Thursday Night Football schedule finally worth watching?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Now that CBS is broadcasting over half of the scheduled Thursday night games, the league is reportedly making a concerted effort to upgrade the quality of the matchups.

Week 14 of the 2013 NFL season featured a number of exciting matchups with heavy playoff implications, including Seahawks vs. 49ers, Panthers vs. Saints and Cowboys vs. Bears. In a week so full of late-season intrigue, you would expect the Thursday night game to be a quality show. Instead, America was subjected to the 2-10 Texans against the 3-9 Jaguars.

Saddled by an NFL Network broadcast unreachable to a large majority of Americans and notoriously bad matchups unwatchable to the rest, Thursday Night Football has historically been an afterthought of the pro football week.

Offseason programs

Thanks to a new home on CBS, that could be changing next season.

With CBS scheduled to broadcast eight Thursday night games this fall, media executives tell the Sports Business Journal they expect the league to make a push for better Thursday night matchups while constructing the 2014 NFL schedule. Experts expect the new schedule to more closely resemble the highly-rated Sunday Night Football lineup, and some even predict it could be significantly stronger than Monday Night Football.

CBS will broadcast the first eight Thursday night games of the season, with NFL Network handling the remaining six. Sources told the Sports Business Journal they expect a significant difference in quality between the CBS matchups and those of NFL Network.

How bad were the Thursday night games last season? Well, really bad. Here's a look at the 13 games from 2013, excluding the three played on Thanksgiving.

Week Away team Home team Combined record
2 Jets (1-0) Patriots (1-0) 2-0
3 Chiefs (2-0) Eagles (1-1) 3-1
4 49ers (1-2) Rams (1-2) 2-4
5 Bills (2-2) Browns (2-2) 4-4
6 Giants (0-5) Bears (3-2) 3-7
7 Seahawks (5-1) Cardinals (3-3) 8-4
8 Panthers (3-3) Buccaneers (0-6) 3-9
9 Bengals (6-2) Dolphins (3-4) 9-6
10 Redskins (3-5) Vikings (1-7) 4-12
11 Colts (6-3) Titans (4-5) 10-8
12 Saints (8-2) Falcons (2-8) 10-10
14 Texans (2-10) Jaguars (3-9) 5-19
15 Chargers (6-7) Broncos (11-2) 17-9

Of the 13 games, only six of them featured opponents with a combined record above .500 at the time of the game. Only two them featured matchups between eventual playoff teams. Those 13 NFL Network games averaged 7.1 million viewers, significantly lower than any of the other major networks.

In fairness to the league, some of that was just bad luck. The Week 10 game between the Redskins and Vikings contained two teams that made the playoffs a season before. Nobody foresaw Atlanta's implosion, and most would have expected their Week 12 matchup against the Saints to be a battle for the NFC South.

The schedulers did nail the last Thursday night game of the season, a thrilling Week 15 upset by the Chargers over the Broncos that helped launch the Bolts into the playoffs.

Nevertheless, the overall quality of the games was poor, so it's encouraging to see the league putting an emphasis on making them more interesting.

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