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|Thursday Night Football|
The logo for Thursday Night Football, beginning with the 2014 NFL season
|Also known as||'Run to the Playoffs'|
|Genre||NFL football telecasts|
|Presented by||Jim Nantz
|Theme music composer||Helmut VonLichten (CBS)
Jimmy Greco (NBC)
|Opening theme||"TNF 32" (CBS)
"Can’t Hold Us Down" (NBC)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||
11 (NFL Network seasons)
|No. of episodes||57 (games)|
|Location(s)||Various NFL stadiums
(game telecasts, pregame, halftime and postgame shows)
|Running time||180 minutes or until game ends|
|Production company(s)||National Football League
NFL Network (2006–present)
CBS Sports (2014–present)
NBC Sports (2016–present)
|Original network||NFL Network (2006–present)
CBS (2014–present; select games)
NBC (2016–present; select games)
Twitter (2016–present; Internet simulcast)
|Picture format||480i (SDTV),
|Original release||November 23, 2006– present|
|Related shows||NFL on CBS
NBC Sunday Night Football
Thursday Night Football is the branding used for broadcasts of National Football League (NFL) games that broadcast primarily on Thursday nights, and occasionally on Saturdays in the later portion of the season. Most of the games kick off at 8:25 p.m. Eastern Time.
Debuting on November 23, 2006, the telecasts were originally part of NFL Network's Run to the Playoffs package, which consisted of eight total games broadcast on Thursday and Saturday nights (five on Thursdays, and three on Saturdays, originally branded as Saturday Night Football) during the latter portion of the season. Since 2012, the TNF package has begun during the second week of the NFL season; the NFL Kickoff Game and the Thanksgiving primetime game are both broadcast as part of NBC Sports' Sunday Night Football contract and are not included in Thursday Night Football, although the Thanksgiving primetime game was previously part of the package from 2006 until 2011.
At its launch, the package proved highly controversial mainly due to the relative unavailability of NFL Network at the time; the league used the games as leverage to encourage television providers to carry NFL Network on their basic service tiers, rather than in premium, sports-oriented packages that required subscribers to pay a higher fee; although, as with all other national cable telecasts of NFL games, the league's own regulations require the games to be syndicated to over-the-air television stations in the local markets of the teams. These issues were magnified in 2007, when a game that saw the New England Patriots close out a perfect regular season was simulcast nationally on both CBS and NBC, in addition to NFL Network and the local stations that the game was sold to, following concerns from politicians and other critics.
In 2014, production of the Thursday Night Football games was taken over by CBS Sports under a one-year deal. As part of the deal, CBS would carry nine Thursday night games (which were simulcast on NFL Network) and lend its primary broadcast team, consisting of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, to cover the remaining Thursday telecasts airing exclusively on NFL Network. In addition, NFL Network extended the length of the Thursday telecasts to Week 16 of the season, and added a new Saturday doubleheader split between CBS and NFL Network. On January 18, 2015, CBS and NFL Network extended the same arrangement for a second season. On February 1, 2016, the NFL announced that CBS and NBC would split the broadcast television portion of the Thursday Night Football schedule beginning 2016, with both networks broadcasting 5 games in simulcast with NFL Network. CBS will air the first 5 games and NBC will air the other 5 games.
The games are broadcast on radio via Westwood One, which syndicates the broadcasts to its partner radio stations around the United States. It also airs on Fox Sports Latin America, ESPN Brasil and Esporte Interativo.
The NFL Network's coverage was not the first time that NFL games were covered on Thursday or Saturday. Prior to the new contract, ESPN carried a handful of sporadic Thursday night games (usually those displaced from Sunday night) and the broadcast networks used to air several national games on Saturday afternoons in mid-to-late December after the college football regular season ended. Incidentally, the only reason the league is even allowed to televise football games on Saturday night stems from a legal loophole: the league's antitrust exemption, the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, was written when the NFL regular season ended in mid-December, and as such, it contains specific language that prohibits televising NFL games in most markets on Friday nights and all day on Saturdays between the second week of September and the second week of December, to protect high school and college football. Since most high school and college seasons have ended by mid-December, other than bowl games, there has been little desire to close this loophole, even though the regular season has expanded well beyond mid-December since the law's passage.
