The NFL playoffs are coming to cable television.
That's not such a huge deal now, but when ESPN got "Sunday Night Football" back in the stone ages of 1987, it was big news that the league was putting regular-season games on cable. Kids, cable television wasn't as widespread as it is today. We were a little more than a couple decades from getting just about any sporting event you want on your phone, mostly because the few cell phones in circulation were the size of shoeboxes. The idea of a playoff game on cable back then? Nonsense.
Well, it took a while but it will happen. ESPN will broadcast a wild-card playoff game in January of 2015, a first for the network even though it has been showing NFL games for more than 25 years. As part of the NFL's "Monday Night Football" agreement with ESPN it had the option to put a playoff game on the network, and it exercised that option for this season. But why?
It's possible we'll understand that answer better when the NFL regular-season schedule is announced. And the additional news that the NFL added a divisional playoff game to NBC's package probably is related to the ESPN news.
ESPN's "Monday Night Football" schedule has been famously average or worse through most of its run, with the top game going to NBC and "Sunday Night Football" most weeks. CBS is joining the "Thursday Night Football" game this season. The NFL Network had a Thursday night schedule that was notoriously bad, much worse than ESPN. There was no way the NFL was going to give CBS a half-season of Thursday night games and stick them with ratings killers like Buffalo vs. Jacksonville. CBS was definitely going to get some good games to showcase, and that cuts out another piece of the pie before ESPN got to the table. It also means that NBC's schedule is likely taking a hit too, which explains why the league gave NBC a divisional playoff game for the first time since it bought the rights to "Sunday Night Football" in 2006. NBC will get a divisional playoff game each season through 2022. NBC will also broadcast a wild-card playoff game this season, as usual. The NFL has to keep all of its television partners happy.
The NFL schedule should come out this week, although the league is once again being very secretive about the exact date. But given that the league hooked up ESPN and NBC with some valuable playoff inventory, the most interesting part of the schedule release will be seeing what those two networks and CBS are getting in the regular season.
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