By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We’ve just about seen it all, folks. Football on a Wednesday afternoon? Sure. Football on a Tuesday night? Fine. Doubleheader action on a Monday? Let’s roll.READ MORE: Framingham Man Seriously Injured In New Hampshire Rollover UTV Crash
Yes, the NFL season during COVID-19 is a wild ride, and this past week was no exception. The doubleheader on Monday rolled right into a special edition of Thursday Night Football-turned-Tuesday Night Football. Dez Bryant was pulled off the field during warmups — after exchanging hugs and greetings with several players — just for some added 2020 flavor.
The mayhem is actually scheduled to increase, too. In Week 15, the NFL has two Saturday games scheduled, so get ready to say, “Sorry, family, I’d love to hang out with you, but we’ve got some late-afternoon Bills-Broncos action here. My hands are tied.”
In Week 16, things get flat-out buck wild with a Friday afternoon game between the Vikings and Saints on Christmas Day. Make sure your Christmas dinners are scheduled no later than 3:30 p.m. ET. A single snap simply cannot be missed. Not on Christmas.
And those are only the scheduled weird games. Given the way COVID-19 has wrecked the NFL schedule, don’t be surprised to see some other strange start times. (Is it asking too much for a morning game? The 10 a.m. London games are sorely, sorely missed. And that’s the only way you could get most people to watch a Jaguars game right now.)
It’s certainly been strange, and it’s also been … kind of kickass. Football on a Tuesday? What a joy.
So now that we’ve seen it all — with still more to come — it’s the right time to look at all of the non-traditional start times and lay out an official POWER RANKING of which ones are best.
After much debate, I am including Thursday Night Football as a “traditional” start time. That’s sure to create endless controversy, but that’s an unavoidable fate for a topic as divisive as Thursday Night Football. It’s been around long enough that it’s become a part of the weekly routine. Ergo, it’s not included here.
I’ll also be tapping deep into my inner Miss Cleo to try to forecast how the Christmas Friday and Saturday games will feel. We’ve had games on Christmas (Steelers-Ravens 2016 says HULLO!), and we’ve had plenty of late-season Saturday games, so it shouldn’t be too hard.
THE WORST: Wednesday Afternoon Football
Theoretically, a football game dropped smack dab in the middle of an otherwise dreary week seems like a godsend. In practice, the result was a sloppy, ugly, disorienting football game that just didn’t feel right.
Perhaps that feeling is overly impacted by the brutal game we all had to watch between the Lamar Jackson-less and starting running back-less Ravens and the Steelers. Perhaps watching Ben Roethlisberger throw 915 passes that traveled 3 yards each was so unenjoyable that it spoiled the whole thing. Perhaps the impact of the Big Christmas Tree Lighting Lobby and the imposing weight of the Goo Goo Dolls soured the whole experience.
Or perhaps football on a Wednesday afternoon just isn’t right.
NOT GREAT: Friday Afternoon Football
It’s kind of impossible to place proper judgment on this year’s Friday game, because it’s on Christmas.
Christmas football? Oh hell yeah.
Friday afternoon football? No thank you.
Of all the afternoons that need the boost of free football, Friday isn’t one of them. Friday afternoons are already great; we need not waste the gift of a football game during such a glorious time of the week.
This obviously gets a pass this year, on account of my own personal plans to be overstuffed with food and drink and thus in perfect position to nod off several times during a Saints-Vikings game that means absolutely nothing to me personally. But let’s make sure that we make our stance known that football is not needed on Fridays. Thank you for your time and consideration.
KIND OF SWEET: Tuesday Night Football
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A Tuesday night game helps smooth over some sadness if a Monday night game is a stinker. That Monday night game is supposed to be the cherry on top of the NFL sundae. If it’s a blowout, or if Tyler Palko is starting at QB, it’s nice to know that a little buffer room exists in the form of a bonus Tuesday game.
Realistically, it doesn’t make any sense to schedule games on Tuesdays, unless they precede both teams’ bye weeks. But also … the NFL makes teams do Sunday-Thursday turnarounds. A Tuesday-Sunday turnaround gives an extra day of recovery/preparation time.
