These days, Thursday Night Football is a media event. The fledgling NFL Network started broadcasting their Thursday Night Football series in 2006, using mostly down-card contests that were inexpensive to secure rights for. Since then, the series has changed hands a few times, and it’s now a major event for CBS.
You’d be wise to apply a unique strategy to Thursday Night Football. It’s the first NFL game of any given week, and since just two teams face off on Thursday nights, it’s more of a spectacle than any other regular season game. Big things happen on Thursday nights – don’t forget that Aaron Rodgers made his first professional appearance on a Thursday night, replacing an injured Brett Favre and racking up a QB rating of 104.8 while doing so.
Here are a few tips to consider when placing your wagers on Thursday Night Football games:
Beware of underdogs with full rest
When I built my TNF strategy, I looked at simple numbers which demonstrated an obvious trend. Looking at underdog and favorite performances is not only easy, it reveals some powerful trends that I’ve used to improve my win rate on Thursday nights.
I’ll give you one trend that will shock you (and probably change the way you bet on Thursday games) – 10+ point underdogs in Thursday Night Football games (that got standard rest) are just 6-14 ATS since 1992. I stopped counting at 1992 because that’s about when “the modern league” began. Underdogs with full rest fail to beat the spread 70% of the time. The other side of that coin – wager on favorites facing a rested underdog of +10 or higher, and you’ll have a 70% return on your investment.
What’s behind this phenomenon?
Betting against 10+ point underdogs is a pretty safe bet to begin with – it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine that applying two further filters (Thursday night AND the fact that they have full rest) will produce a powerful trend.
That’s why this kind of research is important for sports bettors. You really can find powerful tools to inform your wagers.
Home favorites are a safe bet
Sometimes, betting on TNF games is a little boring.
Let’s go back to 1989, when Thursday Night games were the domain of dull TNT or old-school ESPN broadcasts. If you look at every Thursday game since then, home team favorites in Thursday games where both teams have short rest are 37-18-2 ATS. If you’d wagered on every Thursday night home favorite since 1989, you’d have a 65% success rate, which means you’d have turned a profit.
I say TNF betting is boring because the logic that justifies its use is, well, a little predictable. Home teams have an advantage because they don’t travel, and the favored team tends to be the side that benefits more from identical amounts of preparation time. Thursday NFL games seem to reinforce old stereotypes about football betting that makes it a little less interesting, such as the fact that favored teams on their home turf tend to beat the spread.
It’s a QB’s world
If you’re going to research Thursday Night Football trends, start by looking at QBs. The networks have done a pretty good job of spreading the Thursday Night slot to teams around the league, so most QBs who’ve been in the league a few years have plenty of stats to research for trends.
I’ll give you one for free – take Peyton Manning ATS on Thursday nights. You’ll only get this chance once per season (maybe twice if Denver schedules a Thanksgiving game), but you’ll win more than 80% of the time betting on the Broncos ATS with Manning at the helm.
In week two of the 2015 season, Peyton Manning and the underdog Broncos scored fourteen points in the final thirty-six seconds of the fourth quarter, beating the Kansas City Chiefs. After that win, Peyton Manning moved up to 9-2 ATS all-time on games played on Thursday nights. Everyone thinks Manning is so great on Sunday nights, and he is pretty good. But he’s only 15-9 on Sunday nights all-time ATS. That means he beats the spread 81% of the time on Thursday nights, but only 62% of the time in primetime Sunday games.
Take the under
Remember the scenario we described earlier, which finds a favored home team playing a team with equal rest on Thursday nights? In those games, the game total result was under 67% of the time – 38 under results to just 19 over results.
If you remove the favorite considerations, and just look at all Thursday night games since 1989, the under result came up 56 out of 97 games. That’s a 58% win rate, which is profitable, just not as profitable as the 67% available with the trend above. This trend is easy to explain – a shortened week means that defense has an edge over offense. This is an edge that already exists, but one that the short week makes more obvious.
The NFL increased the number of Thursday night games back in 2011, and the placement of these games on Thursdays has caused some ripples among fans. Fantasy players are upset that they now have to get their lineups ready a day or two early. The talking heads on ESPN and other networks seem to talk about football constantly – we now have four days a week of NFL games, and all the hoopla that comes with it.
But Thursday Night Football provides a lot of opportunity for profitable trends. If you use a little bit of statistical analysis and have the patience to wait for the right game conditions to place a bet, wagers on Thursday NFL games can be fun and lucrative without much work on your part.