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Franchise first on 2020 schedule: A Thanksgiving game at home

The Steelers franchise has been a part of the National Football League since 1933, which means the 2020 season will be its 88th in the business of professional football. It wouldn’t seem there would be too many more firsts for the Steelers, but there is one more box they’ll be able to check come the end of November.

Since 2013, the Steelers have been selected to play four times on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, and the 2020 season will include their fifth such appearance in the last eight seasons. But while the Steelers hosted the Ravens on Christ-mas Day in 2016, what will be unique this year is that the Steelers will be at home for a game on Thanksgiving Day.

The opponent will be the Baltimore Ravens, and that AFC North rivalry will be the third of the NFL’s tripleheader on Thanksgiving, with kickoff set for 8:20 p.m. on NBC. It will be the Steelers’ ninth all-time appearance on Thanksgiving, their third as part of the finale of the NFL tripleheader, but their first as the home team.

“The highlight (of our 2020 schedule) I would say is hosting the Ravens on Thanksgiving night,” said Steelers President Art Rooney II. “We’ve never hosted a game on Thanksgiving. We hosted a game against the Ravens a couple of years ago on Christmas night, and it really went well and was well-received by the fans. I’m excited about that.”

That game was the one where the Steelers came-from-behind to post a 31-27 victory to clinch the AFC North Division championship and in the process eliminate the Ravens from the playoffs.

“The feedback we got (from fans) after hosting that Christmas game a couple of years ago was very positive, frankly more positive than I was expecting,” said Rooney. “That was probably the best barometer we had, and since you have to sort of volunteer for these things, we indicated we would be prepared to host the Thanksgiving night game if the league wanted to give it to us. We’ve volunteered for that the last couple of years, and this year we got one. I think it’ll be an exciting night.”

"The highlight (of our 2020 schedule) I would say is HOSTING THE RAVENS ON THANKSGIVING NIGHT."
-Art Rooney II

As mentioned previously, this will mark the Steel-ers’ ninth appearance on Thanksgiving, and in the previous eight they were 2-6. Their all-time record on Thanksgiving includes back-to-back losses to the Eagles in 1939-40, two losses to the Lions
(in 1983 and 1998), a loss to Dallas in 1991, and a 2013 loss in Baltimore on Thanksgiving night. Their two wins came over the Chicago Cardinals in 1950, and a victory in Indianapolis in 2016.

“Steelers-Ravens certainly has become a rivalry where we’re on primetime at least it seems once every year, which shows it’s a great rivalry and we’ve had some great games down through the years,” said Rooney. “The Ravens are coming off a strong season and coming back this year with a strong roster, so it’ll be a big game hope-fully for both teams.”

The 2020 NFL schedule had the potential to contain some clues about the league’s plan for the upcoming season, with the possibility that within the schedule would be some evidence of a contingency plan should the global pandemic dictate that business cannot operate as usual.

“We had to start with the full schedule, and obviously that’s Plan A and what we’d like to do,” said Rooney. “Hopefully we’ll be able to play the full schedule with fans in the stadiums. We have time between now and September to get ready to do that, and hopefully things will evolve to the point where we are able to do that. That’s what we’re going to plan for, and obviously there will be time to consider other contingencies as we get closer to the season if necessary.”

One of the plans the league was supposed to be considering was front-loading teams’ schedules with non-conference games, so that it would be easy to cancel the less-significant games in terms of playoff tiebreakers if the season had to be shortened.

But that didn’t happen, and the Steelers’ four games against NFC opponents are spread almost equally over their schedule, with the one against the New York Giants on Sept. 14 as the opener on Monday night; the one against the Eagles in October; the one against Dallas in November; and the one against the Redskins on the first Sunday in December.

“I think we’ve got to be prepared to play the full schedule as it lays out, and that’s what the league did,” said Rooney. “They prepared the normal schedule for everybody, and we need to be prepared to do that. The way is schedule is made, I think some people don’t understand the difficulty in accommodating everything that needs to be accommodat-ed in putting an NFL schedule together. It’s a difficult thing to do, and saying we’re going to put all the non-conference games up front, even if you wanted to do that, those things aren’t easy to pull off. The thing the league has been trying to do in recent years is end (the schedule) with division games and mostly conference games, and we do have that this year. I think that has been good for the league.”

A few other things that jump out about the Steelers’ 2020 schedule is that for the first time in a while, the team doesn’t begin with the full complement of five primetime games; for the second straight year, three of their last four games are on the road; and they play in Jacksonville the Sunday before that Thanksgiving night game against the Ravens.

“I think it lays out pretty well,” said Rooney about the whole schedule. “We have three out of the last four on the road again, and so I’m not crazy about that, but there are a lot of things about schedules where you don’t get everything you want.

“I’m not going to complain about (only four primetime games), to be honest with you. With flexible scheduling, there’s certainly a chance we’ll get another primetime game, and I view that 4:25 p.m. game in Dallas against the Cowboys on Nov. 8 as almost a primetime game for us. I really don’t complain about (only four primetime games), and we don’t have many home night games and I’m all right with that, too.

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