NFL Nation: Thursday night

Inside Slant: Thursday night quality

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
10:55
AM ET
Our regular check-ins on the (objective) quality of Thursday night games took on new relevance this week amid reports that the NFL might add additional games to the midweek schedule. A league spokesman denied that discussions are underway, but Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told Sports Business Journal that it is, in fact, a future consideration.

For our purposes, the question is the extent to which the league will evaluate the general public's feeling -- real or imagined -- that Thursday night games are more poorly played compared to games on Sundays and Mondays. The obvious cause would be the shorter recovery time from the previous game, a factor that triggered my search for objective evidence this season.

I've tried to compile the statistics that I think would most likely reveal the separation in play, and they're updated in the chart through the Seattle Seahawks' 34-22 victory over the Arizona Cardinals here in Week 7. The biggest difference continues to be in passing efficiency, reflected both in completion percentage and Total QBR, but we're also starting to see a gap in other offensive categories and sacks as well.

These statistics shouldn't provide the final verdict on Thursday night games. More exhaustive studies are necessary on injury totals, and longer-term results after playing a Thursday night game, before a definitive conclusion can be made.

But we should recognize that when the NFL sits down to evaluate the possibility of expanding the Thursday night concept, the first thing they'll look at are similar objective analyses. It's not enough simply to say these games seem sloppy and otherwise played poorly. There needs to be some kind of quantitative evidence to catch the attention of anyone in a decision-making role, and even then, it's quite possible the league still won't be swayed from a new revenue opportunity.

Finally, it's worth considering whether our current obsession with the passing game is clouding the full view of these Thursday night games. If the passing is less efficient, does that make the entire game seem less interesting? That's a question worth pursuing in a football psychology class one day.

The bottom line, of course, will be the bottom line. If the NFL finds that more Thursday night games can generate more money -- and if there is no obvious smoking gun to mute that verdict -- then in all likelihood it's going to happen. That's how businesses work, after all.

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