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|Thursday Night Football|
Thursday Night Football logo since 2016
|Also known as||Run to the Playoffs (2006–present)
Thursday Night Football on NFL Network (2006–present)
NFL Network Special (2016–present)
Fox Thursday Night Football (2018–2022)
|Genre||NFL football telecasts|
|Presented by||Joe Buck
|Theme music composer||Scott Scheen|
|Opening theme||Fox NFL theme|
|Ending theme||same as open|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||13 (NFL Network seasons)
5 (Fox 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 (inc. adverts)|
|Production company(s)||National Football League
NFL Network (2006–present)
Fox Sports (2018–2022)
|Original network||NFL Network (2006–present)
Fox Deportes (2018–2022; Spanish simulcast)
Amazon Prime Video (2017-2019; select games)
|Picture format||480i (SDTV),
|Original release||November 23, 2006– present|
|Related shows||Fox NFL
Fox NFL Sunday
Fox NFL Kickoff
Thursday Night Football (or simply TNF) is the branding used for broadcasts of National Football League (NFL) games that broadcast primarily on Thursday nights. Most of the games kick off at 8:20 p.m. Eastern Time, but games in the package also air occasionally on Saturdays in the later portion of the season, as well as a single Sunday morning game from London in the NFL International Series (these games have been branded since 2017 as NFL Network Special).
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, the NFL shifted the package to a new model to increase its prominence. The entire TNF package would be produced by a separate rightsholder, who would hold rights to simulcast a portion of the package on their respective network. CBS was the first rightsholder under this model, airing nine games on broadcast television, and producing the remainder of the package to air exclusively on NFL Network to satisfy its carriage agreements. The package was also extended to Week 16 of the season, and included 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. In the 2016 and 2017, the NFL continued with a similar arrangement, but adding NBC as a second rightsholder alongside CBS, with each network airing five games on broadcast television each. In 2018, the NFL reached a long-term deal with Fox to hold the rights through 2022.
The games are broadcast on radio via Westwood One, which syndicates the broadcasts to its partner radio stations around the United States. In 2016, the NFL also began to sub-license digital streaming rights to the broadcast TV portion of the package to third-parties, beginning with Twitter in 2016, and Amazon Prime Video in 2017, which Amazon and the NFL renewed their contract through 2019, with Twitch set to air some games in 2018.
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, and later Thursday Night Special or NFL Network 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 policies, 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 would 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 included six Thursday contests, a Sunday morning International Series contest, and a Christmas day 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's 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. Both were retained for NBC's games in 2017.
On April 4, 2017, it was announced that Amazon.com had acquired non-exclusive streaming rights to the 10 broadcast television games for the 2017 season over their Amazon Prime Video service, under a deal valued at $50 million, a five-fold increase over the $10 million paid by Twitter. The streams will be exclusive to paid Prime subscribers. The deal includes $30 million worth of promotion. Amazon planned several special features for its inaugural game, including broadcasting alternate feeds with Spanish, Portuguese and British English commentary (the last of which being intended for those unfamiliar with the rules and terminology of American football), and a pre-show hosted by Tiki Barber and Curtis Stone that featured presentations of NFL merchandise available for purchase on Amazon.
The November 16, 2017 telecast between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans was the first NFL broadcast to intentionally use the Skycam as its primary camera angle, as opposed to the usual sideline camera that has been used since telecasts of NFL games began in 1939. NBC Sports had previously switched to a skycam-only presentation for portions of two Sunday night games earlier that season because of fog and smoke (and, sixteen years prior, during its coverage of the XFL); positive reaction to the impromptu change prompted NBC to experiment with using the strategy for the full game.
In early January 2018, Bloomberg reported that ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports had both made bids for the next Thursday Night Football package. Both Fox and Fox Sports 1 were named as potential outlets for the package in the Fox Sports bid, which was intended to showcase Fox's continued commitment to sports after the proposed sale of its entertainment businesses to ESPN's majority-owner The Walt Disney Company (which will exclude the Fox network itself and Fox Sports' national operations, such as FS1, among other assets). CBS and NBC were also considering renewing their existing contracts, but had requested a lower rights fee to compensate for the decreasing viewership of the NFL (TNF had been cited as one factor in the downturn, due to a perceived oversaturation of nationally-televised games). It was also reported that the NFL would also allow digital companies to make bids for exclusive rights to the Thursday Night Football package which forego a television partner entirely, unlike the previous non-exclusive deals with Twitter and Amazon.
