NFL prime-time issues: The state of night games


I’m not sure if anyone has been noticing, but the NFL has been having a recent plague of overall lackluster matchups for their fans to ‘enjoy.’

This is true for the past couple of seasons at least, and it should be a troubling trend for fans as well as the league.

You may ask me if it is really that big of a deal; that I could just be overreacting to a few bad games in a row from last weekend.

Fair point; I could be – and those games were definitely lacking in competitiveness – but bear with me while I present insight into the matter.

Well, if you go beyond just the box score, you can see more of the issues.

Based strictly on the end-result of the games, it would not seem to be an issue. The splits on the games being competitive (i.e. games decided by no more than one-score) is just about right down the middle: Since 2012 (when the every week Thursday games began) it splits just above .500 with a 61-57 split.

Breaking it down further, we can see that Sunday Night Football is at 21-17, Monday Night’s split is even at 19-19, and Thursdays aren’t far behind with an 18-22 record.

So not that bad, right?

Well, if you go beyond just the box score, you can see more of the issues.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Julius Peppers runs away from Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon to score a touchdown after intercepting a pass in the second quarter of last Thursday’s blowout win by the Packers. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The biggest issue I’ve noticed is that while the score may be close in a fair number of cases, the games in question was just … ugly. It includes multiple instances of scores such as 13-6 or 10-7, with sloppy play abounding.

If it were the defenses forcing it to be so low, that is perfectly fine with me, but that is not the case overall; more often than it should, those scores are low from simple blunders by the offense and special teams players.

Now you may say that blunders like that happen in all games – and they do to an extent – but part of the draw of a supposed prime-time game is that we should be shown a higher-quality matchup.

Seeing something on the level of Buffalo-Cleveland or Houston-Jacksonville game just sounds bad to start with, but in prime time? That should not be happening, at least not with the way those teams have fared lately.

The main culprit of these games is the one that the Packers just participated in: Thursday nights. Something about it just seems to throw everything out-of-whack.

There is good reason for that.

Having a game on a Thursday completely throws off the usual weekly grind to which everyone is accustomed. During a normal week, players get a day to recover before going back to film and practice up until the game on Sunday afternoon.

With Monday it is basically the same, except one less day for practice/recovery. Thursday blows that plan to hell because by the time they finish the preceding game you have three days maximum to recover/practice/prepare, and that really just is not enough.

That lack of preparation shows, and it has reared its head in a big way already this year: The five Thursday night games this year have not been any sort of close score-wise, with the smallest victory margin being 20 points.

Even worse, the past three games are numbers 1-2-3 in terms of the biggest blowouts EVER on Thursday nights, so things are trending in the wrong direction.

Looking forward, the matchups look fine on paper, but don’t trust that; so much can change by the time those games are reached, not to mention the issue of lacking preparation beforehand as well.

So what can be done about it?

Aaron Rodgers throws a pass during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field last Thursday night. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph (Oct 2, 2014; Green Bay, WI)

I’m not really sure there is much to do in terms of it…not the way the NFL has decided to handle it.

They want to run a Thursday game every week, which does sound great in theory – who doesn’t like the idea of more football during their week? But appears to fall somewhat flat in actuality.

That lack of preparation time really affects the outcomes, and the only way to fix that is to find a way to give more time preceding the game.

The only way that could happen is bye weeks being required before a Thursday game … which is impossible as of now; the bye weeks only go from Week 4 through Week 12, and they don’t want to spread those out and take away games during the opening and playoff stretches of the year.

In addition, the teams already get a mini-bye after a Thursday game (10 days between that and their next game), so it would be a bit of a waste.

So what’s the answer?

The only one here that I see would be a removal of Thursday games, outside of the opening and Thanksgiving. Again, the league won’t do that, but they should not just be content with a middling product.

They could also make sounder judgments on building the schedule.

As for how this relates to the Packers – they obviously just completed a matchup with the Vikings, while also playing the opener against Seattle. They do have three late games (SNF @ New Orleans, SNF vs. Chicago, MNF vs. Atlanta), but they have no more games on Thursday this year, to the excitement of me – and possibly the chagrin of Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers seems to disagree with people like me and Josh Sitton, in that he loves Thursday night games. His stats back that up: in 5 games prior to last night, he put up 10 TDs and only 2 INTs, with three performances over 300-plus yards. Suffice to say, if they end up getting any in the near future, expect a good showing by that man.

As for the rest of this year, the only potential effects to watch for are any they have against teams returning from Thursday games the previous week, as they may come in well-rested and better prepared than most weeks. Not a problem the rest of this year; they have no follow-up matchups of that sort this year.

Josh Sitton doesn’t like Thursday Night games as does Aaron Rodgers.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

While it isn’t something Green Bay needs to worry about any more in 2014, as a fan this is something you should be aware of going forward, because if it continues to be an issue it could become one that affects the Packers somewhere down the line.

Want an example of the Packers getting bit by the league not looking into potential issues?

Look no further than the Fail Mary. They were not proactive there, allowing something the NFL didn’t see as enough of a problem to need to take the time to fix it … until it was too late.

In that case, it was just one game plastered as the face of a larger issue overall. With this, there is unlikely to be that same cataclysmic moment … but that does not mean to let it flounder.

This obviously is not the biggest concern the NFL has at the moment, but they should be aware of it nonetheless and on some level be constructing at least preemptive ideas to stay ahead of the curve.

Until recently, they’ve appeared great at that type of proactive thinking, so let’s see if they can manage to fix things before it becomes a real issue.