For The Love of Sport: Thursday Night Football : It will be nice to sit back and just enjoy the Broncos and the Texans without worrying about a chase for perfection, BCS implications and all of the hype that surrounds so many football games.
In a relatively light week on the sports calendar I am drawn to the Thursday night match-up on the NFL network featuring the Denver Broncos (5-7) at the Houston Texans (5-7). Honestly, I am a lifelong Patriots fan and even I get a little tired of all of the hype leading up to Patís games every week. It will be nice to sit back and just enjoy a football game without worrying about a chase for perfection, BCS implications and all of the hype that surrounds so many football games. This is simply a game between two teams clinging to very thin playoff hopes (so thin that the teams could be virtually eliminated by kickoff). I should say that it will be a nice game to watch if you happen to get the NFL Network which is available in less than 40% of U.S. homes. I am fortunate that my cable provider even offers a package that includes the network. Whatís weird is that as a kid if something was available in 80% of the country it was always safe to assume that in rural New Hampshire we would inevitably end up in that small slice of the country without access. For anyone who has missed this entire feud the NFL Network with the full power of the league behind them wants to be available in every home on the cheapest tier of cable possible. If your channel is available in twice as many homes you can charge a lot more for advertising (think ESPN today). The NFL Network accuses the cable providers of holding their subscribers hostage. Many cable providers, most notably Comcast, have either elected not to carry the network or to carry it on more expensive premium and digital packages in order to recoup their costs. They contend that there is nowhere near the demand to include the network in a basic or extended basic package. What really gets the cable providers riled up is that you have a sports network that carries eight live games over six weeks that is trying to demand to be on par with ESPN or a CNN (think ESPN in 1983 when they were subsisting on USFL games). My amateur opinion is that it is in the best interest of both parties to get the network into as many homes as possible and it is in the best interest of the NFL Network to expand their live coverage. NFL Network could easily uses their clout to pick up some Arena Football games (March through June) or CFL games (June through November). Additionally it would make sense for them to expand the Thursday night football to the full 17 weeks of the season a la Monday Night Football. Exclusive live coverage is their only real bargaining chip and as long as that is limited to 8 games in six weeks the cable providers really do have a good point. As far as the game is concerned the Broncos come into the game 9th in rushing offense, 13th in passing and 8th overall at about 349 yards per game. For a team that is led by a quarterback in his first full season as a starter the Broncoís offense looks pretty good. What doesnít look good is the Broncoís defense, allowing 27.4 points per game (31st in the NFL). They are a very solid 9th in passing yards allowed however they get lit up against the run where they rank 31st resulting in their 27th place ranking in total yards allowed. In the last two weeks Denver has allowed 37 and 34 points to offensive juggernauts Chicago and Oakland (both losses). Effectively you can thank the Broncoís disastrous defense for making Norv Turnerís train wreck of a team out in San Diego look like a playoff lock. What can you say about the Texans? Well on offense they are led by Matt Schaub at QB, (most famous for being traded) Ron Dayne at HB (most famous for what he did at Wisconsin in college) and Owen Daniels at WR (sorry I got nothing on this guy). In fairness the Texans are 9th in yards per game and 16th in points per game so they are moving the ball. Just call them the not-quite-ready-for-primetime Texans. On Defense the Texans rank 25th in points allowed per game and 21st in yards allowed per game. While the Texans do not excel at any particular aspect of the game they also are not really terrible either. They more or less are spending the season wallowing in mediocrity. In a sense, the Texans in just their sixth season in the NFL are still searching for their identity and even a marketable franchise player (sorry David Carr it just wasnít working out). At 5-7 they still have an outside chance to finish with the best record in franchise history (8-8 would top their 7-9 mark in 2004). However, with Tampa Bay, Denver, Indianapolis, Jacksonville left on the schedule the Magic Eight Ball says that signs point to no. While 6-10 looks a lot more likely at this point the Texans do seem to be moving in the right direction after a franchise worst 2-14 in 2005. Certainly not the greatest match-up in NFL history but for me it is worth the price of admission. Besides, it is Thursday night what else are you going to watch? As always I can be reached via email for questions, comments and column suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can be found on the web at http://kyrilmitch.googlepages.com/home.