How Much Does Rest Matter in the NFL?

If you follow the NFL closely, you’ve likely noticed that the quality of play on Thursday Night Football is not very high. The general reasoning is that it’s difficult for players to recover – and coaches to game plan – just four days after their last tilt. The same is often said of teams that play the Monday nighter – even though they have just one fewer day to prepare.

The corollary is also assumed to be true: teams that play on TNF and then get extra rest before their next game are presumed to be at an advantage.

However, the numbers indicate that extra time to rest is not helping teams, while short weeks are crippling.

This year, the Steelers and Patriots opened the season on Thursday night, and with extra time to get ready for Week 2, both were victorious. Of the four teams that started this season on Monday night, the Vikings and Falcons won in Week 2 while the Niners and Eagles lost.

The start to this year does not mirror what occurred in 2014.

Last year, TNF teams turned around to go 13-23 in their next game. During the portion of the season that one would expect extra rest to be the most helpful – the end of the year – results were particularly bad. Team’s that played on Thursday during weeks 15 and 16 went 0-4 in their next game. If you take the final nine Thursday’s of the year, which includes three Thanksgiving games, the teams had a 6-16 record the next week.

There were 17 Monday night contests last year, with two during the opening week of the campaign, and none during the final week of the regular season. Monday night teams came back to go 10-22 in their next game. That includes a mark of 1-7 for the last four Monday games of the year.

It’s not readily apparent what to make of this data. But my take is that routine is key, and football teams are incredibly unsuccessful when varying from their normal week-to-week habits.

So when somebody talks about a team having “extra rest,” they are technically correct, but it doesn’t appear to be helpful, and in fact may detract from a team’s chances of winning. On the flip side, the “short week” is very real, and teams have a steep climb after competing on Monday Night Football.

(Photo credit: Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)

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