Fantasy Football: Thursday Night Football and its Impact on Lineup Decisions

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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

Sep 12, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) in the pocket during the second quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday Night Football (TNF) has provided its fair share of dud games to the NFL watching viewers, no matter how enticing the matchup looks on paper. Not only was last year’s New Orleans Saints-Atlanta Falcons matchup one the general viewing audience was looking forward to, but it was also supposed to be a fantasy shootout, providing fantasy footballers with nothing but touchdown fireworks after touchdown fireworks.

Alas, fantasy goodness did not come to fruition that day, and if you were relying on stud fantasy quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Drew Brees in your 2-QB league, they both disappointed you. A combined 19 standard scoring fantasy points were put on the board by Ryan and Brees. For the week, Ryan was QB27 and Brees was QB29 in standard scoring fantasy leagues. Here are just a few notable quarterbacks who outscored them that week: Charlie Batch, Jake Locker, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden.

What is it about TNF that ends in being a major letdown at times? Some have speculated that there’s a curse when it comes to playing on Thursday Night, akin to the Madden curse. I don’t think there’s any Papa Shango voodoo curse going on with TNF, so that’s probably not true. A more reasonable answer, as opined by Football.com‘s Charles Murphy, is that playing in a shortened week puts each team at a disadvantage.

Working on game planning, strategizing on how to stop the opponent, and not to mention the amount of travel that goes into a very short four day rest period, are just a few reasons why NFL teams might not put out their best effort on Thursday nights.

Of course, we’re not saying all fantasy players disappoint on Thursday night. There have been some really good fantasy performances put up on TNF, especially from the quarterback position. One example would be 2008′s week 13 TNF matchup between Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb, who combined to throw seven passing touchdowns. But there have also been plenty of forgettable ones, like JaMarcus Russell and Andrew Walter combining to score zero fantasy points during a Thursday Night matchup once in 2008.

Many fantasy football owners have taken to the strategy of sitting players on Thursday night if they’re stuck deciding between two similar players—with the edge going to the one who doesn’t play Thursday. That’s okay at the quarterback position when you play in a league that only requires one starting quarterback in the lineup. When that number doubles, and you’re playing in a 2-QB league, you tend to not have much of a choice, unless you have a dependable QB3 option on your bench.

Look what happened in this year’s first TNF game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets. Most 2-QBers probably had Tom Brady in their lineup at the QB1 slot, and some might have even had Geno Smith as their QB2. What those owners had to show for their starting fantasy quarterbacks were two guys who didn’t even finish the week in the top 24 of fantasy scoring at the quarterback position. For the week, Brady-QB26, and Smith-QB32, ended outside the realm of start worthy fantasy quarterbacks in 2-QB leagues.

Whether you play in a 2-QB league the size of 10, 12 or even 14 teams, and you’re facing the dreaded decision of whether or not to start a quarterback that has a TNF matchup, you’re probably going to do it in the end.

Why the issue of TNF is relevant now in 2-QB leagues is because this week presents the first real TNF decision in 2-QB leagues, as we have the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs squaring off against each other. Michael Vick versus Alex Smith. Andy Reid‘s new team versus Andy Reid’s old team. The story lines are out in full force for this matchup.

I decided to go an adventure through the years, since the inception of TNF in 2006, to see just how fantasy quarterbacks fared when playing on a shortened week. Last year was the first full TNF schedule in which there was a Thursday night game every week. In year’s past we had a smaller amount of TNF games, and some TNF games were actually played on Saturday or Friday.

For this study, I looked at in-season TNF games, and excluded the following games:

  • Friday/Saturday games.
  • Traditional Thanksgiving Thursday day games.
  • Week one Thursday night games kicking off the NFL season.

Below you’ll see two charts ranking fantasy quarterbacks in terms of how they finished that particular week at the fantasy quarterback position in standard scoring fantasy leagues. The order isn’t concrete, as you’ll see some quarterbacks with the same number. Like Cutler, McNabb, and Cassel as QB1 in 2008. What that means is that those three quarterbacks each finished the week their TNF game was played in as the QB1, or the highest scoring fantasy quarterback that week.

The focus is on weekly scoring finish, rather than fantasy points, to gauge how many 2-QB league start worthy fantasy quarterback performances occurred during TNF games each year. For 10-team 2-QB leagues, the cut off is QB20, and for 12-team 2-QB leagues, the cut off is QB24.

