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Raiders-Chiefs Shows That Thursday Night Isn’t The NFL’s Trash Heap Anymore

When the Kansas City Chiefs host the Oakland Raiders Thursday night, the outcome will go a long way toward determining who wins the AFC West and will influence the whole conference’s playoff picture. But further down the game’s list of notable implications is the fact that it’s one of the best Thursday night games1 in NFL history.

Just like when I sized up the awfulness of Week 8’s Jaguars-Titans Thursday night tilt, we can measure the quality of a given NFL matchup by taking the harmonic mean of the two teams’ pre-game Elo ratings (FiveThirtyEight’s pet metric for estimating a team’s quality at any given moment). And according to that measure, tonight’s K.C.-Oakland game is the seventh-best Thursday night matchup in NFL history:

PRE-GAME ELO RATING
DATE TEAM 1 TEAM 2 TEAM 1 TEAM 2 HARMONIC MEAN
1 11/29/07 Dallas Green Bay 1660 1649 1655
2 11/27/14** Seattle San Francisco 1668 1629 1648
3 10/23/14 Denver San Diego 1688 1607 1646
4 11/26/98** Minnesota Dallas 1677 1610 1643
5 9/8/16* Denver Carolina 1637 1634 1635
6 9/9/04* New England Indianapolis 1667 1591 1628
7 12/8/16 Kansas City Oakland 1662 1586 1623
8 11/24/11** Baltimore San Francisco 1628 1610 1619
9 9/5/13* Baltimore Denver 1628 1609 1618
10 9/10/09* Pittsburgh Tennessee 1645 1593 1618
The best Thursday night NFL matchups of all time

*NFL’s season-opening game.
**Thanksgiving night game.
In each matchup, “Team 1” is the higher-rated team according to Elo.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

In fact, if we toss out special Thursday occasions — Thanksgiving and the NFL’s annual opening-night showcase — Raiders-Chiefs rises to third-best among the ranks of ordinary Thursday night games. We haven’t seen a matchup this good emerge organically from the Thursday night schedule since the Broncos hosted the Chargers in Oct. 2014.

Good Thursday night games like Chiefs-Raiders are part of a larger comeback trend. Thursday night football has been a perennial punchline, particularly since 2012, when the NFL decided to play a Thursday night game almost every week instead of firing the feature up at midseason for the stretch run, as it did between 2006 and 2011. But after a rocky start, the quality of these midweek games has slowly risen over the past five seasons:

paine-chiefs-raiders-2

At the same time, Monday night matchups have been getting worse, and now the two days have very nearly pulled even in terms of their average quality.2 Both are still far, far below the level established by the league’s flagship prime-time games on Sunday nights. But with more games like tonight’s Raiders-Chiefs tilt, Thursday night is no longer merely a place for the NFL to stash terrible matchups so it can get every team on prime-time TV.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Footnotes

  1. We’re counting any prime-time game played on a Thursday as a Thursday night game, even though some games played on Thursday nights are marketed as “Sunday Night Football” or “Monday Night Football” and some games marketed as “Thursday Night Football” are played on other days of the week.

  2. At least in prime time; I excluded non-prime-time Thursday games such as Thanksgiving day games.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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