Why Ravens vs Steelers Is Being Played on Wednesday Afternoon

The NFL has played fast and loose with its schedule in its quest to complete the regular season amidst a global pandemic. So far, the league has pushed bye weeks back, postponed games and professional football has been played on Tuesday for only the third time in NFL history.

The league has continued to dance through the raindrops over the past week, rescheduling the Baltimore Ravens' road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which was originally scheduled at 8:20 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving Day and will now be played on Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. ET, on three separate occasions.

If the sight of two NFL teams colliding on a Wednesday is almost unprecedented—more on that later—so is the kickoff time. Flexible as the NFL has been with its schedule so far, it didn't have much room for manoeuvre when it came to deciding the kickoff time for the AFC North rivalry.

In fact, NBC made the decision for the NFL when it informed the league it wanted to broadcast the 88th Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony. NBC held the right to broadcast the matchup between Steelers and Ravens in primetime on Thanksgiving and also holds the rights to the traditional Christmas extravaganza in New York City, which it has broadcast on a Wednesday after Thanksgiving each year since 1997.

While the ceremony will be scaled down compared to other years because of coronavirus, it will still feature a host of star performers, including Dolly Parton, the Goo Goo Dolls and Kelly Clarkson.

Having deemed the lighting of the Christmas worthy of having the priority over the NFL, NBC has opted to fit the latter in the mid-afternoon slot. To give the broadcaster its due, NBC has had to rejig its plans for almost an entire week. From its original slot on Thanksgiving, the AFC North matchup was initially moved to Sunday afternoon after a COVID-19 outbreak emerged within the Ravens. As Baltimore continued to report positive tests, the NFL pushed the game to Tuesday night, only for the decision to be met by fierce resistance from Ravens players.

The league eventually settled for Wednesday afternoon meaning that, should the game go ahead as scheduled, it will be only the second time since 1950 an NFL game has been held on a Wednesday. The only exception came in Week 1 of the 2012 season, when the Dallas Cowboys were scheduled to play the New York Giants on Thursday, but the game was brought forward by a day to avoid it clashing with President Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Should the Ravens and Steelers take the field without further postponements on Wednesday, it will mark the first time in NFL history the league has held games on all seven days of the week. In October, the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills played only the third Tuesday night game in NFL history after the league was forced to reschedule it from a Sunday as the Titans were hit by a coronavirus outbreak—the Ravens are also set to play on Tuesday, when they host the Cowboys in Week 13.

Together with the usual Thursday, Sunday and Monday games, the NFL has also scheduled matchups on Friday—when the New Orleans Saints host the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day and Saturday—with the Detroit Lions hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals welcoming the San Francisco 49ers on December 26.

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens rushes with the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 1 in Baltimore, Maryland. The two AFC North rivals meet on Wednesday afternoon. Patrick Smith/Getty