The Press Box Perspective: Should NFL Have Sunday Night Playoff Football Regularly?

By Andrew Zuhosky

Winter weather necessitated a change to the NFL playoff schedule last weekend.

A week ago Friday, the NFL announced that the Jan. 15 AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Miss. which had been slated for a 1:05 p.m. EST kickoff on NBC Sports, would be rescheduled for 8:20 p.m. EST that night because of the weather and spectator safety.

Normally, the NFL does not schedule night playoff games on Sundays, except for Conference Championship week, when the late game is played in a 6:30 p.m. timeslot.

The Kansas City weather forecast indicated that an ice storm was projected to bring half an inch of ice to the area and an ice storm warning was in effect last weekend.

NBC aired the game in what’s usually the “Sunday Night Football” timeslot during the regular season.

This rescheduling got me thinking, “Hmm, what if the NFL scheduled Sunday night playoff games on a regular basis?”

In all honesty, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Think about it, everybody: “Sunday Night Football” is routinely a highly-rated TV program. It’s been the highest-rated show in primetime for so many years now.

People like watching the NFL. It’s the most popular sport in the country. When games are played at night, the audience watches in big numbers.

Yes, be it Sunday night, Monday night, Thursday night or Saturday night, viewers and fans love turning on the NFL. When the regular season ends and the postseason begins, the ratings increase, as do the stakes on the field.

Primetime TV and the NFL have been a great match for nearly the last half century.

It all goes back to the 1970 season, when the American Broadcasting Company and the league first came together to create what’s now become one of TV’s longest-running programs, “Monday Night Football”, which just completed its 47th season and 11th on ESPN on Dec. 26.

During the early years of the ABC era of “MNF”, the network would run special editions on Thursdays and Sundays, along with the usual preseason broadcasts as well.

It wasn’t until 1987 that “Sunday Night Football” became a regular feature on the NFL slate, though for its first three years on-air, “SNF” games were only played during the second half of the year on ESPN.

In the 1990 season, the Sunday night games were expanded to the entire season, with TNT airing the early portion of the season. ESPN and TNT would split the Sunday night games through the 1997 package with ESPN airing the entire season from 1998 until 2005, after which NBC began its current relationship with the NFL.

Enough about the past. Let’s talk about what could be for NFL playoff scheduling and, in my opinion, what should be, for NFL playoff scheduling.

First off, the NFL should keep the Saturday playoff schedule as it is. It’s perfect.

Having a night playoff game on Saturdays in the NFL gives whichever network has the night game an advantage in the ratings and a good shot to win the night, since Saturday usually is a night for repeats across the board.

Now, then, how would the NFL manage to put a playoff game on Sunday night? I think the league would be best served by doing a modified version of the Saturday schedule.

I imagine that it would go something like this: Game #1 on a playoff Sunday would begin around 4:00 p.m. EST, with a network pregame report coming on the air at 3:00. The second game would then follow around 7:30, with the network coming on at 7:00.

With a 7:30 kickoff, the game would end around 10:30 or so and would give the network’s east coast affiliates a great lead-in for local news.