NFL Handicapping: Thursday Night Games
by Zack Cimini - 9/4/2013
Over the past decade, we have witnessed enormous changes in the NFL: new overtime rules, challenge flags, fines for certain types of hits, regular season games in Europe, and even schedule changes. Every time there is an amendment, it is questioned by the media – vigorously – and then, just as quickly, it takes a second seat to the real end result: the game of football on the field.
NFL football was always thought to be a sport played on Sunday and Monday. Thanksgiving and the occasional Saturdays that sprinkled the season’s home stretch were the lone exceptions. But that all changed in2006 when the NFL decided it was time for a tune-up and implemented an eight-game Thursday night schedule.
On Sept. 5, the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens kick off the 2013 season in a rematch of the AFC divisional playoff game that saw Joe Flacco throw up a video game desperation hail mary pass. Like an old-school video game glitch, Denver’s Rahim Moore was there but wasn’t, and Jacoby Jones snared the ball and ran it in for a late miracle score.
Baltimore opens the season with the glitz of winning a Super Bowl; the Broncos are powered by a revenge factor gained from last year’s playoff loss. With Von Miller out and the Ravens defense revamped, things could get interesting for both offenses. What’s even more intriguing is that despite being in different divisions, this will be the third time the two teams have met since December.
From a sports gambler’s perspective, a Thursday game needs proper diagnosis. Results for how teams played one week after their Thursday game last season may be shocking. Out of the 13 games last year, 10 were won by 10 points or more – and most were in lopsided fashion.
Let’s break down the 13-game schedule a bit more.
Teams that lost by double digits included some horrible teams: Arizona (four wins), Philadelphia (four wins), Oakland (four wins), Kansas City (two wins) and Jacksonville (two wins). And they were only half of the 10 loses that succumbed by double-digit gaps. Last season, Thursday night bettors that put their money on the favorite found nothing but goldmines.
So how would those teams do with an extended rest of 10 days before their next games?
Let’s exclude Philadelphia from this exercise as they lost in Week 17. That leaves a group composed of Arizona, Oakland, Kansas City and Jacksonville, all of whom lost the following week but went 3-1 on covers. Kansas City lost 16-13 to Pittsburgh; Oakland also lost to San Diego by a field goal, 24-21; and Jacksonville nearly beat Houston as 15-point underdogs but fell short in overtime.
Arizona was the only team that did not cover, and that was by a single point in a 21-14 loss to the Vikings.
Let’s think of this in Hollywood terms: Just because an actor starred in a dud film does not mean that their next movie will also be horrible. In fact, extended rest seemed to refocus every team much in the same way that a bye week does.
On the flip side, for teams that won by double digits, the next week proved to be a letdown – they went just 2-6-1. Cincinnati had a Week 17 win. Green Bay lost outright to Seattle. The New York Giants lost by two points to Philadelphia. Baltimore won narrowly against Kansas City but failed to cover the spread. St. Louis pushed against Miami. San Diego lost by 10 points to Tampa Bay. Indianapolis was crushed by New England, 59-24, on the road. And Atlanta lost by 10 points to Carolina.
All of this starts with the head coach’s sagacity. You can be sure that extended rest was not given to the teams that were blown out Thursday nights, while teams that did may have been warranted an extra day or two off for great play on the field. The players’ temperaments obviously were not the same the following week.
A deeper look reveals that 10 of the 13 Thursday night games last year were divisional contests. Going into a short week also seemed to favor defenses. Coaches tightened up play calling, and big plays were limited. Eight of those 10 games resulted in total points scored below 40 points – making easy total winners for those who had “under” plays on Thursday night. In fact, the highest total in the divisional games was a 26-23 battle between Tennessee and Pittsburgh, which featured a wild fourth quarter where 20 points were scored. The other total that tilted to the over was San Diego verses Kansas City, which ebbed over the total by just 1.5 points.
This season, there will be eight Thursday night games played. Linesmakers are on a short week just as teams are, which limits the gap of days the public can sway a line.
Read more articles by Zack Cimini
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