In 2005, when the NFL negotiated a new set of television contracts, Comcast-owned OLN offered to pay $450 million for an eight-year contract to carry NFL prime time games. In exchange, Comcast planned to add NFL Network to its digital cable lineup. The channel was added, but NFL Network decided to air the games itself, foregoing a rights fee. The other television deals generated $3.735 billion per year over an eight-year period for CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and DirecTV (owner of the out-of-market sports package NFL Sunday Ticket).
Thursday Night Football debuted on November 23, 2006, with the Kansas City Chiefs handing the visiting Denver Broncos a 19–10 Thanksgiving defeat. Each of the game broadcasts were titled either Thursday Night Football or Saturday Night Football, depending on the night on which it aired. This format carried over to the 2007 season.
Starting in 2008, NFL Network eliminated all but one of the Saturday night games and started their Thursday night package three weeks earlier. This was done to accommodate the earlier schedule and the league's antitrust exemption that prohibits Saturday games from being held for most of the season. In the following season, all references to Saturday Night Football were dropped, and any games that are not played on Thursday (such as in 2016, two Christmas weekend games and an NFL International Series game) have since been branded as "special editions" of Thursday Night Football, or Thursday Night Special. The Thanksgiving matchup was moved from NFL Network to NBC's Sunday Night Football package as part of the new broadcast contract after the 2011 season. During Super Bowl week in 2012, it was announced that the Thursday Night Football package would expand from eight to 13 games and air on NFL Network, again soliciting and rejecting offers from Turner Sports and Comcast.
In January 2014, it was reported that the NFL was planning to sub-license a package of up to eight Thursday Night Football games to another broadcaster for the 2014 NFL season. The league had negotiated with its existing broadcast partners, along with Turner Sports. These eight games were to be simulcast by NFL Network, and reports indicated that ESPN planned to place the games on ABC in the event it won the rights, bringing the NFL back to the network for the first time since Super Bowl XL and the move of Monday Night Football to ESPN in 2006. The remaining games would remain exclusive to NFL Network, due to carriage contracts with TV providers requiring at least eight NFL games to air exclusively on the channel per-season. The decision came as the league wished to heighten the profile of its Thursday night games, which had suffered from relatively lower viewership and advertising revenue in comparison to other games.
On February 5, 2014, the NFL announced that CBS had acquired the partial rights to Thursday Night Football for the 2014 season. Under the agreement, all of the Thursday Night Football telecasts would be produced by CBS Sports and called by the network's primary announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. The first eight games of the season were simulcast nationally on NFL Network and CBS; the remaining games in the package only aired nationally on NFL Network, but per league broadcast polices, were simulcast on local stations in the participating teams' markets. CBS affiliates were given right of first refusal to air the local simulcast before it is offered to another station (as had occurred in Cincinnati, Ohio where the market's NBC affiliate WLWT aired a game between the Bengals and the Cleveland Browns instead of CBS affiliate WKRC-TV). A Saturday doubleheader was also added on Week 16: NFL Network aired the early game, while CBS aired the second, prime time game.
The NFL considered CBS's bid to be the most attractive, owing to the network's overall ratings stature (CBS had been the highest-rated broadcast network in the U.S. since the 2005-06 television season), a commitment to aggressively promote the Thursday games across its properties, and its plans to utilize CBS Sports' top NFL talent and production staff across all of the games in the package to ensure a major improvement in quality over the previous, in-house productions. CBS staff also cited experience with its joint coverage of the NCAA Men's basketball tournament with Turner Sports as an advantage in its collaboration with NFL Network staff, as talent from both networks collaborate on pre-game, halftime and post-game coverage. During the games, a distinct graphics package co-branded with both CBS and NFL Network logos is used, certain players on each team wear microphones, and 4K cameras are used to allow zoom-in shots during instant replays.
