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The Existential Horror of Thursday Night Football

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Amazon and the N.F.L. tried to boost this 12 months’s Thursday night lineup by spotlighting “story line” quarterbacks: Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan leading their latest teams in Week 5, the multitalented teenager Justin Fields versus the downright Shakespearean Carson Wentz in Week 6, and so forth. That programming tactic backfired, nevertheless, as none of those quarterbacks have lived as much as their billing.

The league’s Friday news cycle has due to this fact change into a weekly referendum on unfulfilled expectations, which might not occur if Wilson and the others were merely disappointing local fans during regional Sunday telecasts.

Ultimately, spotlighting one extraordinary matchup from the weekly N.F.L. schedule is like isolating a sickly wildebeest from the herd: Skeptical fans approach the sport poised to attack, and spend the day after picking over its carcass. One football game, presented in isolation and without Brady or Patrick Mahomes within the opening credits, just isn’t as interesting because the league wants it to be.

Yet regardless of how unentertaining the games, fans still tune in: “Thursday Night Football” averaged 11.26 million viewers per game through Week 5. For contrast, the top-rated Thursday network program “Young Sheldon” drew 6.9 million viewers on Oct. 13, while Game 1 of an American League division series between the Yankees and Cleveland Guardians on Oct. 11, a Tuesday, drew 5.35 million viewers. A society that will relatively watch Wentz than Aaron Judge by a 2-to-1 margin finally ends up getting precisely what it deserves.

In a single sense, “Thursday Night Football” serves because the N.F.L.’s version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” — a probability to satirically rejoice the absurd while throwing toast on the league’s bombastic image. In one other sense, nevertheless, the horror is more real and existential.

Hundreds of thousands of fans have conditioned ourselves to gorge upon dissatisfying sports entertainment, grouse bitterly in regards to the experience, then voluntarily pry our eyeballs open with toothpicks the following week for more. Perhaps if the games finally reach a tipping point of putrescence, we’ll break the soul-crushing cycle and escape the waking nightmare of inveterate N.F.L. obsession.

Programming note: The Saints backup quarterback, Andy Dalton, was also listed on the early-week injury report, meaning that a third-string gadget specialist, Taysom Hill, may get the beginning. That sounds relatively fun. So let’s do the Time Warp again.

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