Gene Collier: NFL schedule should keep Steelers Burfictly free
March 10, 2016 12:00 AM
John Minchillo/Associated Press
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, right, effectively knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs after a violent hit on star receiver Antonio Brown, center, which knocked him out of the game.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers will not open at Denver on the night of Sept. 8 as I suggested recently on live television, and the reason they will not be part of the annual Thursday prime timer hosted by the defending Super Bowl champion is simple: The Steelers do not play the Broncos in 2016.
Which everybody knew before I said that on live television, or at least everybody who cares.
So that’s about as far as I can be trusted on scheduling matters, yet my interest in the schedule the NFL is formulating for release next month only increases.
That’s because this year, for the first time in memory (keep in mind I’m having a hard time remembering, like, Monday), the league has an opportunity to make a bold statement on player discipline and its consequences for the player’s team, and it should seize that opportunity right there on the April day the full and final schedule is released.
The scheduling formula currently whirring through NFL computers is, like everything in this century, insanely data driven. For every obvious hurdle — complexities generated by stadium availability, the presidential debates, the prime-time considerations, the Thursday night fallout relative to player safety, the open week, the London games, the fact that Christmas falls on an NFL Sunday (yes that’s perfectly legal) — there are thousands of unforeseen complications that make scheduling 256 games over 17 weekends an algorithmic nightmare.
If that’s a thing.
But in the end, somebody’s gotta sift through the estimated five million possibilities and pick the best schedule for everyone, and he or she has to do that with every other NFL somebody screaming one word over and over and over: Television!
That’s right, these games are on TV.
So would it surprise you for one second that in a prime time slot for Week 4, the Cincinnati Bengals will meet the Steelers for the first time since the Titanic panic that ended Cincinnati’s season in January, the one in which Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict delivered the blow to the head of Antonio Brown that effectively ended the Steelers’ season a week later?
I doubt that would surprise you, and what a way for Burfict to return from the resultant three-game suspension that he’ll serve in Weeks 1, 2, and 3.
That would be a ratings blockbuster, and that would not be right at all, in this view.
The aggrieved party, in this case yer Stiwwers, should not have to deal with Burfict in such a setting, and furthermore, it says here, shouldn’t have to deal with him at all in 2016. The league should let the Steelers open at Cincinnati in Week 1, then host the Bengals in Week 3, the chances of which are similar to those that Burfict and Pacman Jones will be in the live audience at “Dancing With The Stars” when Brown debuts March 21.
The league just doesn’t schedule that way, and in its defense, when you look at the conduct of Burfict and Jones at the end of the wild-card game that night, it’s hard to tell which team was the aggrieved party.
Similarly, should the appeals court rule in its favor on the endless Deflategate issue, the NFL should schedule a Colts-Patriots appointment during the four-game Brady suspension, as it was the Colts who were the victims of the alleged deflation in that AFC title game year before last.
Of course, the league is off the hook on this count because for only the second time since 2003, the Colts and Patriots are not on either other’s schedules in 2016. Happily, by the time they are again, Deflategate might finally be getting decided in the Supreme Court of the United States, which could, by then, actually have a full roster of justices.
For the moment, you can expect to see Burfict at least once in 2016, but don’t let that ruin your enjoyment of what is already in my view one of the greatest Steelers schedules ever, even before I’ve seen the dates and game times for this fall.
Yes they have playoff teams Cincinnati, New England, and Kansas City to deal with at Heinz Field, but look at that road schedule: Perennials Baltimore, Cleveland, and Cincinnati, plus Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, Buffalo and Indianapolis.
Remember, any schedule analysis hinges not on the relative strengths or weaknesses of the opponents, nor the sequence of those opponents, nor the relative difficulty of the schedule’s home/road rhythm. Not at all.
That’s the greatest part of this Steelers schedule — only one weekend in airports for me.
Because it’s all about me.
Gene Collier: email@example.com and Twitter @genecollier.
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