With the move of selected games to CBS, media executives expected more major match-ups to appear on Thursday Night Football than in previous years in order to attract better viewership; in the past, Thursday Night Football had been criticized for often featuring games between lesser and poorer-performing teams. CBS and the NFL unveiled the games scheduled for Thursday Night Football in April 2014; CBS's slate of games featured a number of major divisional rivalries, including New York Giants–Washington, Green Bay–Minnesota, and its opening game on September 11, 2014, featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.
In the wake of the controversy surrounding Ravens player Ray Rice (who had been removed from the team and suspended from the NFL earlier in the week following the discovery of footage showing the player physically assaulting his wife, Janay, who was engaged to Rice at the time the security camera footage was recorded), changes were made to pre-game coverage on the first game in order to accommodate additional interviews and discussion related to the incident. Among these changes were the removal of an introductory segment featuring Rihanna (who was similarly assaulted by fellow performer Chris Brown in 2009) performing her song "Run This Town". Following complaints by Rihanna on Twitter regarding the removal, the song was pulled entirely from future broadcasts.
The rights were negotiated under a one-year contract valued at $275 million; on January 18, 2015, the NFL announced that it would renew the arrangement with CBS for the 2015 season, with its value increasing to around $300 million.
In November 2015, The Hollywood Reporter reported that in response to the success of the package under CBS, the NFL was planning to negotiate a long-term contract for Thursday Night Football, with CBS, Fox, NBC, and Turner Sports showing interest. The New York Post reported that this deal would also include the sale of a stake in NFL Network itself.
On December 16, 2015, it was reported that the NFL was shopping the Thursday Night Football package as a one-year deal with an option for a second year, similarly to the current arrangement with CBS; the league also requested that bidders outline goals for "growing" NFL Network. The league was also reportedly interested in selling non-exclusive digital rights to simulcast the games to another partner, such as Amazon.com, Apple Inc., Google, or Yahoo! (which exclusively streamed an International Series as part of a trial during the 2015 season, but would shut down its original video content service in January 2016). In January 2016, it was reported that the NFL was considering splitting the Thursday Night Football package across multiple broadcasters in tandem with the possibility of expanding the overall package to 17 games. It was also reported that ESPN and Turner Sports were not interested in the package due to its short-term nature, and that Fox was attempting to outbid CBS.
On February 1, 2016, the NFL announced that Thursday Night Football would be shared between CBS, NBC, and NFL Network for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. CBS and NBC will each air five games (resulting in a schedule of 10 games on broadcast TV in comparison to 8 under the previous deal), followed by an additional eight games exclusively on NFL Network to satisfy NFL Network's retransmission consent contracts with cable providers); the eight NFL Network-exclusive games will include six Thursday contests, a Sunday morning International Series contest, and a Christmas afternoon game. As with the previous contract, all games will be simulcast by NFL Network. Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the league was "thrilled to add NBC to the Thursday Night Football mix, a trusted partner with a proven track record of success broadcasting NFL football in primetime, and look forward to expanding with a digital partner for what will be a unique tri-cast on broadcast, cable and digital platforms." On April 5, 2016, it was revealed that Twitter had acquired non-exclusive worldwide digital streaming rights to the 10 broadcast television TNF games. The collaboration will also include streaming content on Twitter's Periscope service, such as behind the scenes access.
Rogers Media, who owns television rights to the Thursday Night Football package in Canada through the end of the 2016 season but has not yet acquired digital rights (the majority of the NFL's media rights in Canada are owned by Rogers' rival, Bell Media), successfully forced Twitter to block the game streams in that country, overriding the league's insistence that the free stream be global. Due to the streaming deal, over-the-top television providers PlayStation Vue and Sling TV are also required to black out the simulcast of the games on NFL Network.
The first game produced by NBC Sports was broadcast exclusively on NFL Network on November 3, 2016, while the first game simulcast nationally on NBC aired on November 17. A cappella group Pentatonix recorded a reworked version of their song "Sing" ("Weekend Go") to serve as the opening theme song for NBC's Thursday Night Football telecasts, NBC also commissioned new instrumental theme music by Jimmy Greco, "Can't Hold Us Down", which was performed by members of the orchestra from the Broadway musical Hamilton.
