The NFL has taken something of an odd approach to Thursday night games. Three years after creating the NFL Network, some games started airing on the channel. If memory serves, people were upset because the NFL Network is a cable channel, so people would have to pay to see those games, and it wasn’t popular enough to be available widely even if people did want to pay for it. The initial game was on Thanksgiving 2006, adding on to the traditional games played by the Lions and Cowboys, which some people didn’t like. Thursday night games didn’t start until Thanksgiving in 2007 as well, but in 2008 they started at the beginning of November. 2009 through 2011 were similar, with games appearing for weeks 10 through 16, although the NFL Network’s coverage sometimes included games played on Friday or Saturday. This year the schedule has changed again, as Thursday night games have been played all season long. I’m not sure how much of the unhappiness still lingers, but in any event you would think that the NFL would try to increase the appeal of these Thursday night games so that fans would want to watch them and cable companies would want to make the channel more available (so that fans can pay them to watch it). Instead, this year has had a long list of crummy match-ups. Here’s what we’ve had to deal with:
Bears-Packers: easily the best match-up, it happened in the first week of the broadcasts and didn’t even turn out to be a close game.
Giants-Panthers: Giants win easily.
Browns-Ravens: a closer game, but who wants to watch Cleveland?
Cardinals-Rams: who wants to watch Arizona or St. Louis? I live in St. Louis and am barely interested.
Steelers-Titans: this game was satisfying in that the Titans got the upset, but they are generally terrible.
Seahawks-49ers: Seattle has been frisky this year, and the game was close, but again: where are the solid match-ups? No Patriots, no Jets even (to appease New Yorkers), no heated rivalries?
Tampa-Minnesota: it begins to become obvious that the NFL is trolling its Thursday night fans.
Chiefs-Chargers: Trolling continues
Colts-Jaguars: Andrew Luck is a draw, but still. For the record, only half of the teams listed so far are currently over .500.
Miami-Buffalo: I had to stretch to make this game relevant in my pick post, and Miami promptly lost to essentially end their playoff hopes.
Things take a turn for the better tonight though when we get the Saints and Falcons. Even though the Saints aren’t doing so hot, they’re at least a popular team and had a good winning streak to remind everyone that they’re capable of being exciting. They may have the same record as the Dolphins and Cowboys, but people at least think that there might be more to the team. And they get to play the Falcons, who are tied for the best record in the league, having only lost earlier in the season to… the Saints. So finally we get a decent game. And we should enjoy it because the next two are Denver-Oakland (almost certain to be a Peyton Manning touchdown party) and Bengals-Eagles (only interesting if you care about the Eagles, either for seeing how Foles develops or for hating the Eagles). So if you get NFL Network, I hope you soak it all in and we get a good game. This is what you’re paying for.
In terms of the pick, the Falcons are favored by 3.5 to go with a moneyline of -192/177. The over/under is 54.5, so fairly high. All three models actually like the Falcons to cover, so that might be a safer pick than most. They disagree on the moneyline though; Luigi thinks the Falcons are actually safe enough to take to win outright (which is unusual, since the models tend to go for underdogs) while the two Yoshis each think that the Saints are worth a look. All three models agree that the game will be relatively high-scoring, but none actually predict the game will get to over 54.5. Not that it means anything; you should be actively ignoring the totals predictions.