Should the NFL play on Thursday nights?
With the Bucs playing the Panthers tonight, we wonder about the practicality of playing Thursday night games.
The players get only three days rest, and it may be a greater strain when teams play the late game on the prior Sunday. Cornerback Richard Sherman, then with Seattle, criticized the league when he ruptured his Achilles tendon in a 2017 Thursday night game, calling the concept a “poopfest.”
In addition to health concerns, some wonder about the lack of competitive value. Some of the games have turned into duds.
So, should the NFL continue the practice, limit it to the traditional Thanksgiving Day games or maintain the status quo. We convened a roundtable of Times staff writers to get answers.
The Thursday night ship has sailed
Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer @NFLStroud: The NFL is not going to eliminate Thursday Night Football. Nor do they think there is any need to do so. Furthermore, the dirty little secret is most players love it. There’s no concrete evidence that players are more prone to become injured playing on Thursday night with only four days between games. Recovery is an issue, and maybe there is a cumulative effect that can’t be measured. But the truth is players love it. In addition to the windfall of extra revenue it provides for players — remember they are nearly 50-50 partners with the NFL — players love the fact that they have a week of practice that offers no pads or physical exertion. They are basically three days of walk-throughs followed by a game and a mandatory four-day weekend. The NFL faces the prospect of over-saturating their product with Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday night games. Not to mention late in the year, some games are played on Saturday. But that ship has sailed. Networks will pay and they will continue to play these games because it’s in the best business interest of the NFL and its players and business is good. Very good.
Players consider it a mini bye week
Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs/pro sports enterprise writer, @EddieintheYard: I used to think Thursday Night Football was a horrible idea because it diluted the importance of NFL Sundays. But it’s an interesting wrinkle in a lot of ways. Yes, a short week is difficult for game-planning and recovery, but for the players themselves, Thursday night games offer some teams who wouldn’t normally get to play on the primetime stage of Sunday or Monday night — like the Bucs — an opportunity to be the only game in town. From listening to players in the Bucs locker room this week, they aren’t looking so much into the physical challenges of playing on a short week, but rather embracing the opportunity to play under the Thursday night spotlight. And players certainly like the 10 days between games that follow, because it’s almost like a mini bye week.
Better matchups but not better ads
Thomas Bassinger, sports data reporter, @tometrics: The NFL has done a better job in recent seasons in scheduling more compelling matchups for Thursday Night Football, but we could really do without seeing the Titans ever again. Keep them at their usual time: 1 p.m. Sunday, the slot the NFL uses to hide its boring teams. That way the only way we can see them is if we ask the bartender, “Hey, can you put on the Titans?” And can we do something about the commercials previewing the Bucs’ Thursday night games? The one for this week wasn’t a good look for Tampa Bay.
I say trade the Bucs fan and his Tommy Bahama shirt to Carolina for the Panthers fan. We’ll throw in a second-round draft pick (they’re wasted around here anyway). At the very least, find a better trash talker. “Hey, Carolina. Thursday night the Bucs are invading your little town!” Really? That’s the best you could come up with? Look, I get that dude can’t talk about how good his team is, but try anything else, like making fun of Carolinians for naming their schools after Confederate soldiers.
Thursday’s games have far to go
Martin Fennelly, columnist @mjfennelly: The NFL can’t talk about player safety while running teams out in short weeks on three days of rest. Plus one team is always flat and one isn’t. Thursday football needs to go away, but it won’t in time to save the Bucs tonight.
Double up on Mondays
Ernest Hooper, columnist/assistant sports editor, @hoop4you: Who didn’t enjoy the scintillating game last Monday between the Texans and Saints that had two lead changes in the final minute? And best of all, we actually got to see the end — instead of falling asleep at halftime — because the game started at 7 p.m. Why put the players’ risk at jeopardy when you can net the same television revenue with Monday night doubleheaders: one for the East Coast and one for the West Coast? The setup that has will not only be safer, it likely would yield more competitive games and, hopefully, put a dent in the popularity of The Bachelor. That folks would be a win-win.
Look for solutions
John Romano, columnist @romano_tbtimes: Thursday night games sound great in a boardroom. Fans get an extra night of football, and the NFL gets a lot more television money. The problem is football is not meant to be played on short rest. Players do not have time to recover, and one team often seems unprepared. The median point differential in Thursday night games in 2018 was 14; we’re not talking about a whole lot of scintillating football. It might help if the NFL allowed teams to use their entire 53-man roster on Thursday games instead of having seven inactive players — similar to MLB allowing a 26th player for doubleheaders— but that still won’t make a noticeable difference. Another solution is cutting back on the number of Thursday night games by only using teams coming off a bye week. But that limits options and loses TV money, so don’t hold your breath.
Share the national spotlight
Mike Sherman, sports editor, @mikesherman: Keep playing them. Celebrate them. If you are a Bucs fan in, say, Baltimore and can’t afford NFL Sunday Ticket, the Tampa Bay-Carolina game might be the only time all season you get to see your favorite team. If you are a cable-TV subscribing, Kyler Murray fan in Oklahoma, that Halloween (Thursday) Night game with the 49ers could be your one shot to see the Sooners’ latest Heisman winner in his rookie season. The only guaranteed national exposure this season for the Bucs, Cardinals and perhaps a handful of other teams comes courtesy of Thursday night.
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