With the end of the 2022 NFL regular season we have seen the close of two very high-profile football broadcasting chapters. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman wrapped up their first year at ESPN calling Monday Night Football and Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit made it through the first ever year of Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime. Both Aikman and Michaels gave interviews recently reflecting on the season and it seems they both agree that the football on Thursday is ... lacking. While that may be true, the reality is that it's no worse than it is on Monday. Or Sunday.
It only seems there is more bad football because we're exposed to more bad football. There are 50% more standalone window games than there were a decade ago. Thursday Night Football has added 17 primetime games to the schedule every season. Plus there's a Monday Night Football double-header once a year. And a few international games that get their own window. And an extra week.
If any of these games suck, everyone sees them. A decade ago these bad games would have been buried on an NFL Sunday, only seen by local markets and condensed down to a 12-second highlight narrated by Chris Berman a few hours later. The truth is people have been complaining about the quality of the NFL product deteriorating for decades. Something we investigated six years ago.
Yet it still seems like a surprise to most people. Including Al Michaels, who had to call the Thursday games for Amazon this year. Michaels sounded as unimpressed as the fans at times this year and discussed that with Richard Deitsch in The Athletic this week.
I think I’m to the point in my life and career, having watched sports since I was 6 years old, I feel what the crowd feels. The Denver-Indianapolis game (in) Week 4 was a dreadful game. No other way to describe it. No touchdowns. In fact, at one point during the game, I said to (analyst) Kirk (Herbstreit), “Is it possible this game could be so bad that it’s actually good?” He’d never heard that from a partner and went, “No!”
Michaels went on to compare himself to a used car salesman.
I think they understood what this was. We’re making the most of it. I mean, you just can’t oversell something. Do you want me to sell you a 20-year-old Mazda? That’s what you’re asking me to do. I can’t sell you a used car. … I’ve kind of gone down that road a little bit in games that have been bad in the past. But this game was horrifically bad. What were you supposed to do at that point? And away I went.
Troy Aikman also appeared to take a shot at the early weekend NFL product in an interview with Jimmy Traina this week in Sports Illustrated.
"There were games that we watched, and I won’t say what network most of them were on, and I had to ask myself, ‘Is this professional football?’ There was some bad bad football being played, and that’s not good.”
Traina infers that Aikman was talking about Prime's Thursday Night Football, but he might as well be talking about Monday Night Football. Looking back at the results of every Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football game of the season, TNF actually saw nine games that ended with the teams separated by eight or fewer points - which means you can call them a one-posession game - as opposed to just six on MNF. (Sunday Night Football had a dozen one-score games.)
Meanwhile, teams averaged 21.9 points per game this season. Both Thursday and Monday nights saw just six games where teams combined for 44 or more points. (SNF had only five) Twenty teams failed to score more than 21 points on MNF while 18 fell short of the league average on TNF. (24 teams failed to reach the average on Sunday nights)
Bad football games can happen any day at any time. Does Aikman have fond memories of Washington beating Dallas, 35-16, in the Monday Night Football opener in 1993? Or the next week when the Bills beat the Cowboys, 13-10. Neither of those sound like a great product. Nor were the two Super Bowls decided by a total of 52 points between the Bills and Cowboys.
Not that it ultimately matters. The NFL still makes up 99% of the most watched programs of the year every year no matter how good or bad the games are. Prime isn't looking to offload TNF because ratings were down and the matchups weren't great. If anything, the schedule makers should stop trying so hard. Any random game can be good or bad. You're just more likely to remember based on when it was played. Or whether or not you broadcast it.