The initial NFL Network team consisted of HBO Sports' Bryant Gumbel as play-by-play announcer, NBC Sports' Cris Collinsworth as the color commentator for the Thursday telecasts, and Dick Vermeil replacing Collinsworth for Saturday telecasts. In 2007, Collinsworth replaced Vermeil alongside Gumbel for all games.
Gumbel left the network after the 2007 season and his then-HBO colleague Bob Papa, who is also the radio voice of the New York Giants, was brought in to replace him. Collinsworth stayed on until the end of the 2008 season, then left to take over for the retiring John Madden as lead analyst on NBC Sunday Night Football. NFL Network replaced him with Matt Millen, who returned to broadcasting in 2009, and then added former ESPN analyst Joe Theismann for 2010.
For 2011, ESPN play-by-play man Brad Nessler took over the Thursday night broadcast. He was joined by NFL Network draft analyst and NBC Notre Dame color man Mike Mayock, and the pairing spent three seasons calling games.
As a result of CBS taking over production responsibilities for the Thursday Night Football broadcasts, its number one broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms took over the broadcast booth. With NBC adding games in 2016, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, the broadcast team of NBC Sunday Night Football, are required under league contract to do the same. NBC had initially hired former Monday Night Football play-by-play man Mike Tirico for Thursdays before the league nixed the idea of any separate broadcast teams for Sunday and Thursday nights. Tirico would eventually call three Sunday Night Football games, including the Thanksgiving night game which is in the SNF package, in order for NBC to allow Michaels over a week's rest before the end of the season. Tirico would also call the December 22, 2016 TNF game alongside Collinsworth, as well as two NBC-produced Thursday Night Special game broadcasts on December 18 and Christmas Day, respectively, both alongside former USFL and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie.
Each game telecast is preceded on NFL Network by TNF GameDay, which broadcasts live from the site of each game and currently features Rich Eisen as its host, with Steve Mariucci, Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin and either Marshall Faulk or Kurt Warner as analysts. The show generally begins two hours before game time (6:00 p.m. Eastern Time).
The game proper is preceded by a pre-game show; CBS games are preceded by Thursday Night Kickoff, hosted by James Brown, Bill Cowher, and Deion Sanders. NBC games are preceded by Football Night in America (renamed in reference of the host city of the game, such as Football Night in Tampa), hosted by Bob Costas, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison. CBS joined Thursday Night Kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time during its games. This resulted in some controversy among viewers and the producers of syndicated programming in the locally programmed timeslot before network primetime, where the pre-game affects programs such as Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and Entertainment Tonight (all distributed by CBS's sister syndication division CBS Television Distribution), along with several other programs, which then require pre-emption or slotting on lower-profile alternate timeslots or stations to air in markets where they are carried by CBS or NBC affiliates in order to accommodate the Thursday games.
Westwood One provides national radio broadcasts of the Thursday Night Football games, with Ian Eagle calling play-by-play, Tony Boselli handling color analysis and Hub Arkush as the sideline reporter. Boomer Esiason, the Monday Night Football analyst for Westwood One, is a regular substitute should Boselli be unavailable due to other commitments (in some cases, Esiason would call the Thursday night game if he is unavailable for the previous/next Monday night game and/or if the Thursday game is in close proximity to his New York home.)
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This list shows the National Football League teams' all-time standings in the games they played on Thursday Night Football since 2006.
