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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Get rid of Thursday Night Football, Martellus Bennett’s value, Patriots midseason paces

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What Patriots are on pace to set records?

Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

1. Oh, Thursday Night Football. Perhaps the deluge of injuries this week between the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals will be enough for the league to make the smart decision and cancel it. Thursday Night Football debuted in 2006 as a special production, but it didn’t become the bane of our existence until 2012 when the league decided to push out the product every single week.

The average Thursday Night Football game ends with a 12.5-point victory and 45.2 points combined by the two teams. That suggests an average final score of 28.9 to 16.4, not the most exciting of performances.

But that’s actually not too different from games on Sunday. The average Sunday game ends in a 28.5-17.0 score and the average Sunday Night Football game ends 31.8-18.5, a point differential of 13.3 that is wider than Thursday Night.

But while the “closeness” of games can’t be used to discredit Thursday Night Football, there are a lot of other quality reasons. Teams are more tired on Thursday because they haven’t been given the necessary time to recover from Sunday and the coaching staff isn’t given adequate time to game plan. And while injury rates might not differ too greatly on Thursday versus Sunday, why not give teams the opportunity to be at their best possible shape instead of rushing them out to perform a disappointing product?

2. And then there’s just the dump of teams that require a prime time showing that the league doesn’t want to play on Sunday or Monday night. Since 2012, the small market Tennessee Titans, then-San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills, then-St. Louis Rams, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers only played three games on Sunday or Monday Night. The Cleveland Browns played just one game. They’re clearly not the teams the NFL wants in prime time.

But that won’t stop them from throwing them in on Thursday Night. All of those teams have played five or six Thursday Night games (depending on if they’ve played their required game in 2017), right along every team on the list.

So that’s a big reason why Thursday is terrible. It’s a way for the league say that every team got their chance in prime time, but they’re limiting already-bad teams with a short week of game planning. Sounds like a losing combination.

Get rid of Thursday Night Football. Give the players rest so they can be at their peak performance.

3. Speaking of peak performance, what’re the odds that Martellus Bennett plays a big role for the Patriots over the second half of the season? He’s a big, reliable red zone target and has a rapport with Tom Brady. His job should be even easier in 2017 than it was last season since Rob Gronkowski should be drawing away the primary coverage.

I don’t think he’ll have a huge role against the Broncos, although he was a part of the Patriots offensive game plan against the Broncos in 2016. I think they’ll ease him in with a few designed plays this week and next against the Oakland Raiders, before really getting him integrated for the final six weeks of the year. He needs a reasonable amount of time to adjust.

But the rest of the offense should really benefit from his availability in the red zone. Teams have been double covering Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks in the red zone, so the Patriots odds of scoring came down to whether or not Chris Hogan could get open against his single coverage. Good luck defending Bennett, too.

4. Geneo Grissom is currently the 54th man on the Patriots roster as he is the choice of player to release and ultimately re-sign to the practice squad. ESPN’s Mike Reiss hinted at a reunion soon after it was known Grissom cleared waivers.

Grissom obviously hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a third round pick and it’s still clear the Patriots overdrafted him in 2015 when the Oklahoma defender was considered a late day three prospect. Grissom has been active for 30 games in his three seasons, recording four tackles and one sack.

And yet Grissom has a home with the Patriots. Why? He’s the ultimate practice player, able to line up at defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, and even tight end and fullback if needed. With so few roster spots saved for the scout team, Bill Belichick clearly thinks Grissom has plenty of value added, earning Practice Player of the Week a team-high nine times since the start of 2016.

While that’s not ideal production from a third round player, at least it’s better than releasing him without a single contribution.

5. Tom Brady is on pace for a 5,082-yard season with 32 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. That would be the 8th most yards in a single season and Brady would join Saints quarterback Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks to break 5,000 yards multiple times in their career (Brees has done it five times).

Brady’s touchdown rate of 5.2% would be the lowest of any quarterback to crack 5,000 yards, while his interception rate of 0.6% would also be the lowest. His 8.2 yards per attempt would rank 5th behind 1984 Dan Marino, 2011 Brady, 2011 Brees, and 2013 Peyton Manning.

In other words, Brady is efficient at gaining yards and elite at avoiding turnovers, but he’s not finishing drives. Bennett should really help out.

Those full-season paces would also leave Brady in 4th place for passing yards over the age of 40, along with third in touchdowns and tied for 12th in interceptions.

6. A few other Patriots are on elite paces. Running back James White has 43 receptions, on pace for 86 on the season. The Patriots franchise record is 77 by Tony Collins back in 1986. Only seven NFL running backs have cracked 90 receptions (Larry Centers did it twice), so that’s a great target for White.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski is also on pace for 1,018 yards, the fourth time he would surpass 1,000 receiving yards. Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten have reached that mark four times, the most by a tight end in NFL history. Gronkowski is also on pace for 10 touchdowns, the sixth time he’d hit double digits; he already holds the tight end record with 5 such seasons.