Thursday Night Football Fantasy QB Scoring History

2006-2009

2006

2007

2008

2009

Alex Smith-QB3

Tony Romo-QB1

Jay Cutler-QB1

Peyton Manning-QB3

Ben Roethlisberger-QB6

Ben Roethlisberger QB5

Donovan McNabb-QB1

David Garrard-QB13

Steve McNair-QB12

*Redskins QB-QB5

Matt Cassel-QB1

Ben Roethlisberger-QB20

Jake Plummer-QB16

Peyton Manning-QB8

Peyton Manning-QB4

Jake Delhomme-QB20

Carson Palmer-QB16

Sage Rosenfels-QB9

Brett Favre-QB7

Kyle Orton-QB20

Derek Anderson-QB17

**Rams QB-QB10

Ben Roethlisberger-QB8

Chad Henne-QB23

Matt Hasselbeck-QB18

Jay Cutler-QB11

David Garrard-QB8

Eli Manning-QB25

Brett Favre-QB21

Aaron Rodgers-QB13

Kurt Warner-QB10

Mark Sanchez-QB26

Trent Green-QB24

Brian Griese-QB16

Brady Quinn-QB13

Jay Cutler-QB27

Tarvaris Jackson-QB33

Joey Harrington-QB26

Philip Rivers-QB6

Alex Smith-QB29

 

 

Drew Brees-QB19

Brady Quinn-QB30

 

*Todd Collins/Jason Campbell

Ryan Fitzpatrick-QB26

Ryan Fitzpatrick-QB31

 

**Marc Bulger/Gus Frerotte

Kyle Orton-QB27

 

 

 

*Raiders QB-QB43

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*JaMarcus Russell/Andrew Walter

 

Thursday Night Football Fantasy QB Scoring History

2010-2013

2010

2011

2012

2013

Michael Vick-QB2

Carson Palmer-QB8

Josh Freeman-QB5

Tom Brady-QB26

Matt Schaub-QB4

Philip Rivers-QB11

Andrew Luck-QB9

Geno Smith-QB32

Kerry Collins-QB4

Ben Roethlisberger-QB14

Joe Flacco-QB9

 

Philip Rivers-QB4

Tim Tebow-QB17

Carson Palmer-QB10

 

Ben Roethlisberger-QB7

Dan Orlovsky-QB17

Ben Roethlisberger-QB12

 

Matt Ryan-QB7

Tarvaris Jackson-QB22

Kevin Kolb-QB14

 

Peyton Manning-QB7

Joe Flacco-QB23

Philip Rivers-QB14

 

Joe Flacco-QB14

Matt Ryan-QB23

Sam Bradford-QB16

 

Mark Sanchez-QB24

Blaine Gabbert-QB24

Andy Dalton-QB16

 

Tyler Thigpen-QB27

Mark Sanchez-QB24

Eli Manning-QB17

 

Jay Cutler-QB31

Vince Young-QB27

Matt Hasselbeck-QB17

 

Alex Smith-QB31

Alex Smith-QB29

Peyton Manning-QB17

 

Carson Palmer-QB31

Colt McCoy-QB30

Chrisitan Ponder-QB18

 

Jimmy Clausen-QB35

T.J. Yates-QB31

*Jaguars QB-QB19

 

 

 

Brandon Weeden-QB20

 

 

 

Ryan Fitzpatrick-QB21

 

 

 

Alex Smith-QB21

 

 

 

Nick Foles-QB22

 

 

 

Ryan Tannehill-QB23

 

 

 

Cam Newton-QB23

 

 

 

Aaron Rodgers-QB26

 

 

 

Russell Wilson-QB25

 

 

 

Matt Cassel-QB25

 

 

 

Matt Ryan-QB27

 

 

 

Drew Brees-QB29

 

 

 

Jay Cutler-QB32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Chad Henne/Blaine Gabbert

 

 

If you take a look at the numbers, there were a total of 102 eligible quarterback performances. Of those 102 performances, 28 did not meet the QB2 cut off threshold, when looking at it from a 12-team 2-QB perspective. That means 72.5 percent of all TNF quarterbacks were able to put up fantasy numbers deemed start worthy in 12-team 2-QB leagues (QB24 finish or better). Those nearly 3 out of 4 odds are favorable when determining if a TNF quarterback should be started in 12-team 2-QB league line-ups.