Standings are current as of November 19, 2015.
|Team||Games Played||Wins||Losses||Ties||Win Pct.||First Appearance||Most Recent Appearance|
|Indianapolis Colts||7||7||0||1.000||November 22, 2007
defeated Atlanta 31–13
|October 8, 2015
defeated Houston 27–20
|Kansas City Chiefs||6||4||2||.667||November 23, 2006
defeated Denver 19–10
|December 8, 2016
defeated Oakland 21-13
|Pittsburgh Steelers||8||5||3||.625||December 7, 2006
defeated Cleveland 27–7
|October 1, 2015
lost to Baltimore Ravens 23–20 (OT)
|New York Jets||7||4||3||.571||November 13, 2008
defeated New England 34–31
|September 15, 2016
defeated Buffalo 37–31
|San Diego Chargers||6||5||1||.833||December 4, 2008
defeated Oakland 34–7
|October 13, 2016
defeated Denver 21-13
|Dallas Cowboys||8||6||2||.750||December 16, 2006
defeated Atlanta 38–28
|December 4, 2014
defeated Chicago 41–28
|Philadelphia Eagles||6||3||3||.500||November 27, 2008
defeated Arizona 48–20
|September 19, 2013
lost to Kansas City 26–16
|New York Giants||6||4||2||.667||December 30, 2006
defeated Washington 34–28
|December 22, 2016
lost to Philadelphia 23–19
|San Francisco 49ers||7||5||2||.714||December 14, 2006
defeated Seattle 24–14
|September 26, 2013
defeated St. Louis 35–11
|Denver Broncos||8||5||3||.625||November 23, 2006
lost to Kansas City 19–10
|September 17, 2015
defeated Kansas City 31–24
|Atlanta Falcons||7||4||2||.667||December 16, 2006
lost to Dallas 38–28
|28|November 3, 2016
defeated Buccaneers 43-28}
|Chicago Bears||8||4||4||.500||December 6, 2007
lost to Washington 24–16
|December 4, 2014
lost to Dallas 41–28
|Baltimore Ravens||5||3||2||.600||November 30, 2006
lost to Cincinnati 13–7
|September 11, 2014
defeated Pittsburgh 26–6
|Seattle Seahawks||5||3||2||.600||December 14, 2006
lost to San Francisco 24–14
|October 22, 2015
defeated San Francisco 20–3
|Green Bay Packers||5||4||1||.80||December 21, 2006
defeated Minnesota 9–7
|December 3, 2015
defeated Detroit 27-23
|Arizona Cardinals||4||2||2||.500||November 27, 2008
lost to Philadelphia 48–20
|December 10, 2015
defeated Vikings 23–20
|Washington Redskins||3||1||2||.333||December 30, 2006
lost to N.Y. Giants 34–28
|September 25, 2014
lost to N.Y. Giants 45–14
|New England Patriots||6||5||1||.833||December 29, 2007
defeated N.Y. Giants 38–35
|September 22, 2016
defeated Houston Texans 27–0
|Miami Dolphins||6||3||3||.600||November 19, 2009
defeated Carolina 24–17
|October 29, 2015
lost to New England 36–7
|Houston Texans||5||1||4||.200||December 13, 2007
defeated Denver 31–13
|September 22, 2016
lost to New England 27–0
|Oakland Raiders||6||3||3||.500||December 23, 2006
lost to Kansas City 20–9
|December 24, 2015
defeated San Diego 23–20
|Cleveland Browns||6||2||4||.333||December 7, 2006
lost to Pittsburgh 27–7
|November 6, 2014
defeated Cincinnati 24–3
|Cincinnati Bengals||6||2||4||.333||November 30, 2006
defeated Baltimore 13–7
|October 31, 2013
lost to Miami 22–20
|Carolina Panthers||5||1||4||.200||December 22, 2007
lost to Dallas 20–13
|October 24, 2013
defeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31–13
|Jacksonville Jaguars||6||2||4||.333||December 18, 2008
lost to Indianapolis 31–24
|November 19, 2015
defeated Tennessee 13–19
|Tennessee Titans||6||1||5||.165||December 25, 2009
lost to San Diego 42–17
|November 19, 2015
lost to Jacksonville 13-19
|New Orleans Saints||6||2||4||.333||December 11, 2008
lost to Chicago 27–24
|October 30, 2014
defeated Carolina 28–10
|Buffalo Bills||6||2||4||.333||December 3, 2009
lost to N.Y. Jets 19–13
|September 15, 2016
lost to N.Y. Jets 37–31
|Los Angeles Rams†||4||2||2||.500||December 20, 2007
lost to Pittsburgh 41–24
|December 15, 2016
lost to Seattle 35–11
|Minnesota Vikings||4||1||4||.250||December 21, 2006
lost to Green Bay 9–7
|December 10, 2015
lost to Arizona 20–23
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||3||1||2||.333||December 17, 2011
lost to Dallas 31–15
|September 18, 2014
lost to Atlanta 56–14
|Detroit Lions||1||0||1||.000||December 3, 2015
lost to Green Bay 27-23
|December 3, 2015
lost to Green Bay 27-23
†Played as St. Louis Rams from 1995-2015
Upon the original launch of the Thursday and Saturday night games, few television service providers carried the NFL Network due to disputes during the network's terms in its carriage contracts during negotiations. These disputes were magnified throughout the 2007 season, as two high-profile matchups were to be broadcast by the network. The first was a matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers which was scheduled for the week after Thanksgiving and saw both teams at 10-1, vying for the top seed in the NFC, and the second was Week 17 Saturday night game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants, where the Patriots had a chance to become the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to end a regular season undefeated.
