This Thursday, we are treated to another primetime game in the NFL; a premier matchup with the defending Super Bowl champion Giants taking on the rising star of Cam Newton and the Panthers. This is the latest of 13 primetime games the NFL Network is carrying this season, up from 8 last year.
My first reaction to hearing about the additional games is, of course, joy. Who doesn't like more football? Who doesn't like the extra chance to see a live game, pause the DVR on 3rd down to see if you can identify the blitz package, and wrap it up with some musings from Prime Time. I love watching games on the NFL Network.
But that's primarily because I get the NFL Network. There are still millions of cable subscribers, mostly on Time Warner, that aren't getting the games (or the endless replays of top 100 greatest whatevers). And while this week's game is not a divisional game, 11 of the 13 are, bringing an unusual sense of importance to Thursday nights.
Of course, the NFL Network is expanding their schedule and adding games of more significance because of their dispute with carriers like Time Warner. By adding 5 more games, the channel is effectively more relevant, and the fear of losing subscribers should make cable providers that don't carry the Network pay more attention.
While this is sad for those folks, it really doesn't impact my excitement at all. What does, however, is the prospect of seeing a diminished product. The reason football games are played weekly as opposed to every other major team sport in the country is because of the toll it takes on the body. Football players need the full week, sometimes deciding as late as pregame warm-ups, to recover from the previous week's pounding. And when teams play on Monday night, you hear the phrase "recover from a short week" in every analyst's commentary. Well, if that's a short week, what do you call Sunday to Thursday?
I call it an issue because this Thursday, while preparing trash talk for my Panthers friends, my excitement for the game fell like a rock. The Giants will be playing this game without Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw, amongst other backups that won't be making the trip down to Carolina. That's two of the three most explosive weapons on the Giants. At least there aren't any more injuries due to Tampa's shenanigans at the end of last week's game.
A little aside on that - Greg Schiano has been one of my favorite coaches in football ever since his Rutgers team pulled off the most spectacular upset I have ever seen by beating Louisville in 2006. Because of that game alone, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it came to playing hard every down, even during a kneel down, and even when you never see that happen in the NFL. But then I saw some tape. Tape of the Bucks taking a knee at the end of their week 1 victory over the Panthers, while holding a one score lead. Then, I saw them let Eli take a knee at the end of the first half of that very game. And to top it off, I saw the Bucks and Mark Barron slide step right out of the way so the Giants could score and Tampa would get the ball back. So while I agree with the coach speak, the reality is, his actions don't reflect that and the tape doesn't lie.
But I digress. The real issue here isn't coaches at the ends of games (even though we try really, really hard to make it about that), but rather the impact of key offensive stars missing games. How many of these guys would have been able to play if they had till Sunday? Even if we don't like it, we've grown accustom to seeing significant change in the NFL; from types of hits to replacement officials because the NFL has come to realize they can follow their own agenda and the people will accept it. The reason for this is because every Sunday, the stars come out to shine so bright, they eclipse any of the changes we don't like.
For example, when I saw Pierre Garcon catch that 88 yard touchdown pass from RGIII in week one, my first thought wasn't about blown calls or the ref spotting the ball incorrectly. I thought about how good this is for him, the team, and ultimately, the League. I mean, what a way to get your first touchdown.
So while the League is adding these games, pumping up the NFL Network and their bottom line; they have jeopardized the one constant that could actually impact ratings and dollars. All the other issues are just noise to fill up airtime. Just like your fantasy team, the only thing the NFL really needs is its brightest stars out there every week.