The 2014 NFL schedule was released on Wednesday night and it features a slew of impressive Thursday night games. CBS and the NFL Network are partnering to bring those games in a unique fashion and, frankly, fans should be pumped for the quality of football they'll be getting.
“The Thursday lineup … it's really good” CBS Sports Jim Nantz said Wednesday night. “I can't imagine they could do better as far as giving out good games than they've done this year. I don't think anyone would ever question this is the strongest Thursday night lineup we've ever seen for the NFL.”
With this being the first-ever year for such a format, we decided to break down the 16 Thursday night games — not counting Thanksgiving but including the season opener — from best to worst.
Studly opener for the NFL in 2014. You've got the “Fail Mary” factor, you've got a frothing crowd in Seattle prepped for the Hawks defending their title and you've got the matchup of the best quarterback in football, Aaron Rodgers, against the best defense in football, Seattle. Seems like every year the Pack have a tough opening stretch.
Sneaky good matchup here. It's the heart of the schedule and I could see San Diego challenging in the AFC West at this point. They've got a tough set of opening games (Arizona, Seattle) but then have a long stretch before this Thursday affair in late October. Having Peyton Manning and the Denver aerial assault never hurts and even if the Bolts defense isn't playing well they'll step up against Denver like they did last year.
A classic. Even though both Pittsburgh nor Baltimore missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999 last year, it's easy to get excited thinking about this game. Football doesn't get much more physical and violent than when the Steelers and Ravens meet.
There are rivals who hate one another more than these two teams but the Panthers put Drew Brees and Co. in their place last year, pulling off a critical victory in the rain during Week 16. The Saints return to the scene of the crime in Week 9 with NFC South title ramifications potentially on the line.
The revamped Jets offense should make this a much more interesting game than the Thursday night affair last season (which was close, but ugly). Michael Vick, Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and any additions New York makes in the draft will definitely test Bill Belichick's defense.
The revamped Redskins — featuring DeSean Jackson and whatever second-round talent they can procure — meet a Giants team that really, really hoping Eli Manning can bounce back. They improved the offensive line and have the potential to put up some points against a depleted Washington secondary.
Everyone talks about Seahawks-49ers but the rest of the NFC West is better than you think. Carson Palmer had Arizona rolling late last year and the Larry Fitzgerald-Michael Floyd duo at wideout is difficult to defend. The Cards signed Jared Veldheer and will get Jonathan Cooper back, which is a good thing when you're going up against Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers.
A few months ago this would've been a nightmare matchup. But the Buccaneers are turning things around quickly under Jason Licht and Lovie Smith — if they're right about Josh McCown and can add another wide receiver (Sammy Watkins? Mike Evans?) in the draft to pair with Vincent Jackson, this could be a shootout. Julio Jones getting healthy and Matt Ryan staying upright should help the Falcons bounce back.
Better game this year than in years past. Also, I'm banking on the Browns taking Johnny Manziel and being a little frisky out of the gates after nailing their first two picks in the draft this year.
Can the Texans bounce back from the worst record in the NFL? I like to think so, mainly because Bill O'Brien knows how to make things work with less than a perfect quarterback situation. (See: Matt McGloin at Penn State.) If the Texans end up taking Jadeveon Clowney first overall, it's going to be awesome watching he and J.J. Watt chase after Andrew Luck. The Trent Richardson watch will firmly be on at this point.
11) Week 5 - Vikings at Packers
Some major meh factor here given what Green Bay did to Minnesota last year. But the Vikings could come away with a new face at quarterback and even if it's a redshirt guy like Blake Bortles, a weak start could put him in the lineup. Even if it's Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel, you still get Adrian Peterson. And watching AP run is always fun.
12) Week 14 - Cowboys at Bears
This is technically a good game on paper, I think, but I've got a terrible feeling about it. The Bears offense can roll and their defense should be improved this year (read: has to be improved by default). Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are always a draw, even if losing players like DeMarcus Ware ends up crippling the Cowboys defense. Couldn't you see one of these teams not being in the wild card hunt and a lopsided game? Just a hunch here.
Late in the season it's hard to imagine the Raiders being a major factor. Perhaps they're better than last year — although they at least put some fear into folks in 2013 — but even if they are can the Chiefs actually live up to last year's performance? Wouldn't be shocking if this game didn't mean a ton late in the season.
I like Ryan Tannehill. I can't quit C.J. Spiller. Mario Williams and Cameron Wake are two of the most dynamic pass rushers in the game. It's a rivalry matchup. But something about this game just doesn't do it for me. Just reeks of the difference between someone going 8-8 and someone going 7-9.
This game could totally change if the Jaguars pulled trigger on Johnny Manziel and/or stayed in the playoff hunt late in the season. It's just hard to fathom either of these teams having a huge impact on the AFC South in the next-to-last week of the year.