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The Thursday effect

By Jesse Pantuosco, Fantasy Sports Writer

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network.com) - Sunday is when Peyton Manning shines.

Good thing the Chargers played him on a Thursday.

For most NFL quarterbacks, 289 yards and two scores would be a cause for celebration. But this is Peyton Manning we're talking about.

It was the perfect matchup. The Chargers entered Thursday's battle having allowed the fifth-most passing yards in the league and were ripped to shreds by Peyton just five weeks earlier (330 yards, four TD in a 28-20 Denver win).

On paper, it was a can't miss. So what happened out there, Peyton?

"A Thursday night game, second division game, you're never sure what you're going to get," a defeated-looking Manning said after the game.

Ah-hah! So the short week did have something to do with Manning's less-than- stellar performance on Thursday?

"It's a challenge for both teams," Peyton said of having to play a Thursday game after playing on Sunday. "It takes real discipline by each player to get themselves ready to play."

Peyton is far from alone in his criticism of the league's new scheduling. Up until last season, Thursday games were reserved for Thanksgiving and special occasions like the season opener. Now there's one every week. And the NFL is thinking of adding more Thursday night games in the near future.

Of course, football is a brutal sport and there's a reason why teams play only once a week. For most guys, it takes at least that long to recover from the 60 minutes of punishment they have to endure each Sunday. At age 37, Peyton needs that rest more than anyone.

Since its inception, commentators and people around the game have taken shots at the perceived lack of quality we see on Thursday as opposed to on Sunday when most of the week's games are played.

Fantasy owners have made the same complaint. For example, Drew Brees and the high-scoring Saints were expected to blow out the Falcons in Week 12. Instead, New Orleans' offense looked lethargic and could only muster up 17 points. That total was enough to beat Atlanta but fantasy owners hoping for a big night from Brees were disappointed (278 yards passing was his third-lowest output of the season).

But those are just two examples. It's understandable why Brees and Manning would have trouble playing on Thursdays. Both players have been around a long time and developed a routine. They're creatures of habit and having to play in the middle of the week isn't normal for them. I compare it to the feeling you have a day or two after daylight savings. It just takes a little getting used to.

The question is, is this "lack of quality" we're hearing about on Thursdays a league-wide issue or is it something only a few players struggle with?

Well, that depends on who you talk to. Throughout the NFL, teams are averaging 21.6 ppg this season. That average rises to 24.3 ppg on Thursdays.

The point increase could suggest that offenses are actually playing better on Thursdays than on other days of the week. Or it could just be that defenses are still tired from the week before. That's tough to distinguish so we'll assume it's a little of both.

I forgot who said it, but one ESPN analyst described the mindset of playing in a Thursday night game as "surviving." In the case of San Diego this week, that meant playing conservatively and letting the running game eat up the clock.

I suppose this "survival mode" is one way to approach the short week but it's not how most teams go about it. The difference in rushing yards between Thursday games and non-Thursday games is barely noticeable. In 17 Thursday night contests, teams have averaged 113.6 rushing yards per game, a slight increase over the usual 112.6 yards teams rush for on other days of the week.

But maybe there is something to quarterbacks not being as sharp on Thursdays. Teams throughout the league are averaging 230.1 passing yards per game on Thursday, which is ten yards fewer than quarterbacks have averaged on Sundays this season (240.2).

As I alluded to earlier, playing on Sunday is easier for players because it's familiar. As Manning noted, it also gives players more time to heal. Had this week's game been on a Sunday instead of a Thursday, there's a good chance Wes Welker (concussion) would have played.

Instead, the quick turnaround made that almost impossible. Who knows what kind of numbers Peyton would have posted had he been working with a full compliment of receivers on Thursday night.

But here's where things get kind of screwy. If what Peyton is saying is true, then teams should be crushing it on Monday night. The Monday night games give teams an extra 24 hours to prepare and get healthy, even if the opposite is true the following week. In no way can that be a bad thing for fantasy.

Yet for some reason, the stats aren't reflecting this. Teams are only averaging 332.5 ypg of offense on Monday night compared to 343.6 on Thursday and a whopping 353 on Sunday. Passing yardage has been much lower on Monday (223.3 yards per game) than on other days of the week (239.3).

So maybe it's all a wash, because when you think about it, isn't every team dealing with this? All 32 teams have played on Thursday this season with only the Broncos and Ravens playing more than once (obviously, they played each other). So the playing field is plenty even.

Players can complain about the Thursday games but they're not going away. In time, we'll all get used to it. Yes, even you, Peyton.

12/14 16:03:34 ET


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