Richie Incognito

Maybe he was bitter after his team came up on the wrong end of a decisive Thursday night game in the AFC East. Maybe he was fuming over his team blowing a chance to move into a tie for first place in the division. Or maybe, just maybe, Buffalo Bills offensive guard Richie Incognito was spot on when he ripped the concept of playing football on Thursday night on short rest.

Incognito shared a somewhat regular thought about the league’s scheduling for Thursday night games that has been expressed the last couple of years by players from around the league. The general consensus heard through the media is pretty clear; playing on Thursday absolutely sucks.

“They suck,” Incognito said about the Thursday night games after the Bills lost on the road against the New York Jets, 34-21, Thursday night. “They throw a wrench in our schedule. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we have to do this. As physical as this game is, as much work and preparation that goes into this, to force us to play games on four-day weeks, it’s completely unfair and bullshit. The league makes money off it, and that’s all they care about anyway.”

Whether you like Incognito or not, he is 100 percent correct in this statement.

The NFL has been playing games on Thursday nights for years, but it was only a couple of years ago the league worked out a way to make Thursday Night Football happen on a weekly basis rather than use it to add to occupy some TV space later in the season once the college football season wrapped up and freed up airtime on the cable networks. The NFL’s mission to expand the NFL programming schedule saw the opportunity to capture Thursday night for itself to go with its traditional Sunday and on Monday night. And broadcast partners CBS and NBC have been happy to oblige by splitting up the workload to make Thursday Night Football work every week, in addition to making NFL Network more valuable on cable.

The problems, however, continue to linger for the NFL regarding how the Thursday night schedule affects teams actually playing the games. Giving NFL teams four days of rest to prepare for a game is not very forgiving, especially at this level. The quick turnaround for a Thursday night game often results in players not quite being in the most optimal shape for a Thursday night game and has seen sloppy play more often than not since going to a full Thursday night lineup because it offers less time to prepare for the next game.

One simple solution to address the concerns about playing on a Thursday night would be to give every team playing a Thursday night game a bye week prior to playing the game. How that has not happened yet is astounding because it addresses the biggest concerns about the quality of play and player safety for those Thursday night games. It gives teams more time to prepare. It gives players more time to recover from their previous game and it provides a little extra time to recover before the next game. Yet, the NFL continues to have teams playing game son just four days of rest.

Bills head coach Sean McDermott did not buy into the idea that playing on a short week hurt the Bills’ chances against the Jets, although deep down inside he probably would agree to an extent.

“[The Jets] were challenged with the same short week as us and had the same amount of time to prepare, so give them credit,” McDermott said, according to ESPN.

Other than the Thursday night season opener between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, there have now been eight games played on Thursday night. None of the 16 teams playing in those games have had more than four days to prepare for the game. The first time teams playing on Thursday night will have more than four days of rest will be on November 30 when Dallas hosts Washington, with both teams coming off a Thanksgiving game the previous week.

It will be the only Thursday night game all year with teams getting more than four days in between games. But if you think playing a Thursday night game on the road makes it even more of a challenge, that may actually be the case. Road teams are .500 on Thursday night games this season after the Bills fell on the road Thursday night. However, two of the home teams taking a loss in those games have been the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, the only two teams in the league without a win entering Week 9 of the NFL season.

The quality of the Thursday night games will typically be less than stellar, although you get a few good ones here and there. For every Rams-49ers and Chiefs-Raiders game, there seems to be a Ravens-Dolphins and Texans-Browns game or two to even things out.

For now, the NFL will remain committed to keeping their Thursday night schedule going, but do not be surprised if this issue is addressed the next time the players union and league have to do some negotiations. Reducing the Thursday night schedule or providing for bye weeks before Thursday night games should be a worthy compromise to put this issue about Thursday night football games to rest once and for all.

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.

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