By JDCam Monday October 6th 2014
Thursday Night Football is an atrocious product. It’s becoming an unwatchable product. It’s a product that the NFL should give serious consideration to removing for the safety of its players, the entertainment of its fans and the credibility of itself as an organization.
TNF made its debut on November 23rd 2006 in a matchup between the Chiefs and Broncos. Initially the 8 game package was designed to slake the thirst of an increasingly NFL obsessed general public. In subsequent years TNF moved to a full season slate. The first game finished 19-10 in favor of the Chiefs. In recent years there has been a transition to an increasing number of divisional numbers in attempt to increase the viewership of TNF (as well as the significance of its games) understandably the lowest of all NFL game programming.
In the 2014 season the TNF score line disparities have been alarming;
Seahawks by 20 over Packers
Ravens by 20 over Steelers
Falcons by 42 over Bucs
Giants by 31 over Redskins
Packers by 32 over Vikings
That’s an average discrepancy of 29 points per game, hardly compelling football. Comparatively to the rest of the NFL matchups through week 5 in which the average score separation was;
Week 1 – 10.13 points
Week 2 – 12.33 points
Week 3 – 11.73 points
Week 4 – 16.5 points
Week 5 – 12.38 points
Obviously, it’s not entirely fair to compare a one game sample to score discrepancies over a full Sunday slate. Thus far in the 2014 season however, there hasn’t been a truly competitive TNF game. Compare these score lines to week 3 for example, where on Sunday there were 6 games decided by 10 points or less.
An additional and perhaps more significant consideration for the NFL is giving its players enough time to fully recover between games. Starting on short rest is preventing some of its players from participating and exacerbating the pressure on others to play through ‘minor’ injuries that can resurface over the course of a long season. If the NFL wants an outstanding product then surely having its best players on the field is a priority. Minnesota Viking rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, suffering from a sprained ankle was unable to suit up for the Vikings whipping at the hands of the Green Bay Packers but claimed that he would have been able to suit up if it was a Sunday game. Would the Vikings have won if Bridgewater had been able to start? Almost certainly not. Would it have been more competitive with Bridgewater instead of Christian Ponder? Almost certainly.
There has also been a litany of new research into head injuries within the NFL. Outside the Lines recently reported that shockingly only 1 in 27 head injuries are reported in the FCS. Chris Nowinski, co- founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, reported that ‘the most important finding is that college football players are playing through the vast majority of potential concussions’
Given the vast amount of money at stake for the NFL and its teams every Sunday one would have to assume that if a similar study was conducted in the NFL we might see similarly alarming results. The NFL does have a key responsibility to its players here, not to sacrifice their long term well-being for the sake of their ratings or their profit margin. PBS recently published an article citing the alarming findings of a group of researchers at UCLA who discovered brain damage in ex-NFL players after their careers concluded. Surely in this culture of increasing awareness surrounding traumatic brain injuries, Thursday Night Football sets its players up for unnecessary further injury risk in an already risky sport?
Sadly the NFL doesn’t yet live out this responsibility. It has two bottom lines, dollars and eyeballs (on television sets). As long as Thursday Night Football ratings continue to be among the highest nationally it won’t be going anywhere. Sadly for both its fans and players, it is a disservice and discredit to one group and potentially an endangerment to the other.