Thursday NFL games gives players less recovery time, serves fans more blowouts.
The NFL has millions — maybe even a billion — reasons to play games Thursday nights, all relating to the value of the television rights.
The NFL has one big reason to reconsider, though: The quality of those games.
The league increased its number of Thursday games this season from eight in 2011 to 14, and halfway through this season, the result has been fewer points and more blowouts. When the Buccaneers routed the Vikings 36-17 to begin Week 8, it was the fourth time in seven Thursday night games this year that there was a double-digit margin of victory.
That’s just part of the cost to this new cash cow. The NFL has carved out this niche in the public’s seemingly bottomless appetite for its games at the expense of its players’ bodies and its coaches’ sanity. When it comes to the business of professional football, the players and coaches are taking the business end of the stick when it comes to “Thursday Night Football.”
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Players normally have six days to rest and recover between games. When they play Thursday, they get three. Seattle fullback Michael Robinson makes his living blocking men who are often bigger than him, and the day after the game, he said, he feels as if he has been in a car crash. Now imagine how he’d feel if you cut his recovery time in half.
The toll is more mental for the coaches, who generally have two days to dissect the previous game and prepare for the next one. For a Thursday night game, they don’t even have half that. Players arrive to work Monday and begin installing the game plan right away, often conducting a walk-through instead of a practice that afternoon.
That’s less time for the players to recover, less time for the coaches to prepare and less time to game-plan for that week’s opponent. Given all that, it’s surprising the Thursday night games haven’t been worse.
They are bad, however, coming out more lopsided and lower-scoring than games played on other days of the week (see chart). There have also been more stink bombs, with three of this year’s seven Thursday night games featuring a team that scored fewer than 10 points. Two failed to score a touchdown, including Seattle in its 13-6 loss at San Francisco last week.
Maybe that’s a price the NFL is willing to pay to tap into another night of viewing, one the league used to enhance the value of its television network. People will watch, which is the whole reason the broadcast schedule expanded this year, with 13 of the 14 Thursday night games being televised by the NFL Network.
While the league may be a broadcaster now, its business is still football. At least it should be, and the Thursday night schedule undermines two things the league claims are important: player safety and parity.
Maybe that’s just the cost of doing business in the NFL. But as “Thursday Night Football” has become a weekly staple, it’s important to acknowledge the toll it is taking on not only the employees, but the quality of the game.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @dannyoneil
|Not prime-time performances|
|Halfway through the season, it’s pretty clear that the quality of games Thursday isn’t what it is on the weekend:|
|Margin of victory|
|All other days|