“Quite frankly, it sucks.”
“The whole idea of Thursday Night Football is terrible. It’s ludicrous. It’s hypocritical.”
Those three quotes, coming from New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty, Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Richard Sherman, and Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, respectively, just about sum it up when describing Thursday Night Football.
Players haven’t been shy when it comes to voicing their displeasures about the league’s Thursday night games in years past, really since the concept debuted back in November of 2006.
Many feel the shortened week of preparation leads to more injuries, more fatigue, and, as a result, a lower-quality product in the long run.
McCaffrey told reporters in 2021 that he thought playing in a Thursday night game against the Houston Texans in 2020 was a catalyst for an injury that forced him out of 13 of the Panthers’ 16 games that season.
“It was extremely frustrating,” McCaffrey said. “I don’t prefer Thursday night games. You go through a lot in a football game. And you really get two days to recover and one of those days is a travel day. So you get two days to recover, you hop on a plane, you get in a hotel, and then you go out and play in a football game. It’s really tough. But it is what it is. It’s part of the game, and, obviously, frustrating.”
McCourty was open about the effects of the quick turnaround between a Sunday game and a subsequent Thursday night matchup, specifically before the Patriots traveled to play the Atlanta Falcons on the road in 2021.
“I mean, quite frankly, it sucks to play Sunday then have to play again Thursday,” the Patriots captain said. “But you push through and you look at the next break that you’re going to get is a 10-day break. You just have to push through mentally and continue to tell yourself that and go out there and try to play a good game.”
Sherman, penning a column in 2016 when he was a member of the Seattle Seahawks, didn’t mince his words, calling Thursday Night Football “terrible,” “ludicrous,” “hypocritical,” and deemed it a “poopfest.”
“Your body isn’t ready. You’re still sore from Sunday’s game. You’re going to go out there and compete and give everything you have, because that’s what you do,” Sherman wrote. “But your body just won’t have as much to give as it would have had on a full week’s rest.
“We’ve seen blowouts, sloppy play and games that have been almost unwatchable — and it’s not the players’ faults,” he continued. “Their bodies just aren’t ready to play.”
Thursday night games haven’t been ideal for NFL teams in 2021, as of this writing.
On Thanksgiving Day, fans saw a low-scoring, lackluster game between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions, followed by a penalty-filled battle between the Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders, all rounded out by a blowout win for the Buffalo Bills over the New Orleans Saints.
A week prior, the Patriots beat down the Falcons in a 25-0 shutout. A week before that? The injured Miami Dolphins took out the Baltimore Ravens, one of the AFC’s best teams, in a 22-10 snoozer.
It’s a hit-or-miss affair, and some close games make it all seem worthwhile for the league in the grand scheme of things. But, the negatives seem to outweigh the positives from an overall perspective.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of alternatives for the NFL to consider.
Antitrust laws only allow the NFL to broadcast games on Friday nights and Saturdays before the second week of September and after the second week of December. In the long run, it likely helps the NFL and its broadcast partners, as it prevents any conflicts with major college football games on CBS, ESPN, FOX, and NBC.
But, that deal, known as the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, puts the NFL in a pickle.
Saturday games would be the most ideal option to replace Thursday night games, as it only shifts the usual timeline for an NFL team up one day. The league legally can’t consider that.
The closest thing to equal alternative on the other end of the week would be a Tuesday night game, which the league was forced to utilize in 2020 as a result of postponements due to COVID-19.
It’s an open day in the general football calendar, but would take away some of the shine from the league’s Monday Night Football slate, which has historically served as the main event for the NFL’s weekly schedule.
Outside of that, the only real option for the NFL is to schedule doubleheaders on Monday nights, similar to what the league used to do for the first Monday night of the season.
Scheduling games for 5 p.m. ET and 8:30 p.m. ET, or for 6 p.m. ET and 9:30 p.m. ET, would make things easier from a scheduling perspective for players, and would turn Monday nights into more of an event for the league’s weekly schedule. Then, when the Saturday nights open up in December, the doubleheader could be split between the two nights.
Pitting East Coast-based teams against each other for the first Monday night game would be the same situation timing-wise as what West Coast-based fans deal with for Monday night games anyway, and scheduling a West Coast-based game for the late game would even things out nicely.
It’s not a perfect solution, but neither is Thursday Night Football in the first place.
It’s an almost-impossible puzzle for the league to solve, and is really a byproduct of the league’s massive growth and the constant need for live action in football fans’ lives.
But, if the league is looking to take care of its players and continue with their commitment to player safety, taking a look in the mirror and reevaluating their stance on Thursday Night Football would be a good start.