Steelers still a popular TV draw

Know this Steelers fans: Your team remains relevant.

Despite missing the playoffs last season, the Steelers were selected for the maximum five prime-time TV games in the upcoming season – including the first game on the inaugural “Thursday Night Football” package that CBS Sports purchased from the NFL a few months ago.

That game/series debut comes Sept. 11 with a Steelers road game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Subsequent prime-time games for the Steelers are: Sept. 21 at Carolina Panthers (8:30 p.m., NBC); Oct. 20 vs. Houston Texans (8:30 p.m., ESPN); and Nov. 17 at Tennessee Titans (8:30 p.m., NBC).

That Steelers-Ravens game represents the start of a top-heavy split schedule of Thursday night games. During the first half of the season, games air on CBS and every matchup has preseason appeal.

Conversely, during the second half of the season “Thursday Night Football” moves exclusively to the NFL Network and the quality of the lineup seems to drop off a bit.

CBS’s top on-air team, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, will work all 16 games. They’ll also handle a game every Sunday on CBS.

The better-scheduled first part of the season on CBS does a couple of things.

First, it boosts CBS’s prime-time ratings. With NFL games drawing an average of 20 million viewers per game last season, the network should easily win the night in terms of ratings and viewership.

Additionally, the schedule makes the “Thursday Night Football” package even more valuable for the league – meaning it will be more costly for advertisers and generate more revenue when it comes up for bid again.

As an example of the difference between the first and second halves of the Thursday night lineup, the CBS slate includes Giants-Redskins, Vikings-Packers and Jets-Patriots.

On NFL Network, the lineup features Browns-Bengals, Cardinals-Rams and Titans-Jaguars. They’re OK games, and it has been proven that people watch the NFL regardless of who’s playing, but they’re just not quite as top-notch (or big market) as the other matchups.

For traditionalists, the Steelers’ schedule includes 10 games that kick off at 1 p.m. Sunday. As unveiled Wednesday, the schedule also features just one game in the late afternoon Sunday TV window. That’s a 4:25 p.m. home game Oct. 26 vs. the Ravens.

Penguin perspectives

After the Penguins were pushed to overtime in Game 4 of their series against Colorado, Root Sports analyst and former Penguins player Jay Caufield had no criticism for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. None.

Instead it was more praise.

Honestly, after Fleury had given up three consecutive goals and was seemingly out of position with 22.5 seconds remaining in the game before allowing the score that sent it to overtime, Caufield could not be counted on to either a fair critique or even emotional criticism.

“It was a bad bounce,” Caufield said. He later used a Telestrator to show two bad bounces that prevented the goalie from being successful on the final goal in regulation. He said Fleury deserved credit for keeping the team in the game. In fairness, though, he also deserved some criticism – and Caufield should have provided that.

Conversely, on NBC Sports Network, Pierre McGuire offered a more pointed opinion after Columbus netted the winning goal in overtime, a harmless looking shot from just inside the blue line.

“That’s an easy save and he boots it,” McGuire said. “It’s a sinker, but Fleury’s gotta have that we have a series.”

Tuner tidbits

n The NFL’s Thanksgiving Day tripleheader features this lineup: Bears at Lions (CBS), Eagles at Cowboys (Fox) and Seahawks at 49ers (NBC). If you look closely, you’ll note that’s an all-NFC lineup. It’s the first time the schedule has not included an AFC team.

n While teams such as the Bears and Steelers get the maximum of five prime-time games, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a little less exposed. Fourteen of the team’s 16 games are scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday kickoffs.

n The NFL season starts Sept. 4 with Packers at Seahawks. That game will air on NBC.

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