Making teams play both a Thursday and a Tuesday game in a season is probably rude and inconsiderate and not the best thing to do in terms of player safety. But the league cares much, much more about adding a potential TV window (and the revenue that accompanies it) than it cares about players and their bodies. Don’t think for even one second that the quick reshuffling of so many of these games (either without fans or without many fans) has been considered anything but a pilot program as they plan ahead for their next mega-billion-dollar TV deal with networks.
Got off track a little bit there. Point is. Football on Tuesday night isn’t so bad.
DELIGHTFUL: Saturday Football
Oh, it’s wonderful. The best. Just a DE-LIGHT! NFL action on a Saturday. What could be better?
Admittedly, this love may be colored by the fact that I’m not a big-time college football guy. Millions of Americans love their college football and want to hold and caress their college football Saturdays all night long. I understand that.
But for me, if given the choice to watch a bunch of mostly meaningless college games or two action-packed games between two bad NFL teams? Baby, I’m taking option B every time.
They’re nice to have, but they also serve as a sort of deadline for your Saturday productivity. If you don’t have a finish line, it can be difficult to accomplish all of your weekend tasks. But when you know that you absolutely have to be planted on the couch by 4:45 p.m. at the absolute latest … it really does make you a task master. Those gutters end up being clean as a whistle before the sun goes down.
Really, though, the best part of the Saturday games is that late-December, Christmas-in-the-air, playoffs-are-coming vibe that can’t be replicated or faked. A Saturday night game with playoff implications (like last year’s Bills-Patriots classic) while you’re covered up in a blanket, eating some stew in the glow of some holiday lights? That’s the good stuff right there.
BEST OF THE BEST: Monday Afternoon Football
To football addicts, Mondays are tough. After wall-to-wall action, a bananaland witching hour, and a pleasant Sunday Night Football game to cap it off, waking up without football is difficult. And waiting for that 8:15 p.m. kickoff on Monday Night Football can be excruciating. Be honest: You’ve definitely turned on ESPN around 6:15 p.m. and stared blankly at the screen as a quarterback in shorts goes through a stretching routine while wearing Beats headphones, with Suzy Kolber and Steve Young yakking about something or another. You know that it won’t make the game come any quicker, but some subconscious impulse forces you to keep staring, as if you can effect an earlier kickoff.
That’s where the Monday afternoon warm-up game has proven to be so clutch. So tremendous. Such a life saver.
We had one this week, and the game rocked. The Football Team (LOL!) knocked off the undefeated Steelers. We also had a good one in mid-October, when the Bills hosted the Chiefs at 5 p.m. on a Monday. Same thing with the Pats-Chiefs in Week 4, though that one was a touch later, at 7 p.m.
No matter the kickoff time, the existence of those games was such a blessing. Sitting around at 2 p.m., knowing kickoff was mere hours away, put a smile on this stupid face.
For that reason, we’re giving the crown to the early Monday game. May you stick around forever, you beautiful son of a B.
With that … it’s time for Week 14 picks.
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
For the third straight week, I’ll be mostly keeping my mouth shut on my picks. My downward spiral from Weeks 8-11 was so dramatic that even though I’ve stabilized, I’m still not saying a peep. I’ve lost that right and need to earn it back.
New England (+5.5) over L.A. Rams
Houston (-1.5) over CHICAGO
MIAMI (+7) over Kansas City
Arizona (-2.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS
TAMPA BAY (-6.5) over Minnesota
Tennessee (-7) over JACKSONVILLE
LAS VEGAS (+2.5) over Indianapolis
Dallas (-3.5) over CINCINNATI
CAROLINA (-3.5) over Denver
SEATTLE (-13) over New York Jets
Green Bay (-7.5) over DETROIT
New Orleans (-7) over PHILADELPHIA
Atlanta (-2.5) over L.A. CHARGERS
SAN FRANCISCO (-3) over Washington
BUFFALO (-2.5) over Pittsburgh
CLEVELAND (+1) over Baltimore
Last week: 7-8