime time in the name of competitive balance – whether to avoid a tie or the potential of a team downsizing its roster if his playoff fate is sealed by the kickoff, well luck.

This is what should happen. Not necessarily out of a sense of paranoia over this one-of-a-kind wacky tie scenario. But more to prevent Team A from gaining a decisive advantage over Team B, as Team B’s playoff fate turned out to be determined earlier in the afternoon. Now Team C’s playoff hopes are in jeopardy.

That all AFC teams start at 3 p.m. EST. That all NFC teams start at 6:30 p.m. EST. Networks can share the games in each window for a week. Start times of the scales each year.

Let’s be realistic. The NFL might not always be lucky enough to have that kind of straightforward or all-out situation they’ve fallen into with the Chargers-Raiders like they have this season.

They often get one. Or something close to that level of drama. But not always.

As for preventing a tie from returning in a game like this, the only way to do that is to simply eliminate ties like in college football. Until I saw Sunday, I never really cared about the occasional tie in the NFL after 10 minutes of overtime. They are extremely rare. But as Steelers defensive back Cameron Sutton suggested on Tuesday, why bother allowing them to exist?

“I don’t think there should be a tie,” Sutton said. “Who wants to be complacent and just tie up?” But I don’t go beyond that.

If the NFL ever adopts the NCAA’s alternating possession overtime model, it will need to change it to make the scoring more difficult for offenses and professional kickers. Maybe start as far as the opponent’s line 40 or 45 yards. Or at least minimize kickers by prohibiting field goals. Landings only.

Regardless, Steelers wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud said the league can’t rack up too many extra overtime snaps in an effort to avoid ties.

“It’s good where it is,” McCloud said of the current overtime format. “Another shift? We have 17, 18 weeks. So another quarterback is like an entire game in overtime. At least we get the impression.

Well, maybe that is an exaggeration. But the NFLPA will undoubtedly criticize player safety if overtime is extended.

If we are talking about carping, can you begin to imagine what life would have been like around Pittsburgh if that Sunday night game ended in a tie?

Yeah, me neither.

Thanks, Daniel Carlson. Bless your little Silver and Black heart.

Tim Benz is an editor for Tribune-Review. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication, unless otherwise specified.

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