As the 2023 NFL schedule release continues throughout Thursday, several Detroit Lions fans have been confused by some of the revealed games so far. Of the Lions’ five games first revealed today, three are on a Thursday: the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, a Week 4 night game in Green Bay vs. the Packers, and Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving Day game against the Packers.
What gives? Aren’t teams only allowed to play one Thursday night game?
Well, at this year’s owners meetings in March, the NFL changed that rule. Because “Thursday Night Football” had featured some really bad games in the past, the NFL wanted more competitive games under the lights and permitted teams to now be featured in at least two Thursday night games per season. Previously, everyone had a Thursday game in an effort to promote fairness among all 32 teams. Now, the NFL just wants good matchups.
The Thursday Night Football flex scheduling proposal was tabled until May, per NFL EVP/Chief Media and Business Officer Brian Rolapp.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 28, 2023
However, owners did approve a change that will allow a team to play two TNF games in a season.
For years, the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day game has allowed the team to avoid any Thursday night matchups at any other point in the season. The particularity of the rule is that a team could only play on Thursday following a Sunday game once per season, but that limit has now been raised to two games.
Detroit was featured on “Thursday Night Football” once before in 2015—giving them two Thursday games that year—but that was only because Detroit played back-to-back Thursday games, technically avoiding two Sunday-to-Thursday turnarounds.
Because the Lions’ first game of the 2023 schedule is on Thursday, it does not count against the Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround (no previous Sunday game). That means the Lions are still eligible to have two short weeks left on the schedule, and that appears to be what has happened.
In fact, if the Lions have a bye week before either of the two other reported Thursday games, they could theoretically have a fourth Thursday game. However, I would hope the NFL avoids doing that to the Lions.
And while having three Thursday games seems like a disadvantage for the Lions, it’s worth noting that a Week 1 Thursday night game is really more of an advantage. You’re not playing off a short week like a normal Thursday night game, and you get extra time to prepare for Week 2. And if you think the Lions are getting particularly screwed, it’s important to remember that the other two Thursday games are against the Packers, so they’re getting an equitable treatment.