In 10-team 2-QB leagues the number of non start worthy 2-QB performances (QB20 or worse) jumps to 42 out of 102, which equals around 41 percent. That difference is significant, as you go from a 72.5 percent chance of having your starting quarterback put up at least QB2 numbers to a 59 percent chance. It also makes sense, as the threshold cut-off goes from top-24 QB to top-20 QB. You’re still looking at better than 50-50 odds.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, for those of you in 1-QB leagues, assuming a league size of 12 teams as the baseline, 33 of the 102 quarterbacks put up QB1, or top-12 numbers, which equates to slightly over 32 percent. One out of 3 odds that your starting quarterback on TNF will put up QB1 numbers is not a flattering percentage to rely on in 1-QB leagues.

If you’re looking for a year by year rounded average breakdown, there’s this:

  • 2006-QB16
  • 2007-QB10
  • 2008-QB12
  • 2009-QB22
  • 2010-QB16
  • 2011-QB21
  • 2012-QB18
  • 2013-QB29 (based on one game)

Take out the one TNF 2013 game that has been played so far this year, and TNF quarterbacks have an average finish of QB16. In 2-QB leagues, that’s high-end QB2 start worthy numbers.

The historical breakdown of the quarterback position in fantasy football in this article shouldn’t be the only factor that impacts your starting fantasy quarterback decision when faced with the daunting task to start a TNF quarterback or not, but hopefully it helps in some way when making fantasy quarterback decisions and setting your 2-QB line-up.

Stats used in this article from KFFL Stats Analyzer.

If you want to look at each TNF game in more detail, you can do so by viewing the yearly TNF schedule on NFL.com.

Salvatore Stefanile is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and believes that 2-QB fantasy football leagues will be the future of fantasy football. You can read about his 2-QB fantasy football opinions and analysis at XNSports.com.
6 comments
ynot
ynot

Doesnt seem like a well thought out article. " One out of 3 odds that your starting quarterback on TNF will put up QB1 numbers is not a flattering percentage to rely on in 1-QB leagues." If there are 32 starting QBs in the league, the odds that the QBs on TNF put up QB1 numbers SHOULD be 1 out of 3. It would have been much more interesting to have a look at how the different QBs scored compared to how they ranked for that full season. Say, if the player that finished the season as QB9 ended up being QB15 on TNF you give him a -6 score. This way you can find out how much better/worse the QBs do on average when they have to play TNF. Based on your article my guess would be that the number would be pretty close to 0.

Salvatore Stefanile
Salvatore Stefanile

The article was about looking at how fantasy quarterbacks that played in Thursday Night Football games finished in terms of fantasy quarterback scoring in the weeks they played on Thursday Night. If you have a QB1 on your team, you want them to finish in the Top-12 of QB scoring for that week, in 12 team leagues, and Top-10 for 10 team leagues. There's been lots of talk about how you shouldn't play your fantasy guys if they have a Thursday Night Game match-up, and all I did was to look at the numbers, and see their end of week QB rank. 1 out of 3 QBs put up QB1 numbers. You say they should be 1 out of 3, but what if all TNF QBs magically had great games that week and all the QBs put up QB1 numbers. Realistic? No. Possible? Probably not. But that could have still been the case. Anything is possible. The 1 out of 3 is what occurred, and I just wanted to show it in a percentage form. Your suggestion of comparing them to how they finished the season is a valid one, and would be interesting to see the results. Let me know if you end up doing that, and if you could pass along your findings, I'd like to see them. But just remember, we're not looking to see how those QBs finish on the season, just how they do for that one week. Fantasy football is a weekly game.

ynot
ynot

The thing is that you present it as if they do worse on TNF than on other nights. On any given night you expect only 1 out of 3 QBs to perform as QB1s in a 10 team league. All the numbers you presented only verifies that TNF is just as playing any other night.

Salvatore Stefanile
Salvatore Stefanile

Like I said earlier, you made a valid point. And that would be an interesting way to go about it. This was never about looking at whether or not QBs are worse or better in TNF games compared to other weeks. It was about looking at how QBs performed in TNF games. That's all. The numbers are the numbers. 1 out of every 3 TNF QBs finished outside the Top-12 of fantasy scoring QBs that week. If all QBs that played in TNF performed at a Top-12 level the numbers then would have been 100%. If all TNF QBs performed outside the Top-12, the numbers would have been 0%. It's not about expectations, it's about results. All this article was doing was presenting the results. If you put the time into researching TNF QB weekly scoring finishes vs every other week, I'd like to read that. Would make a great article. This is not that article, unfortunately. Sorry.