NFL Betting: Getting Max Value from Thursday Night Football

Jason Lake

Tuesday, July 19, 2016 6:09 PM UTC

Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2016 6:09 PM UTC

There's nothing like playing football on Thursday nights. These games are different, so you need a different approach when you're making your Thursday NFL picks.

Is Thursday Night Football the best or the worst thing the NFL has ever come up with? Depends on which side of the fence you happen to be. If you're a football purist (or a player), these games are the absolute pits; the quality is poor compared to Sundays, and the lack of rest between games can't be good for the players' health. On the other hand, TNF has become the highest-rated program on Thursdays by a country mile. Money talks, logic and reason walk.

Those TV ratings should go up, even more, this year, now that CBS and NBC are sharing the broadcasting duties with the NFL Network. The 2016 lineup of Thursday games doesn't look too bad, either. Sticking with intra-divisional matchups (for the most part) was a smart idea, although that Week 8 game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans could end up laying an egg. Still, these Thursday games just aren't the same as what you get on Sundays – which means you need to adjust your NFL picks accordingly.


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Must See TV?
Being the King of Thursday Night TV isn't what it used to be. A typical TNF game might draw a 10.0 Nielsen rating or so; that's a better rating than ESPN's Monday Night Football at around 8.0, but well behind NBC's Sunday Night Football at 12.0 and upwards. The most watched games on TV are the late-afternoon Sunday games, which regularly pull in ratings of 14.0 and higher.

If fewer people are paying attention, that means there are fewer casual fans glued to their TV sets – and fewer recreational bettors distorting the NFL odds by putting too much money on the favorites. In theory, we should find more betting value on Thursdays by sticking with the chalk. But is there enough value to beat the magic break-even mark of 52.4 percent against the spread, given the standard –110 juice?


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Champagne Wishes and Tryptophan Dreams
Good question. There's no way of knowing for sure, but we can make an educated guess by looking at how the favorites have done since Thursday football became a regular gig in 2012:

2012: 11-5 SU, 8-8 ATS
2013: 13-4 SU, 8-9 ATS
2014: 12-6 SU, 11-7 ATS
2015: 13-5 SU, 10-7-1 ATS

Well, that looks somewhat promising. These records include the annual Thanksgiving triple-headers, by the way. Favorites in those high-profile games went 8-4 SU and 5-8 ATS over the past four seasons; not coincidentally, last year's Turkey Day contests posted Nielsen ratings between 12.3 for the early bird (Eagles-Lions) and 14.3 for the late-afternoon game (Panthers-Cowboys). For those particular Thursday games, you might want to consider fading the favorites with all those recreational bettors in the marketplace. Gobble, gobble. Otherwise, Thursday night seems like a fine time to add a little chalk to your diet.


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