For the last 15 seasons, the NFL has concluded it’s opening weekend by playing a doubleheader on Monday Night Football. These game times were usually around a 7 PM and 10PM EST kickoff with the second game obviously being played in the western half the United States. According to Peter King in Football Morning in America, ESPN will no longer be airing a doubleheader on Monday night to open the season. Instead, ESPN comes out even better by picking up a Saturday doubleheader the final week of the season.
This per Peter King:
Looks like ESPN will lose the second game of the week-one Monday night doubleheader but gain a hugely valuable property this season: the week 18 Saturday doubleheader on Jan. 8, 2022. What a trade. In the last five years, the Monday night week one nightcap had a string of forgettable matchups: Tennessee-Denver, Denver-Oakland, Rams-Oakland, Chargers-Denver, Rams-San Francisco (pre-either team being good) with relatively poor ratings. Now, ESPN is likely to have one Monday night game in week one at the normal MNF gametime of 8:15 p.m. ET, with a doubleheader to kick off week 18.
When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Monday night doubleheader to start the season, they have played twice in the early spot, both of which occurred in the last five seasons. Additionally, the Steelers played both contests on the road and against NFC East opponents. The Steelers were victorious over the Washington Redskins in 2016 by score of 38-16. The Steelers also played the opening game of the Monday night doubleheader last season in 2020 at the Meadowlands where they were victorious over the New York Giants by a score of 26-16.
Because of rescheduling games due to the global pandemic in 2020, they were a total of four Monday night doubleheaders last season. Those additional games occurred in Week 4, Week 6, and Week 13. The Steelers were once again involved in the doubleheader, this time hosting the Washington Football Team in the rescheduled early game on December 7.
So what exactly did ESPN gain by giving up the doubleheader in Week 1? Apparently, the NFL plans on spreading out the games during the final week of the season even more. After keeping a fair competitive advantage by having every team play on Sunday since 2007, it appears two games will be chosen to be played on Saturday.
Once again, this per Peter King:
In a normal last week of the regular season, the NFL has picked one game with (the league hoped) a win-and-in scenario for at least one of the teams playing. The other 15 games would be crammed into the early and late Sunday afternoon windows. Now, the league is planning a 2-13-1 setup of games in week 18: two on Saturday (late afternoon and Saturday night), 13 divided between the early and late Sunday afternoon windows, and the premier game of the weekend on Sunday night. Could the Saturday games be duds? Possibly. But last year, for instance, there were a few games with playoff significance, like Cowboys-Giants (with the winner copping the NFC East if Washington lost in Philadelphia Sunday night) that could be attractive standalone games rather than games competing against others for viewership on Sunday.
When comes to the Monday Night Football doubleheader to open the season, I was not a big fan of it when it involved the Steelers. Although it was nice to know the game would be nationally televised for Steelers’ fans to see across the country, waiting the extra day to see the Steelers take the field for the first time was worse in Week 1 than anytime else throughout the season.
While news of the NFL moving on from the Monday Night Football doubleheader in Week 1 is the first thing fans will experience, the bigger story is spreading out the final week of the season by bringing Saturday into the picture. While teams who get their game a day earlier before heading into the playoffs could have a slight advantage, chances are they won’t know they are operating with one less day of preparation for what could be a “win and you’re in” scenario until the weekend before.
So what are your thoughts? Did you like the Monday night doubleheader to start the season? How do you feel about two games being played on Saturday the final week of the season? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.