Thursday night football. Do you love it or ignore it? Do you eschew all responsibilities to make room for it or do you avoid it like a sniffing and coughing co-worker in flu season?
Some dismiss it as the NFL cramming an extra day of football into the week where its as out of place as stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey with Spam. In 2014, there was a stigma attached to TNF that they only scheduled poor match-ups. There is a bit of truth to that as we saw the Falcons dismantle the Buccaneers 56-14 in week 3, the Giants pound Washington 45-14 in week 4, the Packers dominate the Vikings 42-10 in week 5, and well, you see where I’m going.
I love football. Love it. I’ll take day it every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Wait, there are three games on Sunday. Damn. I’ll take it four times on Sunday then. Early morning London games mean there are four games on Sunday you say? Damn damn. I guess I’ll take it five times on Sunday then.
Though chores and kids have a tendency to get in the way of my availability to watch it. Obviously our newborn demands quite a bit of attention. And even when she’s napping and I can bring my three year old son into the basement to watch a game, he maybe will spend 10 minutes actually watching the game (always picking the opposite team his dad is rooting for of course), and the rest of the time either leaping from couch to ottoman to couch in an attempt to avoid the floor or asking me to pretend to help him repair some toy truck that has broken down or some piece of furniture that needs its screws tightened apparently.
Jason pictured here fixing a drawer.
Speaking of chores, what the hell is with leaves still being on the trees in mid December? Our final lawn refuse pick up day has come and gone, and we still have a tree with half of its leaves. I can do nothing but feel impotent each morning as I sit down for breakfast and watch as it laughs in my face.
What was I saying? Oh yeah, QB performance on Thursday Night Football.
Despite any scorn that some may have for TNF, it is quite popular. In November this year, TNF has an average rating of around 8.4 for adults 18-49 and sees about 23 million viewers.
So there’s no question the NFL has its marketing down pat and and its branding is almost unrivaled. But, how is the TNF product? There are rumors that Thursday night teams play worse games than when they play on Sunday or Monday…and many fantasy articles will tell you to avoid starting any TNF players.
On its surface, it makes some sense that teams wouldn’t play their best football on a short week. I mean, we all see the vicious hits that go on during a game and we see the exhausted players on the sideline at the end of a game. It’s hard to argue that a player isn’t spent when we see them sucking down oxygen like a child being handed a Capri Sun on a hot summer day.
Monday is a day of rest for NFL players (Tuesday if they play on MNF). And so, if a team plays Sunday and takes a day off Monday for rest, that would leave only two days of practice before a game on Thursday night; three fewer days of practice, game tape review, and scheming than if they played again on Sunday. I mean, if you were in college and recently took a midterm exam and were facing another major test in next week’s class, there’s a high likelihood that you would not only be burned out from studying for the midterm, but that you’d have less time to prepare and properly study for the upcoming test. So it stands to reason, that on its surface, one would expect a team to play worse because of their reduced preparation time. But is that really the case?
In a standard league scoring format, let’s look at some stats put up by QB’s.
*annual fantasy points from fantasydata.com
First thing’s first, why look at fantasy points. Why not look at QB rating or ESPN’s Total QBR? Well, those ranking systems look at how a QB plays and assigns numbers to that performance…but so does fantasy points. Fantasy football scores are just another metric to see how a player performs.
We can see respectable numbers for many. And yes, Peyton is having a very bad year. And yes, Eli had a terrible 2013. And yes (insert other argument). But all things considered, fantasy football is largely about consistency and pulling as many points as possible. And these QB’s over the long run give us a good baseline to look at TNF performances. And, at the very least, we’re comparing everyone under the same criteria.
So how do those points per game play out when those same QB’s play on TNF?
Of course I need to point out that that the sheer lack of TNF games means the sample size is inherently small. But the purpose is to look at how a QB does normally vs how he performs on TNF. Here are the totals side-by-side.
What do we see initially? A drop in performance from Rodgers, Brees, Newton, Wilson, and Roethlisberger (5 of the 11 QB’s, or just under half of our sample QB’s) . But there are also even-keeled numbers put up by Peyton and Luck (2 of the 11), with slight upticks by Brady, Rivers, Ryan, and Eli (4 of the 11, or just over a third of our QB’s).
So where can we go from there? A simple answer would be to say, “forget it man, it’s the NFL. No one can predict it.” And there’s a lot of truth to that. Looking back on it now, I should have just had that thought initially, and not gone through all that data or written this article. But oh well; just like facing the reality that your glass of red wine has fallen on your carpet, there’s not much you can do once you’ve decided on the course of action to walk with it into the living room. Sure, you can always second guess yourself and have not had anything to drink in the first place. But what fun would that have been?
I think it’s safe to come to the conclusion that TNF really doesn’t have too much of an impact on a QB’s performance. Aside from Russell Wilson, most QB’s scored within a couple of points (positively and negatively) of their normal season average. Knowing that there is always variability in any NFL game, I’d venture to guess that TNF really isn’t all that different.
And ultimately, in terms of setting your fantasy roster, would you really not play Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton on TNF because they average “just” 18 and 17 points (respectively)? In fantasy football, you should play your studs and let the chips fall where they may. I wouldn’t let TNF scare you off.