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|
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:
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.