New Thursday Night Football Games Devalue Detroit Lions Progress


As you’re surely aware, Roger Goodell delivered his own State of the NFL speech last Thursday as part of his pre-Super Bowl press conference, and progressed some emerging ideas that have been floating around over the past few months. The most interesting element that grabbed my attention was the addition of Thursday Night primetime games from weeks 2-15. Every team in the league will now have a game on the NFL Network on a Thursday at some point in the upcoming season.

This concept irks me and should irk the Lions as well.

Rant Foreward: I know that SNF, MNF and TNF are distributed by separate entities and TNF is not on the same prestige level as the other night games. For the sake of this argument, I’m lumping those three nights into a single “Prime Time” category because they are nationally televised games, generally sought after and traditionally host good matchups.

It’s no secret the Lions struggled through the last decade and received no love from the national spotlight. They didn’t deserve it. They finally start winning games, selling tickets and making good personnel decisions. They earned themselves a Monday Night Football appearance along with a Sunday Night Football game they were flexed into mid-season.

The Lions were rewarded for their level of play.

Prior to last season, ESPN/NBC/NFL Network looked at every NFL Week to determine which matchups deserve to be prime time games. They are traditionally high-excitement and/or rivalry games (including player rivalries like P. Manning vs. Brady). ESPN determined that the Lions and Chicago Bears showed enough promise in 2010 to merit MNF spots. There were several things that the NFL and ESPN might have taken into account while determining that this game was something fans would like to see on Monday Night:

– Inter-divisional rivals that have winning records
– A couple flashy running backs in Jahvid Best and Matt Forte
– Two high-profile defenses that include Ndamukong Suh and Brian Urlacher
– The energy of Ford Field in its first nationally televised game in some time
– If Matt Stafford’s shoulder could finally survive Julius Peppers and the Bears’ defensive front
– And perhaps if Calvin Johnson could redeem himself and prove he could “complete the process” in the endzone

Bottom line is that there were many sub-story lines involving high-profile players.

That’s interesting TV.

Just as the Lions are righting the ship, the NFL Network decides to level the playing field and give everyone a game during the Thursday evening slot. This severly reduces the appeal of prime time games, and also devalues the teams who have worked hard to earn their way into the national spotlight.

I know, Thursday night football doesn’t compare to SNF or MNF, but for myself and several other I’m sure, the week of football starts on Thursdays. We look forward to these games. They’re supposed to stand out from the others, and it doesn’t make sense to throw the bottom feeders of the league into these for the sake of equality.

If I wanted to watch the Jaguars score 9 points to the Rams 10, I would spend a lot of money on that fancy TV package that gets you every game…because that’s desperation at its finest.

This is especially doesn’t make sense because this past season hosted the worst Monday Night Football campaign that I can remember; viewership dipped 10% from the previous year. It’s not because football’s gotten less popular, there’s better things to watch or Americans suddenly don’t have time. These games were seriously a bunch of snoozers.

In Weeks 10-16, the margins of victory were 38, 31, 25, 24, 17, 17, and 29 respectively. Jacksonville appeared twice on MNF: Week 7 they defeated Baltimore 12-7 in one of the sloppiest, most uninteresting games I’ve ever witnessed, along with getting blown out by San Diego, 38-14, in Week 13.

So why would the NFL allow several games that are sure to be just as boring to be aired during a prime time slot? Disregard which day of the week it is- if there’s only one game on the tube that day, I’m watching it.

Now, it’s not all the fault of ESPN and MNF – they aren’t allowed to switch the games they air mid-season in order to put on more exciting matchups. The best they can do is anticipate who is going to do well while scheduling prior to the start of the season, account for rivalries, and try to give the fans what they want. You will end up with the occassional blow out.

But this is how night games should be selected. You pay your dues and try to convince the MNF “Selection Committee” that you’re good enough to appear in front of the entire nation. Giving each team equal opportunity is not the remedy for last season’s poor set of night time games.

I hope that the Lions get a tough matchup (maybe two or three?) for their prime time games next season. Perhaps more MNF classics will be born and will remind the NFL Network that not every team deserves to play on a national stage.

The Lions, however, have earned that privelege.