In the first case, fans were displeased that a matchup between two teams at such a critical point in the season was not available on broadcast television except in the Dallas and Green Bay markets. To avoid such a problem with the potential sixteenth victory for the Patriots, CBS and NBC bought broadcast rights to the game so it could be seen by a nationwide audience on both cable and broadcast television. This ended up causing another controversy, however, as the move by the networks infringed on the exclusivity that would normally have been enjoyed by WWOR-TV in New York City and WCVB-TV in Boston, which were the Giants' and Patriots' respective local over-the-air broadcasters for cable-televised games (the game aired on these stations, as well as on WCBS-TV, WNBC, WBZ-TV and WHDH in the teams' market areas).
Thursday Night Football games on NFL Network are among the lowest-rated nationally televised NFL broadcasts. Critics have argued that the games televised on Thursday Night Football have been of lower quality than other prime time games, as they often featured match-ups between lesser or poor-performing teams, and that the shortened rest between games triggered by Thursday games also has an effect on their overall quality. In an analysis by Sports on Earth writer Aaron Roberts, it was determined that most Thursday games were of average or above-average quality in comparison to normal, non-prime time games, but that this was "by design" due to the leverage of other NFL broadcasters on how games are scheduled throughout the season (which traditionally prioritizes "major" games for either late-afternoon or Sunday and Monday nights).
The move of selected games to CBS brought improved ratings: the inaugural game was the highest-rated program of the night, with an audience share of 13.7 and an average of 20.7 million viewers, representing a 108% increase in ratings over the first NFL Network game in 2013. The game, whose ratings were boosted by coverage of the Ray Rice scandal, also brought CBS its highest prime time ratings on a Thursday night since May 2006. While lower, at 9.6 million viewers, the Week 3 game between the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers was also the highest-rated program of the night. The first four games of the package, however, featured blowout victories. In total, average viewership of the games increased from around 7 million to around 11.8 million in the 2014 season.
Controversy over ratings and the quality of play in Thursday night contests escalated when on November 28, 2016, a report circulated that the league was considering ending the franchise. The NFL, however, denied this rumor. The subsequent game on December 2, 2016 between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings was the highest rated Thursday Night Football of the season.
During the 2016 season, current and former players including Richard Sherman, J.J. Watt, and Charles Woodson  expressed their dislikes for Thursday Night Football, with Richard Sherman calling it a "poopfest".
As mentioned, a team needing to play a Thursday night game can result in a shortened rest period for players between games. On October 6, 2014, Arian Foster, then of the Houston Texans, made a statement considering it hypocritical for the NFL to emphasize the safety of players (particularly in regards to concussions) while allowing its players to play a game on only three days' rest, which he considered to be equally "dangerous".
On January 29, 2015, the NFL released its health and safety report, which states that an average of 4.8 injuries were sustained during Thursday games compared to 6.9 injuries per game on Sundays and Mondays.