NO DAYS OFF

How NFL is closer to pivoting as league's reach keeps growing

Texans CJ Stroud
Can't get enough football? Composite Getty Image.

The NFL hasn't scheduled a game for every day of the week.

Yet.

“We’re going to be the new 7-Eleven," New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "NFL, 24 hours, you can watch them play any given day.”

The veteran preparing for his 14th season has a way of lacing his critiques with playful satire that hits his intended target. With the NFL close to filling every day of the week with a game in the 2024 season, the league with a reputation of “any given Sunday” might just qualify for that new nickname.

It's all part of the NFL's plan to keep growing the game and the league.

“Our job is to be everywhere our fans are,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when asked about the league's new three-year Netflix deal that this year adds Wednesday games. “They have almost 300 million global subscribers. We are obviously focused on becoming more global. So it's a huge benefit to us.”

That deal is why the league that has scheduled and played games on Christmas for years will be playing not one, but two games on Christmas when defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City visits Pittsburgh as part of a holiday doubleheader capped by Baltimore at Houston.

The difference is this will be only the third time the NFL has played on a Wednesday since 1950.

The four teams involved all play on Saturday, giving coaches and players the kind of turnaround faced when a Sunday game is followed by a Thursday night kickoff. Tuesday is the only day the Chiefs won't play a game this season — technically the lone day off for NFL players with Sunday games.

Washington coach Dan Quinn said the key to preparing is sticking to a routine and shifting days. That involves trying to fool the body clock.

“This would be like a Wednesday, this would be like a Friday, this is what we do before the game, so it’s not as difficult as it seems," Quinn said. "You have some travel that you have to work in, shorter weeks, longer weeks, but staying true to a process.”

The Baltimore Ravens will only miss playing a game on a Tuesday and Friday in a schedule that includes a pair of Thursday games. Christmas will cap a stretch of three games in 11 days for Baltimore.

Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton said it's not so much a concern as more of a “shock factor,” but players will adapt and prepare for what may be the start of a new stage for the NFL. He said players likely had the same conversations when the NFL introduced games on Monday nights, then Thursday nights.

“I’m sure 10 years from now, that might be the norm,” Hamilton said of an NFL schedule featuring games throughout a week.

Arizona offensive lineman Will Hernandez said getting the body to bounce back quickly is tough.

"I just go back to this: We all signed for it. We know what it is. Let’s just go,” Hernandez said.

Monday nights used to be for a premier game for the NFL. A new contract added games on Sunday night.

Then the NFL started opening seasons on Thursday nights in 2006. In 2020, the NFL played its first Tuesday night game since 2010 because of the pandemic. Before that, the NFL hadn't played on a Tuesday since 1946.

The schedule released last week opens as usual on a Thursday night with Baltimore visiting Kansas City.

Then Philadelphia plays Green Bay in Brazil on Friday night — previously seen as a sacrosanct night for high school football.

Aaron Rodgers and the New York Jets kick off the traditional Monday night slate on Sept. 9 at San Francisco.

Thanksgiving long has been a day for the NFL with games in Detroit and Dallas now expanded into Thursday nights with a triple-header. This will be the second straight season the league will compete with stores for attention on Black Friday, with Las Vegas visiting Kansas City for anyone not shopping.

Add in the international games, NFL players' body clocks and circadian rhythms easily could be thrown off.

Jordan said the league preaches about using Guardian caps for player safety. “But nobody cares about our protocol of how to get our bodies back from a Sunday game to now a Wednesday game?” Jordan said. “Not saying that sounds absurd."

Player safety didn't stop the NFL from expanding the schedule from a 16-game season to 17 games in 2021 by cutting a preseason game in the league's first expansion since 1978. Now expanding to 18 games at some point in the future is a topic for discussion as Goodell says people "want obviously more football.”

Then the schedule-maker has to find a day to slot those games, giving the NFL another chance to fill out the rest of a week where every day looks like just another work day for players.

“If anything, we were going to practice, so why not play?” Jordan said. "And now we can wear our Guardian caps in the game!”

___

AP Pro Football Writers Dennis Waszak and Josh Dubow and AP Sports Writers Brett Martel, Noah Trister, David Brandt, Stephen Whyno, Dave Skretta, Joe Reedy and Mark Anderson contributed to this report.

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Nick Caserio reveals his impressions from minicamp. Composite Getty Image.

Now that Houston Texans minicamps are in the rearview, we play the waiting game until training camp begins. In the meantime, we have some nuggets to chew on, as Texans GM Nick Caserio discussed some of his takeaways from minicamp and the offseason in general on the team's flagship station.

1. This could be the year Texans guard Kenyon Green lives up to being drafted in the first round. According to Caserio, Green is healthy, has a great attitude, “and has put himself in a good position to compete for a spot.” It would be a huge boost to the offensive line if Green can develop into a quality player. They could really use his help in the running game, an area the team struggled with last season. Of course pass protection will be critical as well, he must protect the franchise (Stroud) at all costs. Reports from camp have commented on his high level of fitness heading into this season. Let's hope it translates.

2. Nico Collins is now a very wealthy man, can he live up to his new contract? Caserio praised Collins' route running ability, ball tracking, and hands. But he said Nico's physicality after the catch is what really elevated his game last season. At 6'4, 215 pounds, Collins should continue to rack up yards after the catch against smaller defenders.

3. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair is already showing his leadership abilities. Caserio revisited the story of Al-Shaair telling Texans Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson to move on to the next play after jumping offsides at practice. If Anderson is already responding to Al-Shaair's leadership, that tells us everything we need to know. “You can't say enough good things about Azeez,” said Caserio.

4. Kamari Lassister might be the answer at corner opposite Derek Stingley Jr. Lassiter received positive reviews at camp from head coach DeMeco Ryans. And ESPN's Texans reporter DJ Bien-Aime was also impressed with the rookie. Caserio confirmed some of those assertions saying, “Kamari is about what we thought we were going to get.” It appears he's living up to the team's expectations when they drafted him. He's also shown the ability to lineup at nickel and outside. So his position flexibility could be key as the season progresses.

5. The Texans' interest in tight end Cade Stover goes back a couple of years. Caserio was intrigued by Stover when he was scouting CJ Stroud before the 2023 NFL Draft. Before this year's draft, Nick heard some positive things about the Ohio State TE from Stroud and Texans linebacker coach Billy Davis, that confirmed some of his thoughts. Caserio said Stover was among a handful of players that the team targeted on Day 3 of the draft. Nick also acknowledged, with Stover being new to the tight end position, he has some work to do when it comes to run blocking. But they're clearly very high on the player.

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