Thursday Night Football

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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
Phil Simms
Tracy Wolfson
James Brown
Bill Cowher
Deion Sanders
Rich Eisen
Marshall Faulk
Steve Mariucci
Michael Irvin
Mike Carey
Ian Eagle
Trent Green
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 9 (NFL seasons)
2 (CBS seasons)
No. of episodes 57 (games)
Production location(s) Various NFL stadiums
(game telecasts, pregame, halftime and postgame shows)
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 180 minutes or until game ends
Production company(s) National Football League
NFL Network (2006–present)
CBS Sports (2014–present)
Original network NFL Network (2006–present)
CBS (2014–present)
Picture format 480i (SDTV),
1080i (HDTV)
Original release November 23, 2006 (2006-11-23) – present

Thursday Night Football is the branding used for broadcasts of prime time National Football League (NFL) games that are produced by CBS Sports and broadcast by CBS and the NFL Network in the United States on Thursdays during the regular season. 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) during the latter portion of the season. Most of the games, which are now almost exclusively held on a Thursday, kick off at 8:25 p.m. Eastern Time (previously 8:20 p.m. ET from 2006 to 2013).

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.

Since 2012, NFL Network has begun coverage of the Thursday games during the second week of the NFL season. In 2014, production of the Thursday Night Football games was taken over by CBS Sports. 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.[1] The games are broadcast on radio via Westwood One, which syndicates the broadcasts to its partner radio stations around the United States.

Two Thursday-night games are excluded from the Thursday Night Football package; both the NFL Kickoff Game and the Thanksgiving primetime game are instead broadcast as part of NBC Sports' Sunday Night Football package. NFL Network had previously broadcast the Thanksgiving night game since it was first played in 2006 until 2010.


Early history

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, a practice which has since been discontinued. 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.[2] 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).[citation needed]

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 were not played on Thursday were referred to as a "special edition" of Thursday Night Football; since then, however, relatively few Thursday Night Football games have been played outside of Thursdays. As of 2014 (when Saturday night games returned to NFL Network after a two-year absence), games played on Saturday are now referred to as a "Saturday edition" of Thursday Night Football.

The Thanksgiving matchup was moved from NFL Network to NBC's broadcast 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.[citation needed]

2014–2016: partnership with CBS Sports

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.[3][4][5][6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9][10][11][12][13]

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.[8] 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.[12][14]

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.[15][15][16][16] 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.[11][17]

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".[18][19] Following complaints by Rihanna on Twitter regarding the removal, the song was pulled entirely from future broadcasts.[20]

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.[21][1][8]


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.[21] The New York Post reported that this deal would also include the sale of a stake in NFL Network itself.[7]

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, Apple Inc., Google, or Yahoo! (which exclusively streamed an International Series game in the 2015 season as part of a trial during the 2015 season).[22]

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.[23][24]


Game announcers

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.[13]

Pregame, halftime and postgame coverage

Each game telecast is preceded on NFL Network by NFL Total Access Kickoff, 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 same Total Access team hosts the halftime and postgame shows. In 2015, Kickoff was replaced with TNF GameDay, and is broadcast from the NFL Network GameDay studios, instead of from the game site.

The game proper is preceded by Thursday Night Kickoff, hosted by Curt Menefee and Deion Sanders. CBS joins Thursday Night Kickoff in-progress at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time during its games.[14] This has 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 affiliates in order to accommodate the Thursday games.[25]

Radio coverage

Westwood One provides national radio broadcasts of the Thursday Night Football games, with Ian Eagle calling play-by-play, Mike Mayock handling color analysis and Hub Arkush as the sideline reporter.[26]

Game announcers



Pre-game show
Game coverage




  • Ian Eagle – play-by-play (2008–present)
  • Boomer Esiason – color analyst (2013–present) Select Games
  • Tony Boselli – color analyst (2015–present) Select Games
  • Tim Ryan – color analyst (2015–present) Select Games



Thursday Night Football all-time team standings

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 5 3 2 .600 November 23, 2006
defeated Denver 19–10
September 17, 2015
lost to Denver 31–24
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 6 3 3 .500 November 13, 2008
defeated New England 34–31
November 12, 2015
lost to Buffalo 22–17
San Diego Chargers 5 4 1 .800 December 4, 2008
defeated Oakland 34–7
December 12, 2013
defeated Denver 27–20
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
September 25, 2014
defeated Washington 45–14
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
December 12, 2013
lost to San Diego 27–20
Atlanta Falcons 6 4 2 .667 December 16, 2006
lost to Dallas 38–28
September 18, 2014
defeated Buccaneers 56–14
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, 2013
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 3 1 2 .333 November 27, 2008
lost to Philadelphia 48–20
October 17, 2013
lost to Seattle 34–22
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 5 4 1 .800 December 29, 2007
defeated N.Y. Giants 38–35
October 29, 2015
defeated Miami 36–7
Miami Dolphins 5 3 2 .600 November 19, 2009
defeated Carolina 24–17
November 13, 2014
defeated Buffalo 22–9
Houston Texans 4 1 3 .250 December 13, 2007
defeated Denver 31–13
October 9, 2014
lost to Indianapolis 33–28
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
St. Louis Rams 4 2 2 .500 December 20, 2007
lost to Pittsburgh 41–24
September 26, 2013
lost to San Francisco 35–11
Buffalo Bills 4 1 3 .250 December 3, 2009
lost to N.Y. Jets 19–13
November 13, 2014
lost to Miami 22–9
Minnesota Vikings 4 1 3 .250 December 21, 2006
lost to Green Bay 9–7
October 2, 2014
lost to Green Bay 42–10
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



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).[27]

Game quality and viewership

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.[15][16] 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/Monday nights).[28][29]

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.[30][31][32][33] The first four games of the package, however, featured blowout victories.[34][35] In total, average viewership of the games increased from around 7 million to around 11.8 million in the 2014 season.[36]

Player safety

As mentioned, a team needing to play a Thursday night game can result in a shortened rest period for players between games.[15][16] On October 6, 2014, Arian Foster 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".[35]

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.[37]

See also


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External links