The NFL has sold eight of its Thursday night games to CBS for the 2014 season, which is intriguing on many levels. It probably means more eyeballs on Thursday nights, for instance, but that also has everyone wondering if it means better matchups.
After all, the perception exists now that Thursday football is inferior to what we see on Sundays and Mondays.. The league wasn't pressured to place top-notch matchups on Thursdays in recent years because the ratings were solid regardless and the games aired on their own network. They weren't being cut checks for Thursday night spots, excluding the annual prime-time opener on NBC and the annual Thanksgiving games on NBC, CBS and Fox.
The league also confirmed last week that every team would continue to draw at least one Thursday game, which is a policy designed to create balance since many perceive Thursday games as disadvantageous. That means, though, that every team from the bottom of the barrel has to make one Thursday appearance and no extra games can go to more appealing and competitive teams.
That policy gave us a lot of stinkers last year, including Texans-Jaguars, Colts-Titans, Panthers-Bucs, Chargers-Raiders and Bills-Browns. It was obvious that NFL Network had a lot of divisional games between less-than-appealing teams because that was the only way to add some zest to those matchups.
But don't expect CBS to be cool with games like those.
Here's what CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus recently told Ed Sherman at the Sherman Report:
"I’ve been working with the NFL for 16 years, and they always figure out a way to give all the networks a number of high quality games. That’s why the ratings are increasing across the board. When the NFL (added Sunday night games on NBC), they understood the importance of getting off to a good start. They understand the importance of having good quality games to launch this schedule on Thursday nights. … We’ve got a good understanding we’re going to get a slate of games worthy of primetime. Other than that, it is in the hands of Howard Katz (and the NFL scheduling team)."
It's true, the NFL absolutely can find a way to give CBS eight quality games despite those schedule restrictions. But then the problem is that the Thursday night schedule could become so unbalanced in favor of CBS that the eight games NFL Network retains could be dreadfully un-watchable. Imagine a late season Bucs-Falcons matchup with precisely nothing on the line.
Would you rather 16 so-so games or eight great games and eight terrible ones?
That might be the league's predicament here. Ultimately, though, it might not matter. Because if history is any indication, you're going to tune in regardless.