After this week, the Thursday night games only matter to the NFL Network. When the division title-seeking Atlanta Falcons (10-1) host the desperate New Orleans Saints (5-6), it will be the last relevant Thursday night game of the season.

Yes, it's still November, and there are four more weeks of football left before the playoffs. But the most heated battles for the postseason won't be taking place on the league's cable network.

Denver (8-3) has the AFC West crown all but locked up, which will turn next week's visit to Oakland (3-8) into a three-hour debate about Peyton Manning and the NFL MVP.

Cincinnati (6-5) is still outside of the playoff picture. But the Bengals are set up to make a late run with games against San Diego (4-7) on the road and Dallas (5-6) at home looming. They will be kicking themselves if they haven't already pushed past Pittsburgh (6-5) by the time they travel to lowly Philadelphia (3-8) on Dec. 13.

And that's it. There are no Thursday games the final two weeks.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has gotten a mixed bag from expanding the weeknight phenomenon, which has been good for the league's cable network but hardly seems to resonate with fans or ratings.

Baltimore was ravaged by injuries after playing four games in 16 days in September. The gripes aren't quite as loud with the Ravens 9-2.

There's also little evidence that short rest hurts or helps. Seven teams have both games in the five-day span; five teams have lost twice in a row. Five teams bounced back from a loss with a Thursday win; eight teams followed a win with a loss. In divisional games, including all three Thanksgiving contests, home teams are 6-3, but that's an expected ratio.

There's more indication that the mini-bye week after a Wednesday or Thursday game actually hurts, with teams going 8-14 the following weekend.

Scheduling remains an inexact science -- the only certainty is complaints -- and the NFL is going to see in its 2012 slate exactly what it wants to see. But no one is concluding that Thursday night games are going away.

- Craig Stouffer