NFL will force-feed us at least one Wednesday Christmas game in 2024

The NFL announced on Tuesday that they are going to play at least one game on Christmas Day in 2024. The NFL has previously played games on Christmas Day before, but never when the games were on a Wednesday. The story was originally reported by the Wall Street Journal.

In December 2023, the NFL’s vice president of media distribution Hans Schroeder told the Wall Street Journal that the league was not planning on placing NFL games on Christmas when it fell on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Something obviously changed and it’s not hard to figure out.

In 2022, Christmas games averaged about 22 million viewers. In 2023, it jumped to 28.4 million average viewers. Schroeder said this week that the league changed their mind after seeing the ratings in 2023. He said there would be at least one game but probably two in 2024.

The biggest technical question most people are asking is “How is the NFL going to play games just a few days after a Sunday contest?” In short, they aren’t.

In Week 15, the NFL uses flexible scheduling to move multiple games to Saturday. Over the past few seasons, it’s been three games on Saturday the weekend before Christmas with college football on their hiatus before bowl season really picks up. From Saturday to Wednesday is the same four-day window that teams typically receive for a turnaround from Sunday to Thursday Night Football. In addition to those six Saturday teams, the previous week’s Thursday night teams will be able to play on six days rest. This gives the schedule-makers eight teams to choose from to fill two or four spots.

The NFL has only played two Wednesday games since 1948, and both contests saw teams that were well-rested, not playing on short weeks.

In 2012, the season opener between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys was moved up from its traditional Thursday night because NBC wanted to broadcast the Democratic National Convention and Barack Obama’s history-making acceptance speech during his first run for President. Obama and future Vice President and President Joe Biden accepted their nominations that day. Moving it back a day or two would interfere with the NFL’s longstanding rules against competing with high school football on Friday nights and college football on Saturday, and because it was the opener, the teams could prepare physically.

The reason for a Wednesday game in 2020 was related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally scheduled for Thursday, November 26th, the game wasn’t played until Wednesday, December 2nd, following multiple delays. The Baltimore Ravens had a COVID outbreak that wasn’t contained to a single position group ultimately hitting 21 players, which pushed the game first to Sunday then to Tuesday. A Tuesday game would have meant the Ravens didn’t have a chance to practice at all, so the NFL ultimately moved the game one more day to give Baltimore a chance to loosen up and avoid muscle strains. The Ravens ended up beating the Pittsburgh Steelers despite only 9 completions from their two backup quarterbacks, subbing for the COVID-isolated Lamar Jackson.

Traditionally, the NBA had led sports programming on television Christmas Day, with multiple games on December 25th dating all the way back to 1947. They saw a dip in ratings going head-to-head with the NFL and that’s likely to continue.

Christmas won’t be on a Tuesday until 2029 and Wednesday again until 2030, so the NFL will have plenty of time to figure out a way to schedule that.

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