Thursday Football ... Does it Give Teams an Advantage the Following Week?


"I have long heard about the disadvantages of playing on Monday nights as it gives a team less time to recover and prepare for their next game. It makes sense to me and it has me thinking about the Thursday night games that the NFL has thrown into schedule the past few years (in addition to the 2 traditional Thanksgiving games). Of course preparing for a Thursday game is tough but at least both teams are on short weeks. Do you think the extra rest and preparation after a Thursday is an advantage over a regular 7 day break between games?  Looking at this season, to date there have been 9 Thursday games and we have seen those teams play the next week in 8 of them (we don’t know how the 49ers or Chargers will do after a Thursday yet).  The teams that played on Thursdays have gone 11-5 the next week, although it should be noted that 4 of the Thanksgiving teams count for 2 wins and 2 losses because 4 of those teams played other Thursday teams the next week (Patriots-Jets and Saints-Bengals).  Of course, many of the teams who have won following a Thursday are teams already with winning records, but I thought I’d ask anyway."

So, the question is, does playing on Thursday and having a few extra days provide an advantage in the next game?

The NFL has been playing regular Thursday night games in the latter half of the season since 2006, and so I know that we would be extremely unlikely to get a definitive answer to this question because we just don’t have enough games to assess.  Still, here are the results in all games where one team played on Thursday night, and then played another team on regular rest the following week, since 2006:

When team that played on Thursday is at home next game:  13-15 record; 14-14 Against the Spread

When team that played on Thursday is on the road next game: 27-21 record; 26-22 Against the Spread

If the null hypothesis is that playing on Thursday provides no extra advantage, we certainly cannot disprove that based on those numbers.  The Thursday team playing the week after is 40-36 Against the Spread, which is certainly not statistically significant.

Still, as a factual matter, teams that played on Thursday have played better than their opponents on average.  The net point difference compared to the point spread is +147 in 76 games, even though the Thursday team only covered the spread four more times.  This means the Thursday teams have lost some close games against the spread, but won in more blowouts.  Now, whether this is due to injuries, team uniform colors, random chance, or three extra days of preparation and rest, I don’t know.

I suppose the answer is we can’t say that it is an advantage, and we can’t really say it isn’t either.  That’s probably a pretty unsatisfying answer.  Hopefully the game will be more satisfying.

[photo via Getty]