There aren't many supporting arguments for Thursday Night Football. In addition to developing unnecessary health risks (limiting recovery time from the previous game), the games are generally sloppy, one-sided and according to research, develop unnecessary benefits for the following week. Quit complaining, says the enlightened fan. We have football on Thursday night! True. Yet when it comes to ESPN's Thursday Night games, college football seems to display more enthusiastic competition compared to its senior division.
According to research presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference earlier this year, teams that have an open date (aka, playing Thursday Night football the week before or a bye week), tend to have more success against teams with less rest. Prevailing common sense immediately blurts out, "duh"... now common sense is supported by science.
"Their initial research uncovered some interesting data," writes Ray Fittipaldo with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Over a five-year period from 2009-13 the average winning percentage for teams against extra rested opponents (teams coming off an open date or Thursday game) was four percentage points lower than when on normal rest."
According to their research, the Cincinnati Bengals have only played 12 games, dating back to 2002, against teams with more rest (coming off a bye week for example, or having played a Thursday night game during the previous week), which is the lowest among all NFL teams. The Buffalo Bills played 29.
The paper generated such a buzz that Mike North, the director of scheduling for the NFL, contacted the research team looking to exchange information on ways to improve the schedule. North gave the University of Buffalo team some classified information the previous research did not include such as stadium restrictions, requests from broadcast partners and wish lists from teams on when they wanted to schedule games. Kurt and his team expanded their data and will use it in follow-up research and papers on NFL scheduling. The two parties also agreed to exchange information in the future.
Cincinnati faced this scenario twice in 2014... once on each end. Indianapolis visited Houston for a Thursday Night game against the Texans. After claiming the 33-28 win, the Colts enjoyed a quiet weekend (we can only imagine drinking mai tai's) before their mini-vacation concluded with an easy win against the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati benefited later during the year, following up a Week 10 Thursday Night loss to the Browns with a Week 11 win over the Saints. If there's inclusion for Monday Night games, Cincinnati was also power-punched as the team with the most rest coming off a Week 4 bye against the New England Patriots, when they were smoked 41-14 on Monday Night Football (having even less rest than normal).
Under head coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 6-6 in games before a bye and 4-8 in games after a bye. In recent years, these statistics have improved after a slow Lewis start in these categories. Since 2008, Cincinnati is 5-2 before a bye and 3-4 after.
Yet, these are apparently aberrations compared to the long-term research. Cincinnati will not encounter a team with more rest than them in 2015 and "in eight of the past 13 years the Bengals did not face an opponent coming off an open date, and in five of those eight years they didn't face a team coming off a Thursday game, either."
What can we say? It's the Who Dey life.