On January 30, 2018, it was reported by multiple sources that Fox had won the package. The next day, the NFL officially announced that Fox had acquired the broadcast television rights to the Thursday Night Football package under a five-year deal lasting from 2018 through 2022 (which is aligned with the conclusion of the NFL's other television deals). The Fox network will air 11 games per season in simulcast with NFL Network. ESPN reported that Fox would be paying around $60 million per game—an increase over the estimated $45 million per game paid by CBS and NBC under the previous contract, totalling an estimated $660 million per season.
Amazon renewed its digital rights for the 2018 and 2019 season; in contrast to 2017 in which the games required an Amazon Prime subscription, for 2018 and 2019, Amazon will also carry game coverage for free on its Twitch.tv service, a platform known more for video game live streaming.
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, then ESPN now CBS 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, were 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, who serves as the analyst for NBC's college football coverage as well. On May 31, 2017, it was announced that Mike Tirico would replace Al Michaels full-time for NBC's Thursday Night Football games. For 2017, Kurt Warner would similarly fill in for Collinsworth on two non-Thursday games.
For 2017, CBS hired Tony Romo as its lead color commentator. Numerous complications needed to be resolved, namely Romo's reluctance to cover both Sunday and Thursday nights as required under the Thursday Night Football contract, and the fact that Simms remains under contract with CBS through the next several years. However, the network confirmed via press release that Romo's duties would include Sunday and Thursday games.
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 Kurt Warner or other NFL Network colleagues 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 were preceded by Thursday Night Kickoff, hosted by James Brown, Bill Cowher, and Deion Sanders. NBC games were preceded by Football Night in America (renamed in reference of the host city of the game, such as Football Night in Tampa), hosted by Liam McHugh, 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, Fox, or NBC affiliates in order to accommodate the Thursday games. For Fox, the aforementioned CBS-distributed programming is less-carried by its affiliates (though several still do, such as WVUE/New Orleans and WLUK-TV/Green Bay carrying the game shows), and programs such as sitcoms and entertainment newsmagazines such as TMZ will end up being preempted during Fox's carriage of TNF.
Westwood One provided national radio broadcasts of the Thursday Night Football games through a contract that lasted through the 2017 season. During that final season, Ian Eagle called play-by-play, with 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). Westwood One's parent company Cumulus Media filed for bankruptcy and began terminating both its national talent contracts and its sports contracts in January 2018, just as its NFL contract was expiring. No word has yet emerged on the league's bidding process for the 2018 season and beyond.
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This table shows the National Football League teams' all-time standings for games played on Thursday Night Football.
Standings are current as of December 25, 2017.
|Team||Games Played||Wins||Losses||Ties||Win Pct.||First Appearance||Most Recent Appearance|
|Indianapolis Colts||9||7||2||.778||November 22, 2007
defeated Atlanta 31–13
|December 23, 2017
lost to Baltimore 23-16
|Kansas City Chiefs||8||6||2||.750||November 23, 2006
defeated Denver 19–10
|December 16, 2017
defeated L.A. Chargers 30-13
|Pittsburgh Steelers||11||8||3||.727||December 7, 2006
defeated Cleveland 27–7
|December 25, 2017
defeated Houston 34-6
|New York Jets||7||4||3||.571||November 13, 2008
defeated New England 34–31
|November 2, 2017
defeated Buffalo 34–21
|Los Angeles Chargers‡||7||5||2||.714||December 4, 2008
