As of this posting, the Cincinnati Bengals are just south of 10,000 tickets for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers. The Indianapolis Colts still need to sell 6,000 tickets for Saturday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs -- they were granted an extension due to the holiday on Wednesday. By Tuesday morning, the Green Bay Packers still had 13,000 unsold tickets for Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers, but are optimistic. The Philadelphia Eagles have already sold their allotment.
If the Bengals, Colts and Packers are unable to declare a sell out by their respective deadlines (72 hours prior to kickoff, 48 hours for the Colts), the game will be blacked out in those local markets.
The Bengals and Packers can receive an extension if a sell out is close. Local companies, including Channel 12 in Cincinnati, can purchase the remaining tickets it makes sense for them. However, the team can't. During the regular season, an organization is allowed to purchase the remainder of unsold tickets at 34 cents on the dollar to cover the share for the visiting team. That isn't allowed in the playoffs because the NFL receives all ticket revenue.
There is historical evidence when first-round tickets do struggle. A couple of years ago, the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals required extensions. In 2000, the New Orleans Saints had over 11,000 unsold tickets and whittled it down to 4,500 in just two days and eventually 1,700 before the league granted an extension. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in 2009 that games played in the first round of the playoffs are always "the most challenging" due to the late scheduling, writes the New York Times.
Traditionally, Aiello said, if they are close enough to a sellout, the teams work with their sponsors to buy the remaining tickets
The Bengals and Colts knew they'd be hosting a playoff game before week 17, but with both teams still qualifying for a first-round bye on Sunday and the league not releasing the playoff schedule until half time of the Sunday Night game, many hesitated to commit. Green Bay wasn't even in the postseason until Sunday evening when Aaron Rodgers completed a 48-yard touchdown pass in the final minute to clinch a postseason berth and the NFC North.
At least four playoff games have been blacked out since 1990 (we found others): A wild card game between the Lions and Packers in Detroit ('92), the Bills comeback against Houston in Buffalo ('93), the Ravens and Dolphins in Miami (2000) and the Colts and Dolphins in Miami (2001).
In the end, the NFL's archaic black out policy may generate a little embarrassment that the league would rather avoid.
Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) submitted a proposal that would end blackouts among all professional sports (but aimed more at the NFL).
"There is evidence that after nearly 40 years, the Sports Blackout Rule has outlived its relevance and utility," said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in a statement. "Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games."
Detractors of the proposal argue that NFL games could be removed from network television to a pay service. However, with CBS, NBC, FOX, and ESPN having paid a combined tens of billions for for broadcast rights through 2022 and benefiting without the threat of blackouts, we're not sure if that would fly (or even if they could with the existing contracts).
There were 15 blackouts in 2012 and 16 in 2011. Only two games were blacked out in 2013, but if any games are this weekend, support for the proposal could increase. A final vote is needed, which could take place next year.