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Friday update: NFL expands Thursday night package



We interrupt ESPN’s and NFL Network’s 1047 hours of pre-Super Bowl saturation to recap the NFL season on television. (We’ll preview NBC’s Super Bowl coverage in a column Sunday.) Our NFL-TV postscripts from 2011:

### Best move: The NFL announcing Friday morning that it will expand the league's Thursday night package. Instead of televising games on the first and final seven Thursdays of the season, the NFL now will air games every Thursday through Week 15. NBC continues to get the Thursday opener and adds the Thanksgiving night game that previously aired on NFL Network.

NFL Network will get the Thursday night games between Weeks 2 and 15, excluding Thanksgiving night. The one annual mid-December Saturday night game on NFL Network has been eliminated.

Also, every team will get at least one prime time appearance next season. And every team will play one Thursday game following a Sunday game.

Several networks, including Turner, hoped to bid for an early season Thursday night package. But the league decided to keep those games, in-house, with NFL Network, whose total number of games per season increases from eight to 13.

The NFL also will debut a new Spanish-language red zone channel next season.

### Most wasteful use of air time: ESPN’s over-the-top obsession with Tim Tebow. The network dedicated a SportsCenter special to him, devoted chunks of every pre-game show to him, and even wrote a Christmas ode to him, narrated by a dozen analysts. (We’re not kidding.)

Yes, it was a huge story. But where’s the self-restraint? Where’s the self-awareness that enough is enough? We don’t need to hear the same analysts – Merril Hoge, Tom Jackson, Skip Bayless and others – opining on Tebow week after week, or in some cases, day after day.

### Most useless new feature: Fox and CBS posting player tweets on their pregame scrolls. Most were rah-rah messages with no newsworthy information. “It’s game day! Let’s go,” Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs tweeted. And this deserves to be on television because?

### Most amusing mispronunciation of a name: Fox’s Terry Bradshaw calling Kansas City running back Dexter McCluster “Duster McCluster.”

### Most egregious decision: Fox shamefully fabricating headlines about Jay Cutler, including “Cutler lacks courage” and “Cutler is no leader.” Said Daryl Johnston: “These are actual headlines” from Chicago newspapers. No, they weren’t. But don’t blame Johnston, who didn’t know that. Fox’s production people were behind the scam and apologized when it was exposed.

### Oops: Fox leaving the air just as Lions coach Jim Schwartz and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh were beginning their much-discussed postgame confrontation.

### Most regrettable remarks: 1. Jimmy Johnson, who overall does good work in Fox’s studio, announcing when the Giants were 6-5 that we could “stick a fork” in them: “They will be lucky to finish 8-8.” 2. Bill Cowher predicting Washington would make the playoffs. The Redskins finished 5-11. 3. CBS’ Shannon Sharpe, saying in Week 1, “How many coaches is Alex Smith going to get fired before [people] realize he can’t play quarterback?” Smith – with the help of a great defense and running game - then guided the 49ers to the NFC Championship game.

### Prescient pre-season musings: 1) CBS’ Boomer Esiason predicting that Houston and Detroit would make the playoffs. 2) Fox’s Terry Bradshaw being justifiably cautious about the Eagles: “You can’t put a bunch of stars together and [expect] to win a championship.”

### Most outstanding game analyst: NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, who does the best job of telling viewers something they don’t already know. Such as: He noted in the Cowboys-Giants finale that Dallas knew New York would snap the ball – and need not worry about jumping off-side prematurely – whenever Eli Manning yelled, “Omaha! Omaha! Hut!” Why? Because that meant the play clock was close to expiring.

### Most verbose: Fox’s Johnston, who repeatedly repeats himself every game. “You’ve got to get something positive going,” he said of the 49ers during one game. “Try to create something positive. You’ve got to keep getting positive yardage.” Johnston’s approach: Why use 20 words when I can use 40?

### The what-were-you-thinking award: To NBC’s Michele Tafoya, who too often asks that exact question on postgame interviews. Let’s see if she comes up with something different after the Super Bowl.

### Best studio show: Showtime’s Inside the NFL. Collinsworth and Phil Simms – with an assist from Warren Sapp and host James Brown – usually raise the level of discourse, but with a whimsical touch, lobbing playful shots at each other. The discussions often are meatier and more conversational than the Sunday shows, with little time wasted on tired clichés or predictable X and O breakdown.

And the game highlights are worth watching – days later - because of Showtime’s terrific on-field audio courtesy of NFL Films, such as Tennessee coach Mike Munchak – during a 41-7 home loss to Houston – pacing the sidelines saying, “They’re going to boo us out of here. I’d boo us, too.” Or then-Oakland coach Hue Jackson telling Wes Welker: “You caught 16 balls the last game. That’s two games worth. So you can chill today.” Or Tony Romo telling Jason Garrett “I will give you a kiss” if Garrett called a certain play.

### Free pass award: ESPN, with its kid-gloves treatment of Bill Parcells. Because he’s their colleague, ESPN’s commentators act as if Parcells had nothing to do with the Dolphins’ three consecutive losing seasons. Keyshawn Johnson said Miami started declining when Parcells left - blatantly untrue. Miami was 7-9 the year before he left, then 7-9 with the team he put together.

### Best hires: 1. Draft guru Mike Mayock generally aced his first season as NFL Network’s Thursday night analyst but needs to pull back on the football jargon, such as scolding the Bengals for “bad backside discipline.” (Hate when that happens.) 2. CBS' Marv Albert, who made a seamless return to NFL TV broadcasting, though at least once he referred to the Dolphins as the Heat.

### Self-deprecation award: To ESPN’s Trent Dilfer. “Being patient as a dynamic player is hard,” he said of DeSean Jackson. “Not that I would know!” He later said: “I’ve been the problem on some of [my] teams.”

### Most amusing weekly segment: “Stop it!” with Mike Ditka on ESPN. “So Josh Freeman looks to Albert Haynesworth as a mentor,” Ditka said. “And I look to Howdy Doody as a mentor!”

### Bloom off: Jon Gruden. After a promising start in ESPN’s Monday Night booth, Gruden’s work declined this season. He often guessed wrong on play calls, made some observations that replays contradicted and spewed some other puzzling remarks. He called a regular season loss to Kansas City “the worst day of Norv Turner’s life.” Even including only football developments in his life, San Diego’s loss in the 2007 AFC title game, or two divisional playoff losses the next two years, certainly carried more weight for Turner.

### Stand behind my words award: To CBS’ Shannon Sharpe, who interviewed Carson Palmer and Tebow after blasting them, and told them exactly what he said. “I said you quit on your team, you quit on Cincinnati,” Sharpe told Palmer, who then conceded he made a “selfish decision.”


Jason Jackson, the sideline reporter on Sunshine’s Heat coverage, will take over the 1-3 p.m. slot on 790 The Ticket next week. He replaces The Sports Brothers, who were dropped.