October 26, 2012
Five reasons Thursday NFL games failing
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
Originally, the prospect of a season full of Thursday night NFL games sounded like a good thing.
Another night of prime-time football? Sign us up.
The programming bonus became even more attractive for hockey-starved sports fans when the NHL lockout made the weekly sports viewing menu that much leaner.
The reality, however, has been material that isn't quite ready for prime time. While the fiscal reasons for the move make sense -- an assist to the league's own NFL Network, which produces the games, plus another night of big ratings -- the product isn't as advertised.
Lethargic, dull games have dominated most of the past seven Thursday nighters (we don't count the Week 1 Wednesday night season opener) to the point where the product is suffering. Good matchups or bad, the quality of play generally has been poor.
It shouldn't be a surprise, really. The road teams can barely compete most weeks because of the compressed schedule and the competitive balance is compromised. Not that they are a powerhouse, but Arizona's first loss came on a Thursday when they had to travel to St. Louis, and the Chicago Bears' only defeat also came under the not-so-bright lights.
So what are the reasons for the watered-down action? Here are five of 'em.
1. SHORT WORK WEEK
As much out of necessity as routine, the weekly work week of an NFL team rarely varies. Monday is a debrief day, a chance for banged-up players to get treatment and rest while coaches and players review film from the previous game. Tuesday is an off day with Wednesday a return to practice as players get their first look at the preliminary game plan for the next game.
With the Thursday contests, obviously, that whole schedule is blown up. There is no off day and no time to review what worked and what didn't the previous week, only a chance to scramble to put together something resembling a competitive plan for what awaits.
It's even worse for the visiting team, obviously, as a good chunk of one of those days has to be surrendered to get to the opposition city.
2. THE PAIN
Depending on how physical a contest is and which opponent is inflicting the pain, many NFLers will tell you they don't begin to feel ready to practice, let alone play, until the next Wednesday or Thursday.
Most will also tell you that they can barely think about hitting anyone until Friday. Kind of explains some of what we've been seeing this season, doesn't it?
The longer the season goes, the more the bruising compounds and the more it becomes an issue.
"Part of it is probably a mental thing where we just know by Friday we have to feel better, when realistically we probably don't," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this week. "But a Thursday? To play a game Sunday and come out and play again on Thursday is tough."
While the league has attempted to minimize the issue of travel by avoiding cross-country matchups to limit time in the air, it can't avoid the fact that a travel day is a travel day and thus useless for accomplishing serious work in an already compressed week.
Until the Bucanners ran all over the Vikings, visiting teams had won just once on Thursdays this season, whether favoured or not. The classic case for the underachieving visitor likely came in Week 6 when the Pittsburgh Steelers lost in Nashville to the Tennessee Titans.
Prior to the Bucs this week -- and let's face it, the Vikes probably were due for a correction -- the only road winner was the Giants, who pounded Carolina 36-7 in Week 3. But the Super Bowl champs against the lowly Panthers, what else would you expect?
4. GAME PLANNING
We're thinking it's no accident that four of the seven losers so far have scored 10 points or less and we've had such "classics" as the Rams' 17-3 win over Arizona (Week 3) and the 49ers' 13-6 triumph over Seattle (Week 7.)
Each game requires a new bluprint and each usually takes a couple days to implement. That's not going to happen on a short week so we tend to see a lot of running and an above-average amount of sloppiness.
In an effort at fairness -- and to share the prime-time exposure -- every team in the league gets a Thursday night appearance.
The downside is too many of those teams aren't worth watching on Sunday afternoons, let alone in prime time.