"Thursday Night Football" has traditionally been similar to holding out a cup of water for a marathon runner – they are desperate for anything to quench their thirst.
The NFL knows its fans are desperate for football, and mediocre primetime matchups were traditionally scheduled on Thursday night. It is usually the one time of year struggling teams like Jacksonville, Buffalo, Oakland and St. Louis can enjoy the national spotlight. The league must have figured it's football, and you're going to watch no matter who is playing.
However, that changed a bit this year after the NFL partnered with CBS to produce and televise seven games on Thursdays over the first half of the season. The NFL Network, which will simulcast the CBS Thursday games, will have seven late-season Thursday games all to itself. Also, two late-season games take place on Saturday, and this year’s schedule is banking on division rivalries to add more spice to the lineup.
Green Bay will kick off the season on the road against Seattle on Sept. 4 in Week 1. That game will be televised on NBC with the Seahawks opening defense of their Super Bowl title against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While the Thursday opener has long featured the defending champion, the ensuing slate of Thursday games had been hit and miss. However, that slate has been upgraded.
Pittsburgh will play on the road against the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 11 in Week 2. Baltimore was forced to play its first game of last season on the road against Denver after a Super Bowl victory, but the Ravens were given two consecutive home games to start this season.
Most NFL coaches don't like playing a divisional game early in the season, but Pittsburgh and Baltimore will kick off its AFC North rivalry after one regular-season game.
Green Bay’s home game against the Vikings in Week 5 marks the first week a team from last year’s playoffs appears on CBS' Thursday night slate. The last matchup between Green Bay and Minnesota at Lambeau Field in Week 12 in 2013 ended in a tie (26-26).
New England will host the New York Jets in Week 7, which should feature a battle of Tom Brady against Geno Smith or Michael Vick. New York is expected to determine its starter during the preseason as coach Rex Ryan faces a do-or-die season. If Ryan’s team starts off slow, this game could determine his future in New York.
CBS’ final Thursday game is San Diego at Denver in Week 8, another division rivalry that's also a rematch of last year’s AFC playoff game. Every one of CBS' Thursday games is a divisional game.
The NFL Network takes over with New Orleans at Carolina in Week 9, followed by a slew of games with marginal interest. The most interesting game (right now) is Dallas visiting the Chicago Bears on Dec. 4. Dallas is notorious for its annual collapse in December, and if that occurs again, it could signal the end of coach Jason Garrett’s tenure with the Cowboys.
In the past few years, if fans have turned on "Thursday Night Football" it was generally just because any game was on, even though the matchup usually wasn't good. This year's Thursday schedule isn't great, but it's certainly better than it has been.
Here is the Thursday schedule:
Week 1, Sept. 4 (NBC): Green Bay at Seattle
Week 2, Sept. 11 (CBS, NFLN): Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Week 3, Sept. 18 (CBS, NFLN): Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Week 4, Sept. 25 (CBS, NFLN): N.Y. Giants at Washington
Week 5, Oct. 2 (CBS, NFLN): Minnesota at Green Bay
Week 6, Oct. 9 (CBS, NFLN): Indianapolis at Houston
Week 7, Oct. 16 (CBS, NFLN): N.Y. Jets at New England
Week 8, Oct. 23 (CBS, NFLN): San Diego at Denver
Week 9, Oct. 30 (NFLN): New Orleans at Carolina
Week 10, Nov. 6 (NFLN): Cleveland at Cincinnati
Week 11, Nov. 13 (NFLN): Buffalo at Miami
Week 12, Nov. 20 (NFLN): Kansas City at Oakland
Week 13, Nov. 27 (CBS): Bears at Lions; Eagles at Cowboys (Fox); Seahawks at 49ers (NBC)
Week 14, Dec. 4 (NFLN): Dallas at Chicago
Week 15, Dec. 11 (NFLN): Arizona at St. Louis
Week 16, Dec. 18 (NFLN): Tennessee at Jacksonville
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