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Two weeks ago, the NFL season kicked off with the defending champion New England Patriots hosting the Kansas City Chiefs. Fans were treated to an exciting game that ended in a somewhat shocking New England loss. We saw explosive plays from Tyreek Hill, great quarterback play from lifelong game manager Alex Smith and a breakout performance from rookie running back Kareem Hunt.
Then last week happened and we were reminded that Chiefs vs. Patriots was not actually Thursday Night Football.
The opening game of the season was technically not officially “Thursday Night Football,” as the broadcast was handled by the normal Sunday Night Football NBC crew. It was also different than the rest of the games we will get this season because New England and Kansas City had the whole offseason to prepare for the game.
Last week’s game reinforced what Thursday Night Football really is. We had an ugly game that resulted in the Houston Texans beating the Cincinnati Bengals 13 to 9. The Texans were starting a rookie quarterback behind a terrible offensive line, and gave us very little to be excited about, aside from a Deshaun Watson 49 yard touchdown scramble. The Bengals were pretty much terrible all around. This game was just a microcosm of what Thursday football has been since it’s inception.
Thursday night games started in 2006, but became more of a staple starting in 2012. Since then, fans have been mostly underwhelmed by the football they get before the weekend. One of the major complaints about the product has been the scheduling, which at times has seemed to favor poor games, with the league assuming fans will watch simply because it’s the only NFL football on TV. This complaint is not without some justification.
A quick glance at the schedule for this season’s Thursday night games doesn’t improve the chances of better quality games. Tonight the feature served up for us is the San Francisco 49ers hosting the Los Angeles Rams. Is there anyone besides those teams’ most faithful fans and gambling addicts actually excited by this game?
In fairness to Thursday Night Football, there are some intriguing games on the schedule this year. New England at Tampa Bay, Kansas City at Oakland and Tennessee at Pittsburgh all feature showdowns between potential Super Bowl contenders. However, for every one of those great match ups, we have to suffer through multiple games such as Minnesota at Cleveland, Buffalo at the New York Jets and Indianapolis at Baltimore. The rest of the games fall somewhere in between, usually featuring a team built for prime time (such as Green Bay or Atlanta), facing a team they will likely obliterate.
Of the three prime time nights (Thursday, Sunday and Monday), Thursday certainly gets the short end of the stick. While they have their three big games, Sunday Night Football hoards them, rarely putting on a game that won’t be a big draw. Upcoming games of note for Sunday Night Football: Atlanta at New England (Super Bowl rematch), New England at Denver, Philadelphia at Dallas, Green Bay at Pittsburgh and Dallas at Oakland. The other games on the schedule aren’t bad either.
Scheduling is clearly a problem, but far from the only one. The other issue is the biggest reason why the Chiefs vs. Patriots was so much better than the Texans vs. the Bengals. We simply can’t ask teams to play a game on Sunday and then expect them to play good football on Thursday night. According to many current and former NFL players, the Thursday night road team gets only about 1.5 days of actual game preparation. Minimal preparation and minimal recovery time from the previous week’s game is a recipe for bad football.
The league doesn’t help matters with their scheduling. Any team asked to play on Thursday is not going to be as prepared as they would be for a Sunday or Monday night game. With a highly talented team such as New England or Tampa Bay, the mistakes may be a little bit masked. When the game features teams like the Buffalo Bills or the New York Jets, their issues are only further highlighted. Unfortunately, the Thursday Night Schedule has far too many New York Jets quality participators.
The NFL continues to defend Thursday Night Football. Their defenses are thinly veiled and hypocritical. For a league that constantly makes statements about their commitment to player safety, how can they justify putting players through the rigors of an NFL football game twice in just four days? Player safety may be an actual concern for league officials, but never at the expense of it’s all important bottom line.
In all of this, we the fans are the ones to blame. For all my complaints about Thursday Night Football, I know that tonight, against my better judgment,I will tune in for the Rams vs. the 49ers. I’ll probably have a book in my hand and be paying minimal attention, but TV ratings don’t account for your level of interest, only that you tuned in. Thursday Night Football is simply bad football, and yet like a car wreck, we can’t turn away. NFL, if you are reading this, please, save us from ourselves.