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Why the NFL needs to put an end to Thursday Night Football

All the players can do is grin and bear it, really. Thursday Night Football — which the league has promoted and branded and, obviously, sold for tens of millions of dollars — claimed another victim in Seattle’s 22–16 win in Arizona against the Cardinals last night.

The Seahawks lost veteran four-time Pro Bowler (and close personal friend of Michael Crabtree) Richard Sherman for the remainder of the season, potential playoff games included, thanks to a ruptured Achilles.

Sherman noted after the game that the Achilles felt like it was going to go on him at some point this season. And it’s impossible to know how much playing on three days rest after a tightly contested loss to Washington this past Sunday contributed to the injury. But put it this way — it didn’t help.

We can debate the percentages, but anyone who even hits the gym on a regular basis knows what it’s like to follow up a taxing and painful workout without proper rest — you’re far more susceptible to fatigue and/or injury. So let’s multiply that by [insert large number here] when you consider the physical stresses and dangers of being an NFL cornerback.

This development also ends Sherman’s regular-season streak of 105 consecutive games, and, remember, he gutted out a major elbow injury in January/February 2015 in leading the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.

We’ll get back to Sherman and what this does to Seattle’s hopes, and those of the other prominent NFC contenders in a bit, but first, a few thoughts on Thursday Night Football:

I honestly have never felt as conflicted watching a regularly scheduled sporting event as I do with Thursday games. Knowing what we know about the dangers of the sport, and knowing that recovery time is beyond vital, I feel great empathy for all of these men, who have been forced by a shoddily negotiated CBA to take to the field so quickly after they previously played.

Judging from conversations I’ve had with people who broadcast the NFL or just plain love the league, I’m clearly not alone. While the league has implemented many safeguards and protocols to protect the players, Thursday games utterly fly in the face of that effort. They make it clear that from a league perspective the almighty dollar trumps the health and welfare of players who already face huge pressure not to be sidelined by injuries — and not just because the vast majority of contracts don’t involve huge signing bonuses and guaranteed money.

When the Collective Bargaining Agreement gets re-opened in 2021 after this one expires, I have no doubt Thursday Night Football will be a bargaining chip. But guess who it’s in favour of? The owners. The league and owners can claim they’re seeing the light on player safety and are willing to make a concession, when in reality they are seeing the saturation point with live games that they and many others never thought could happen.

Could games be on Friday nights instead? It’s not quite the same from a revenue perspective as Fridays are a far-less-prominent evening for TV ratings and ad revenue (things have changed a lot since the days of J.R. Ewing). But at the bare minimum, that would offer another 24 hours of recovery before playing, and create a nine-day break before the following weekend of play.

The other option is an 18-week season with two bye weeks (with one guaranteed bye before a Thursday matchup), but that would mean starting the NFL season in late August. The con there, once again, is the saturation argument. NFL owners had an 18-week season in 1993, and no one seemed to think it was a success as it was quickly turfed as a concept.

But do I think the current Thursday-night “experiment” is coming to end in 2021, if not sooner? I certainly do. In fact, I’m convinced.

Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup
November 10 2017

As far as the Seahawks go, if only Sherman was the only casualty from the win in Glendale. Duane Brown sprained his right ankle, Kam Chancellor suffered a nasty stinger, and a double whammy occurred as defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson and Frank Clark collided, with neither returning in the fourth quarter after the incident.

I get it — they still have Russell Wilson and they still have Pete Carroll. They’re 6-3, and with a home game against Atlanta and a trip to San Francisco ahead, the odds are good they’ll be 8-3 when they host the Eagles on Dec. 3 in a Sunday night game.

But the other NFC contenders are well aware that while none of them want to travel to Seattle for a playoff game, the Seahawks being able to string together road wins with all the potential playoff travel ahead will be borderline impossible. Winning the division is more important for Seattle than any other playoff contender, I’d argue.

Picture a road to the Super Bowl that includes forcing the Seahawks to win road games in Minneapolis, then New Orleans, and then Philadelphia. Again, it’s asking the stars to all align, even in an NFC where a few of the quarterbacks (Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Case Keenum) may be making their playoff debuts as starters.

Seattle may still win the NFC West, and still may get a critical first-round bye, but the margin for error is extremely slim. Either way, the Seahawks’ hopes for playoff success suffered a major blow last night, in a year where the devastating injury seems more common than freakish.