The new Thursday night arrangement between the NFL and CBS contains plenty of intriguing quirks and wrinkles. For two teams, one complication could be referred to as a pain in a place where pains tend to be more painful.
In recent years, the NFL staged 16 total Thursday games after the first Sunday of the season. With every team playing in one of those games, the competitive disadvantage of playing on a Thursday after playing on a Sunday was spread evenly among all teams.
This year, with the NFLN/CBS package including 14 games instead of last year’s 13-game slate on NFLN, the league will conduct a total of 17 Thursday games after the first Sunday of the season. (Three short-week games are played on Thanksgiving, but not televised by NFLN.) The change means that two teams will play an extra Thursday game after Week One.
The fairest (or perhaps more accurately least unfair) approach would be to park the extra Thursday game immediately after a mutual bye week for the two teams that will play in it. While that would necessarily shrink the bye for the two teams playing in the extra Thursday game, it would avoid a pair of four-day turnarounds for any NFL team.
Of course, the league doesn’t seem to be overly concerned about the four-day turnaround, continuously citing the notion that the injury rate is no higher for games played on a short week. But that misses the real point; for players with pre-existing injuries, it’s harder to get ready to play in the Thursday night game.
That said, player opinions are decidedly mixed on whether short-week games should continue. While several articles over the years have focused only on those who don’t like it, the reality is that for every player who doesn’t like playing on Thursday night, there’s at least one player who relishes the mini-bye that comes on the back end of it, along with the less intense work week preceding the game.
Regardless, Thursday night football will continue, because the league realizes that it makes sense to play as many games as possible in an exclusive national window without competition from other NFL games being played at the same time.
That’s why one of the London games will be played early on a Sunday morning this season — and why the league will keep looking for ways to spread its 256-game slate into as many nooks and crannies on the calendar as possible.