Thursday Night Football first began in 2006, and since then it has grown enormously. But ever since its inception, Thursday Night Football has drawn criticism from many, including players. Fans and media alike are very critical of the sloppy product that is put forth on Thursdays, and players have openly expressed their displeasure with the short recovery time they have from a game on Sunday to a game on Thursday. I took a deeper look into the numbers behind Thursday Night Football to see whether or not the fans have the right to call these games sloppy or not.
Let’s start with a small sample size: the 2014 Thursday Night Football games that have been played so far. Criticism has seemingly peaked this season, with a collection of games that have regularly been blowouts. In the first four TNF games of the season, the average margin of defeat was 31.25, highlighted by an abysmal 56-14 defeat for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan dominated that game, throwing for 286 yards and three touchdowns on 21/24 passing. Recent games have produced more exciting results, with a 33-28 outcome for the Colts vs. Texans, and a 27-25 thriller in which the Patriots beat the Jets.
To get a better idea of how teams are performing on Thursday nights on national television, let’s take a look at the 2013 TNF regular season. In 13 Thursday night games, the average margin of defeat was 9.23 points. When compared to the 2013 regular season through Week 11 (162 games), according to sportsonearth.com, the average margin of defeat for 2013 was 11. While the sample sizes are different, this shows that the disparity between Thursday Night Football and Sunday/Monday football is not as striking as the fans and the media make it out to be.
To complement that, one can also look at turnovers and total points scored. Through week 11 of 2013, the average turnovers per game was 3.164, compared to an average of 6.538 turnovers per game in 2013 TNF games. To go along with that, the average number of points scored per game in 2013 was 46 for TNF and 47 for other games. After seeing this similarity in numbers, there seems to be little evidence for the theory of Thursday night games being considerably worse In terms of competitiveness.
Another stat that has been highlighted is injuries. Many players have gone on record to express their displeasure with these Thursday night games. Texans OT Duane Brown said last season, “You talk about player safety but you want to extend the season and add Thursday games? It’s talking out of both sides of your mouth.” 49ers WR Anquan Boldin further remarked, “Guys don’t really feel like they’re back [healthy] till probably Thursday or Friday to prepare for that next week.”
After looking at the numbers, the rate of injuries is similar between Thursday games and Sunday games. According to Andrew Mooney of Boston.com, in 2012, the rate of injuries in TNF games (31 injuries in 30 games) was almost identical to the rate of injuries in Sunday games (204 in 202 games). That means the rate for Thursday games was 1.03 injuries/ game and the rate for Sunday games was about 1 injury/game. In a league-conducted study with a larger sample size, the NFL also found that the same amount of injuries happened in Thursday Night Football (5.2/game), as Sunday and Monday games (5.3/game)
The NFL, being the multi-billion dollar corporation that it is, advocates for these TNF games at the expense of its player’s safety because of the revenue it receives from the TV packages. While the fans appear disgruntled, their viewership shows otherwise. In prime time this year, CBS and NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football broadcast gave CBS its most-watched and highest-rated premiere week Thursday since 2007. The broadcast of the New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins game earned an average of 16.3 Million Viewers, up 96% from the game that aired a year ago from the date of the NY-WAS game. Just this year, the NFL and CBS agreed to a $275 million TV deal to give CBS broadcast rights to the TNF games while allowing the NFL Network to also carry the game on its channel. The deal is for one year, so the NFL will have the opportunity to make even more money by negotiating a new contract with CBS or another station next year.
Based on these statistics, it is possible that fans of the NFL are simply overreacting to what they are seeing on the field on Thursday nights. There is added attention brought to these games by having them on Thursday in front of a national audience. While players grumble about the increased injury risk these games present, the statistics do not back up their claims. So while many clamor for the NFL to do away with Thursday Night Football, take a moment to realize that things might not be as bad as they seem.
Data and Image courtesy of NFL.com
Georgetown University Class of 2018
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