The first year of full-season Thursday Night Football has seen mixed results thus far. The insatiable football-watching public is surely elated to see work-week football in the fall, but the games have been mired in accusations of Roger Goodell's hypocrisy.
But hope remains on the horizon. The remaining five games on the Thursday night schedule aren't exactly Super Bowl previews, but there's enough intrigue to keep us entertained. Let's take a look at what's left, in order of must-watchability:
1. Week 13: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
We'll get a preview of this game on Sunday, as the Falcons travel to the Superdome, and depending on how it turns out, this game could have massive playoff implications.
Coming on relatively strong after an 0-4 start, the Saints have improved to 3-5 with wins over San Diego, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. The defense has remained dangerously porous, but with the season on the line, it wouldn't be unheard of to see them dethrone the undefeated Falcons in New Orleans this week.
Presuming they then proceed to split games against Oakland and San Francisco, this Thursday night rematch could see the 5-6 Saints playing a must-win game against their division rivals.
2. Week 11: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Despite last week's close loss at Indianapolis, the Dolphins still find themselves in the thick of the AFC's underwhelming playoff race.
Buffalo plays much better at home, and the Bills are sure to relish their one and only primetime game of the season, but this a matchup playoff teams need to win.
Presuming the Bills lose this week at New England (pretty much a given), they would drop to a paltry 3-6 on the season. But they would also be entering a very winnable five-game stretch that could turn their season around. They play home vs. Miami, then at Indianapolis, before staying home against Jacksonville, Seattle and St. Louis.
If they go 4-1 in those five, they would improve to 7-7 on the season, with only a rematch at Miami and a home game with the Jets remaining. 9-7 might be enough to make the playoffs in a historically weak AFC this season, so the Bills could come out with do-or-die fire in this one.
3. Week 10: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
This game may feature the 1-7 Jaguars, but it's also an important primetime litmus test for Andrew Luck and the Colts.
You see, tonight's contest in Jacksonville has trap game written all over it. Coming off an unprecedented high (defeating Miami in a pivotal wild-card showdown), and looking ahead to next week's contest with New England, the Colts could easily overlook––and subsequently be upset by––the anemic Jacksonville Jaguars.
Heck, it's already happened this year––and that was in Indianapolis.
Maurice Jones-Drew has dominated the Colts historically, so the Indy defense will have to show up if they expect to win this one. If they're serious about making a playoff run this winter, they should be able to win this one handily.
4. Week 14: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Seeing Peyton Manning in primetime is usually a cant-miss show. But seeing Peyton Manning carving up a JV defense in primetime has the chance to be historic.
With Denver rolling and the rest of the division sputtering, it's doubtful this game will have major implications on the NFL playoffs. But the same can't be said for fantasy....
Week 14 marks the start of the fantasy playoffs, which means watching Manning, Hillman, Decker and Thomas shred the Oakland defense will draw a pretty huge market share. Carson Palmer racking up garbage-time numbers might be a sneaky play, too
5. Week 15: Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles
After starting the season 3-1, each of these teams has proceeded to crash and burn their way to four consecutive losses.
The talent is there, in both cases, but for some reason the effort has been soft and the execution has been ugly to watch.
They both play in historically dominant divisions that are in the midst of uncharacteristically down years, however, which means they both have an outside shot of making a late run.
Whether this game has any significance by Week 15 remains to be seen, but stranger things have definitely happened.
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