defeated Oakland 34–7
|December 16, 2017
lost to Kansas City 30-13
|Dallas Cowboys||10||8||2||.800||December 16, 2006
defeated Atlanta 38–28
|November 30, 2017
defeated Washington 38-14
|Philadelphia Eagles||7||4||3||.571||November 27, 2008
defeated Arizona 48–20
|October 12, 2017
defeated Carolina 28–23
|New York Giants||7||4||3||.571||December 30, 2006
defeated Washington 34–28
|December 22, 2016
lost to Philadelphia 24–19
|San Francisco 49ers||11||5||6||.455||December 14, 2006
defeated Seattle 24–14
|September 21, 2017
lost to L.A. Rams 41-39
|Denver Broncos||11||6||5||.545||November 23, 2006
lost to Kansas City 19–10
|December 14, 2017
defeated Indianapolis 25-13
|Atlanta Falcons||10||7||3||.700||December 16, 2006
lost to Dallas 38–28
|December 7, 2017
defeated New Orleans 20-17
|Chicago Bears||10||4||6||.400||December 6, 2007
lost to Washington 24–16
|December 16, 2017
lost to Detroit 20-10
|Baltimore Ravens||11||7||4||.636||November 30, 2006
lost to Cincinnati 13–7
|December 23, 2017
defeated Indianapolis 23-16
|Seattle Seahawks||6||5||1||.833||December 14, 2006
lost to San Francisco 24–14
|November 9, 2017
defeated Arizona 22-16
|Green Bay Packers||6||5||1||.833||December 21, 2006
defeated Minnesota 9–7
|September 28, 2017
defeated Chicago 35-14
|Arizona Cardinals||8||4||4||.500||November 27, 2008
lost to Philadelphia 48–20
|November 9, 2017
lost to Seattle 22-16
|Washington Redskins||9||4||5||.444||December 30, 2006
lost to N.Y. Giants 34–28
|November 30, 2017
lost to Dallas 38-14
|New England Patriots||6||5||1||.833||December 29, 2007
defeated N.Y. Giants 38–35
|October 5, 2017
defeated Tampa Bay 19–14
|Miami Dolphins||8||4||4||.500||November 19, 2009
defeated Carolina 24–17
|October 26, 2017
lost to Baltimore 40-0
|Detroit Lions||2||1||1||.500||December 3, 2015
lost to Green Bay 27-23
|December 16, 2017
defeated Chicago 20-10
|Houston Texans||8||3||5||.375||December 13, 2007
defeated Denver 31–13
|December 25, 2017
lost to Pittsburgh 34-6
|Oakland Raiders||9||5||4||.556||December 23, 2006
lost to Kansas City 20–9
|October 19, 2017
defeated Kansas City 31-30
|Cleveland Browns||8||3||5||.375||December 7, 2006
lost to Pittsburgh 27–7
|October 29, 2017
lost to Minnesota 33-16
|Cincinnati Bengals||10||4||6||.400||November 30, 2006
defeated Baltimore 13–7
|September 14, 2017
lost to Houston 13–9
|Carolina Panthers||10||3||7||.300||December 22, 2007
lost to Dallas 20–13
|October 12, 2017
lost to Philadelphia 28-23
|Jacksonville Jaguars||8||3||5||.375||December 18, 2008
lost to Indianapolis 31–24
|October 27, 2016
lost to Tennessee 36–22
|Tennessee Titans||8||3||5||.375||December 25, 2009
lost to San Diego 42–17
|November 16, 2017
lost to Pittsburgh 40-17
|New Orleans Saints||8||3||5||.375||December 11, 2008
lost to Chicago 27–24
|December 7, 2017
lost to Atlanta 20-17
|Buffalo Bills||7||2||5||.288||December 3, 2009
lost to N.Y. Jets 19–13
|November 2, 2017
lost to N.Y. Jets 34–21
|Los Angeles Rams†||8||3||5||.375||December 20, 2007
lost to Pittsburgh 41–24
|September 21, 2017
defeated San Francisco 41-39
|Minnesota Vikings||6||2||4||.333||December 21, 2006
lost to Green Bay 9–7
|October 29, 2017
defeated Cleveland 33-16
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||6||1||5||.167||December 17, 2011
lost to Dallas 31–15
|October 5, 2017
lost to New England 19-14
• †St. Louis Rams, 1995–2015 • ‡San Diego Chargers, 1961–2016
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 1, 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". Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks has also voiced displeasure about Thursday night games reducing prep time, and wrote a 2016 editorial for The Players' Tribune about the games. Sherman's 2017 season (and his run with the Seahawks; he would sign a new deal with the San Francisco 49ers in the 2018 off-season) would end on November 9, 2017 during a Thursday night game against the Arizona Cardinals, when he ruptured his Achilles tendon.
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.
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