There will be a prime-time NFL game each Thursday night from now until the week before Christmas. We’re sure that we’re not alone in hoping the next 10 Thursdays will feature more competitive football than what we’ve been subjected to over the past six weeks. The average margin of victory in the first six Thursday games of the year is a whopping 25 points per contest, which is — unbelievably — down from 29 thanks to the Colts-Texans’ comparatively close 33-28 affair last week. That sentence sums up 2014 Thursday Night Football to date in a nutshell, where the contest that Indianapolis led 24-0 after one quarter is the only ‘close’ Thursday game of the season so far.
That said, we’re still holding out hope that things improve on Thursday nights going forward, because we really don’t want to give up on watching NFL football to tune in to Grey’s Anatomy, Bones, or The Biggest Loser. In that vein, we have ranked the remaining 10 Thursday night games from worst matchup to best (or, more accurately, from least watchable to most watchable). These 10 games may not all come down to a single possession, but is it too much to at least dream that most of them do?
10. Titans at Jaguars, December 18
There’s not much we can say to make this game sound more palatable, so we won’t waste a lot of time trying. The good news is these teams have combined for two wins in 12 tries on the season now (up from one going into last week). The bad news is that one of those two wins — Tennessee’s 16-14 triumph Sunday — came against the Jaguars. The only real reason to watch this game, the final one of the Thursday night schedule, will be if the Jaguars are chasing that elusive ‘perfect’ winless season.
9. Chiefs at Raiders, November 20
See above: There’s nothing pleasant about watching a winless team play out the string late in the season. The only question remaining about Chiefs-Raiders the week before Thanksgiving is whether Oakland will have figured out a way to find a victory before then. (With every opponent on the schedule between now and then boasting a winning record — Arizona, at Cleveland, at Seattle, at Denver, at San Diego — we’re not holding our breath.) Kansas City has disappointed this year (2-3 so far after finishing last season 11-5), but they shouldn’t struggle with the hapless Raiders.
8. Cardinals at Rams, December 11
On the bright side, almost every game on the 2014 Thursday Night Football schedule features an intradivisional matchup, which are usually among our favorite games to watch in a given week. On the not-so-bright side, well, we’ve all seen how that’s worked out so far. That brings us to this December NFC West clash between Arizona and St. Louis. The Cardinals have been good in 2014, with a 4-1 record to date. The Rams, not so much (1-4). Can St. Louis be competitive at home?
7. Jets at Patriots, October 16
If there was ever a mismatch on paper of two franchises going in opposite directions, it would be this game between the free-falling Jets (losers of five in a row) and the first-place Patriots in Foxboro. However, the Darrelle Revis factor makes Jets-Pats at least a tad more watchable, as the star New England corner (pictured) takes on the team that drafted him in the first round back in 2007. With Geno Smith (and/or Michael Vick?) slinging inaccurate passes, Revis could very well catch as many passes from a New York quarterback Thursday as any Jets player does.
6. Bills at Dolphins, November 13
AFC East foes Buffalo and Miami have combined for exactly one winning season since 2005. At 3-3 and 2-3, respectively, after the season’s first six weeks, the Bills and Dolphins have shown themselves to be, if not Super Bowl contenders, at least on the possible road to respectability. That makes this mid-November game in Miami a slightly more compelling matchup between the two teams than previous iterations of the rivalry. Compared to Jets-Patriots, we’d easily pick this battle as the more likely AFC East Thursday game to come down to the fourth quarter (with the way Thursdays have gone this year, we admit it, our standards are rather low here).
5. Saints at Panthers, October 30
The only real reason to rank Saints-Panthers ahead of Bills-Dolphins, when it came right down to it, is that we could see a scenario where a team from this game makes it all the way to the Super Bowl. (OK, that may not be likely, but it’s at least more possible than the Bills or Dolphins making a run.) Carolina actually sits in first place in the NFC South at 3-2-1, and the Saints, despite being under .500, are just behind them at 2-3. That makes this game important to both squads, and viewers will also be treated to a showdown between popular quarterbacks Drew Brees and Cam Newton.
4. Browns at Bengals, November 6
Before the season started, this game only looked interesting if it was going to feature Johnny Manziel on national television. Now, shock of shocks, the Browns are playing well, and it’s a different quarterback, Brian Hoyer (pictured), that’s making plays under center. Cleveland has improved its record to 3-2 after blowing out the Steelers Sunday, and a win in Cincinnati in early November could help the Browns take a small step toward — dare we say it? — the playoffs.
3. Cowboys at Bears, December 4
Two of the more popular franchises in the NFL face off in the first week of December, and NFC playoff implications will undoubtedly be weighing large on at least one team, if not both. The Cowboys have won five games in a row after stunning the Seahawks in Seattle, and sit in a first-place tie with the Eagles in the NFC East. The Bears have played .500 ball through the season’s first six weeks, and are anything but an afterthought in a crowded North division, only a single game behind Detroit and Green Bay.
2. Seahawks at 49ers, November 27
The Thanksgiving night duel between Seattle and San Francisco looked like one of the best games of the NFL season when the schedule came out this spring, and if any game on this list is going to make sure the entire Thursday night slate isn’t a dud, it will probably be this one. While it’s surprisingly Arizona in first place in this division, not the Seahawks or Niners, these two teams are still among the conference’s — and the league’s — elite, and once we’re all done eating turkey and pie, we’ll definitely be tuning in to see their first of two meetings in an 18-day span.
1. Chargers at Broncos, October 23
The Thursday night game we’re looking forward to more than any other is coming up soon, as Philip Rivers leads the Chargers into the Mile High City to take on Peyton Manning’s Broncos in Week 8. Each team has only been beaten once to this point in 2014, and the winner could very well claim the role of AFC favorite as we look ahead to the second half of the regular season. It’s Rivers, not Manning, that’s among the league’s passing leaders in yards and touchdowns, and the two veteran signal-callers should combine to put up plenty of points in prime time.