In today’s “any given Sunday” NFL, the thinking goes, any team can win – or lose – any game.
What about any given Thursday? Turns out, those matchups are the closest thing to a lock there is.
Heading into today’s midweek game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Minnesota Vikings, home teams are 5-1 on Thursday nights this season, an .833 winning percentage; the only loss was by the struggling Carolina Panthers against the visiting Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Home teams are 12-3 (.800) on Thursdays over the past two years (discarding Week 1).
Those records are far better than the .602 winning percentage NFL home teams have enjoyed in all other games this season and the .571 they have since the start of the 2011 season, according to STATS LLC.
Clearly, avoiding the road helps on the short weeks players say are hardest on their bodies – and that the league says will remain a staple of the schedule.
Being forced to play on a Thursday, instead of the usual Sunday, makes every club “miserable,” according to Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Max Starks, a nine-year veteran.
“It’s who is less miserable than the other?” Starks said. “And the advantage typically tips to the team that doesn’t have to travel.”
His Steelers lost, 26-23, at the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 11, a Thursday, when four key players for Pittsburgh got hurt: running backs Ike Redman (right ankle) and Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles tendon), offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey (right leg) and Marcus Gilbert (right ankle).
Starks thinks that rash of injuries was not a coincidence.
Seattle Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson described the quick turnaround this way: “Go get in a car accident and then try to play two days later. That’s how it feels.”
He suggested allowing teams to keep all 53 players on the roster active for Thursdays, instead of trimming to 46, the way they do for all games now. That hasn’t been discussed, though, the NFL says.
Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk thinks a study should be done to see if there is “a fatigue factor” that affects players who get less rest between games.
There also might be a longer-term effect: Until last Sunday, when Pittsburgh and Tennessee both won coming off their Oct. 11 meeting, Thursday teams went only 2-6 this season – and 11-15 over the past two seasons, excluding Week 1 – in their subsequent game, STATS LLC said.
While Thanksgiving action has been an NFL tradition for decades, the NFL expanded to a nearly full-season slate of Thursdays for the first time in 2012, scheduling games every Thursday from Week 2 to Week 15. It’s a way to bolster the NFL Network by putting those games on its air and to take advantage of the sport’s popularity.
“The shorter week is harder for the players. They’ll tell you that, I’m sure,” commissioner Roger Goodell said at a “town hall” appearance with fans this week. “But they also like the longer week after. Ten days afterward, not so bad. And I hear that from players all the time.”
Several members of the Seahawks, for example, headed home – some even all the way to the East Coast – after their Thursday night loss against the San Francisco 49ers last week.
Players also look forward to the extra exposure that comes with one-game-at-a-time Thursday slots, instead of crowded Sundays.
And some are resigned to the idea that Thursday games are not going away, so there’s not much point in complaining.