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The NFL needs to fix the problems with Thursday Night Football

The games aren’t going anywhere, but the NFL could do things to make them safer, fair to both teams, and an all-around better product.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The Steelers are coming off of their yearly penance of what is known as Thursday Night Football in the NFL. With every team in the 2021 season being forced to play or a short week, it’s an equal opportunity disadvantage, although the disadvantages are not equal from game to game. It has become merely something teams must deal with each season despite the difficulty it puts on each franchise.

Even team who get to open the season on Thursday Night Football are not immune. Even though the Dallas Cowboys faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, both teams were also going to have to play another Thursday game on a short week. Tampa had to go on the road in Week 6, and Dallas had two more Thursday games on their schedule with their typical Thanksgiving day matchup. What the NFL has done for the last several seasons is use the Thursday after Thanksgiving to pair off two teams who played on the holiday so they play a game on a full week’s rest.

In other words, all 32 teams are faced with playing one game on a short week throughout the season. At least the NFL has figured out a way to make it to where it’s not just certain teams dealing with the unnecessary burden which helps them bring forth yet another TV contract.

As a fan, I like the fact that there are Thursday games in the NFL. Even if I don’t watch them, it’s nice to know they are there for me to check in if I so choose. After Monday Night Football being over, it’s nice to only have to endure two days without any NFL games with a nice break in between rather than having to wait until the following Sunday. But, when it’s your team, the Thursday night game is not a desirable week.

There are so many downsides to teams playing on Thursday night. Any player trying to get back from injury, either suffered in the previous game or missing it altogether, does not have a realistic chance to rejoin the team. Additionally, the team does not have the proper time to implement a game plan, or even properly recover from the previous game.

Not only are these time constraints difficult, the team that has to travel, which must be the day before the game by NFL rules, is at even more of a disadvantage. Before the 2021 season, and not including Thursday games to open the season, the away team is 32–48 on Thursday night games from 2016 through 2020. While it is a winning percentage of 41% for visiting teams, it isn’t much lower than the 44% win rate visiting team had over that five-year period overall, but it is still enough to notice.

In 2021, it seems as if the NFL has tried to keep teams from being at such a disadvantage when playing on the road. Of the 15 games played on Thursday, which excludes Week 1, eight times has the road team been favored. Since the NFL was trying to perhaps create matchups in which the road team would normally been victorious, those road teams have managed to win eight of the 15 games in 2021.

All of this just adds to the point that the NFL could fix the problem with Thursday Night Football. While many believe the fix is the simply do away with it, there is too much money to be made by the league in order for this to happen. Instead, I have a proposal that I have stood by for several years. In fact, it was mentioned in my third article in which I wrote for Behind The Steel Curtain in 2018.

In the article, I laid out the idea of using a 17-game season. It is much like the one the NFL implemented this past season where the matchup comes from the NFC team with the same finishing place in their division two years removed from those divisions matching up. I also suggested reducing the preseason games, although I suggested only two, and I also suggested a neutral site game for every team so there wasn’t any disparity with the number of home and away games.

The main point for me this old article of mine which I believe the NFL should really look into is adding another bye week to the season. Not only should they add a second bye for each team, it should come before the teams’ Thursday night matchup. Every team who plays on Thursday will have not played the previous Sunday and will therefore could give a better quality product on the field. Players on teams will have time to recover from the previous game, will have plenty of time to implement their game plan, and the traveling team will not be cut short in their preparation time nearly as much as they would have with only three days between games.

So, instead of giving a bye week to begin the season where teams have two weeks from their final preseason game until Week 1, simply start the season a week soon. Teams will have two byes, and one will come before they play on Thursday. If a team is scheduled to play on Thursday in Week 2, they actually have a Week 1 bye as one of their byes on the season. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it still works.

Additionally, the NFL season would then be spread into 19 weeks. It would still be the same number of games at 272, but there would be an entire additional week with more television opportunities. Even though there may be weeks in which there are only 12 total games being played, there is still NFL football from the first of September through the middle of February.

I think this is an idea NFL should look into this offseason. If they really are interested in player safety, and improving their product for the consumers, it would only benefit both of these things. But to actually have any NFL do what would be right by the players doesn’t always necessarily mean that they’ll make the decision even if it makes sense. With as much money they are making off of Thursday games, they likely don’t even acknowledge it is a problem.