NFL Teams May Play An Extra Short-Week Game In ’23 As Thursday Night Football Debate Rages

Videos by OutKick

PHOENIX — The NFL snatched Sundays away from the church and turned the country’s least favorite day of the week into a ratings bonanza with Monday Night Football.

But the league is still trying to figure out Thursday night.

For the past dozen years the NFL has brought football to Thursday night. And despite some complaints by players that it gives them no recovery time and taxes their bodies, and complaints from fans that the level of play simply doesn’t match what they see on Sunday and Monday night, the idea has worked.

It’s worked to the tune of $11 billion, which is how much Amazon paid the league for the exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football over 11 years.

A view of pillows during the “Thursday Night Football” Season Kickoff Party Hosted by Amazon Prime and Prime Video at The Fonda Theatre on September 15, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images Prime Video)

Thursday Night Football May Get Better Teams

But there are still issues with Thursday Night Football and the NFL spent the past couple of days trying to address those at the annual meeting of owners, coaches and general managers.

The solution was announced Tuesday:

Clubs passed a resolution to modify the existing limit of one Thursday night game per team per season. Teams can now play a maximum of two short-week games per season. That means some teams will be on TNF twice in one season while some teams would not have any TNF games.

And rather than see the TNF appearances as something of a burden — forcing coaches to skip real practices in the days before those games and putting visiting teams at a greater disadvantage — the league sees this as a bonus.

Like a reward.

“We’re interested in making sure that we get exposure for all of our clubs,” said Brian Rolapp, NFL executive vice president and chief media and business officer.

“We also believe that these national windows are for clubs that are playing well. We want to put the best teams in the best windows.”

New York Giants owner John Mara stands on the field before a game against the Los Angeles Rams at MetLife Stadium on October 17, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

John Mara Against Thursday Night Football Resolutions

Not everyone, of course, voted for the resolution. New York Giants co-owner John Mara didn’t. He took a proverbial torch to the idea Thursday night games are awesome, even as he confirmed injury data shows they do not increase injuries. 

“But now if you’re going to add a second one, and it’s going to be late in the season, when players’ bodies are a little more beaten up and battered than they were maybe earlier in the season, I think we need to look at that,” Mara told a group of reporters in the lobby of the Arizona Biltmore.

“I think this should have been vetted with the Health and Safety committee, it should have been vetted with the Competition Committee and it wasn’t. They just tried to push it through.”

That wasn’t even the topic Mara was most upset about. He suggested the league is on some sort of terrible precipice of agreeing to flex some Thursday Night games late in the season in order to keep ratings from falling.

Flexing moves a game gets out of its originally scheduled spot, say on Sunday, moves to another spot. That would include on Thursday, if the league eventually goes that direction.

Jordan Poyer #21 of the Buffalo Bills slaps hands with fans after an NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field on October 20, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Mara Calls Flexing TNF ‘Abusive’

Rolapp said a resolution on that was tabled and may be revisited at the next league meeting in May.

“I am adamantly opposed to that,” Mara said. “Flexible scheduling, as it is, is really inconsiderate to our season-ticket holders and the people who fill our stadiums every week. People have gotten used to going from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night [when a game is flexed]. That doesn’t mean that they like it. This year, we can be flexed to Monday night, which I think is really inconsiderate to our ticket holders.

“But to flex a game back to Thursday night, to me, is just abusive and I am adamantly opposed to it.”

Minutes later, commissioner Roger Goodell defended the extra TNF game per season for some teams. And he clearly showed no problem with the idea of flexing previously scheduled games to TNF. 

Kansas City Chiefs MVP Quarterback Patrick Mahomes stands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during a press conference at Phoenix Convention Center on February 13, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Roger Goodell, Patrick Mahomes Disagree

“Listen, there isn’t anybody in that room, any of our organizations, who don’t put our fans first,” Goodell said in direct response to Mara’s comments. “That’s really important. Obviously, providing the best matchups for our fans is part of what we do. That’s part of what I think our scheduling has always focused on and flex has been a part of that.

“We are very judicious with it. And we’re very careful with it, and we look at all of the impacts of it. So, before those decisions are made, I think we average in the years we’ve been doing it about a flex-and-a-half a year. It can vary in any particular year.

“So, it’s a very important thing for us to balance with the, what I would call, season-ticket holders and in-stadium markets. But we have millions of fans, who also watch on television. So reaching them is a balance that you always strike and make sure we do it right.”

Goodell also pushed back against the idea players are against Thursday night games. This despite the fact some took to social media Tuesday to show they are. Regular-season and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes made his feelings apparent on social media.

Patrick Mahomes obviously is not a fan of multiple Thursday night games.

Does NFL Value Amazon Deal Over Players?

Goodell found himself answering to the idea the league is putting its lucrative partnership with Amazon ahead of its players.

“I don’t think we are putting Amazon over players’ interest,” Goodell said. “We’ve always been looking at the data with respect to injuries and the impact on players. That drove our decisions over the first 12 or so years of Thursday Night Football and how it’s evolved.

“I think we have data that’s very clear. It doesn’t show higher injury rate. But we recognize short weeks, we went through this in COVID, too. We had to have a lot of flexibility in those areas. Those are obviously different circumstances. But we work very closely on that. I hear from a lot of players, too.

“They love the 10 days afterwards. In fact, they call it a mini-bye. So there’s some benefits on that side. There are obviously different views. You want to consider all of them. But players have different views, coaches have different views, we have to try to balance all of that.”

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Leave a Reply