OK, Maybe Thursday Night Football Isn't So Bad?

Thursday Night Football has plenty of critics, but one brave man is taking a brave stand by defending our least-loved football tradition—or something.

by Ben Adams
Dec 4 2014, 2:10pm

Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Thanksgiving has come and gone. You've hugged your relatives and dutifully sat through their bragging about their children while enveloped in the fuzzy embrace of tryptophan. However, poultry-grade narcotics have a brief half-life—other distractions are necessary this holiday season. One option is the fact that your fantasy league is nearing its conclusion, and there is a remote scenario where you still have a chance. It is December in the NFL. There are only three Thursday nights of football left, including tonight. Soldier Field looks miserable and so do the Cowboys.

Admit it: you're going to miss it when it's gone. Just a little.

For all its numerous critics, Thursday Night Football continues to out-rate pretty much everything in its path. Its most recent broadcast was Raiders-Chiefs on November 20 (Thanksgiving games are technically not a TNF broadcast), and it pulled in about 7.7 million viewers, which is to say, more than any two other programs that night combined. This despite exceptional ratings for The O'Reilly Factor and other Fox News shows because President Obama spoke that day. All of which is to say: even the 0-10 Raiders were appointment viewing.

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The standard knocks against Thursday Night Football are: teams don't have time to install a good game plan so the games are sloppy, and players don't have time to recover, so there are more injuries.

Let's start with the matter of the injuries. Football is a casually violent sport, as we all know. They don't keep smelling salts on the sidelines at golf tournaments. We also know that NFL players go through elaborate rituals to ease their aches after games, and those rites are truncated by the short week. But are more players therefore injured on Thursday nights? The NFLsays no, although there's good reason to be skeptical of the league's opinion. Still, a stat-head at the Boston Globe alsosays no. There are injuries aplenty in this sport, and they surely pose a major risk to this league and its players. But it's not at all clear that this has anything to do with playing one game per season on short rest. Last year, Brian Hoyer tore his ACL on a Thursday. This year, the Cardinals have lost seemingly their entire starting 22; all on Sundays or in practice.

They're laughing at you. Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

OK, but maybe the injuries aren't really the heart of the matter. We're fans, and we want to watch good games; but Thursday Night Football is awful. Well, this much is true: TNF has sure had some clunkers this year. The Falcons taking a 56-0 lead into the 4th quarter against the Bucs, for instance. Or Andy Dalton posting a 1.96 QB rating against the Browns. But does this have anything to do with short rest or game plans? Be honest with me now: are there some days of the week when Andy Dalton is good? Would Mike Glennon have put on an air show if he'd taken the field on full rest?

Meanwhile, over on Monday Night Football, where the prime time tradition is hallowed and the extra hours of game-planning flow like wine, the games haven't been much better. We have the Chiefs' Week 4 pasting of the Patriots, 41-14; the Colts brutalizing the Giants 40-24 in Week 9; and the Panthers bowing before the Mark Sanchez-led Eagles, 45-21, in Week 10. Most recently, the Dolphins tried to mortgage their playoff hopes by losing a messy affair to the 2-9 Jets, but Geno Smith Geno Smith-ed the game back to them.

Extra rest isn't necessarily the cure for bad football, nor is short rest necessarily its cause. Here's a Confucian riddle for you: if Jay Cutler throws two pick-sixes and has a weird sullen look on his face tonight, is that because it's a Thursday?

Go back to that Chiefs-Raiders game for a minute. It was a winless team playing for nothing but pride against a far superior opponent. Unless you are in Oakland or Kansas City, you wouldn't even have had the choice to watch that game on a Sunday. Or maybe you tuned into the RedZone channel, and spent most of your day logging fantasy points and catching highlights.

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Oakland-Kansas City wound up being a pivotal game in the playoff race, and ended one team's year-long losing streak. It also finished with the Chiefs bringing a potential game-winning two-minute drive to the edge of field goal range before being stopped. Oakland's sack-celebration shenanigans may have been sloppy, but they were great TV. But you already know this, don't you, because you probably tuned in.

Cowboys-Bears tonight, and Dallas has everything to play for. Do you really wish you had to wait three more days before watching it? It's not like The O'Reilly Factor is going to be any better.