By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
So much for the idea that home-field advantage is extra important for a Thursday game in the NFL.
Oh it still may apply to most teams, but not the New York Giants this season.
After becoming the first defending Super Bowl champion to drop their home (Wednesday) opener since the prime-time tradition began in 2004, the Giants have again done something rare in Week 3.
While NFL Network’s Michael Irvin was picking Carolina to win because Eli Manning had “never thrown a touchdown pass on Thursday,” he seemed to forget Cam Newton had never thrown any kind of pass in a Thursday game, or any game in prime time on any day of the week for that matter.
Carolina’s prime-time debut in the Newton era was a total dud with the young quarterback tossing three interceptions to heighten the Giants’ 36-7 rout.
With that 29-point victory, the Giants have the sixth largest margin of victory by a road team in any Thursday game since the 1970 merger.
Largest Margin of Victory, Road Team in Thursday Game (Since 1970)
Not surprising to see the “Thanks for giving us the Lions” appear twice in big Thanksgiving routs in recent years. The top beatdown belongs to the 1977 Miami Dolphins when Bob Griese threw six touchdown passes versus the St. Louis Cardinals in a 55-14 win on Thanksgiving.
Breaking down Thursday games (2006-2012)
Focusing on recent years, the home team has been dominant in the games played on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football, which started in 2006.
After Green Bay’s demolition of Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears last week, the home team had a record of 26-12 (.684) in these prime time games on the short week since 2006. Their average margin of victory has been 13.3 points.
Typically, the home team wins 57-to-58 percent of the games in the NFL, so you can see the big advantage the Thursday game was carrying. However, with every team in the league playing one this season, we will likely see that number regress to the mean.
As history shows us, it is still better to be a good team than the home team. The Giants are a better team than Carolina right now, and despite Carolina being at home, the Giants having several offensive starters out with injury, the better team still won, and won big at that.
But how many times does the better team really win on Thursday? We looked at the season records for these teams in the 37 games played from 2006 to 2011 to see if it was a matter of favorable scheduling that led to such a strong record for the home team.
Home vs. Road Record
-2 to +2 Wins
-3 Wins or worse
The “+3 Wins” represent all the home teams that had won at least three more regular season games than their opponent. Those teams went 9-0 with the average score being almost a 20-point victory.
The sample size is not great, but in the 17 games where the teams were within two games of each other, the home teams dominated with a 13-4 record.
When the home team was three wins or more behind their opponent, they were just 3-8. That means we have only seen three real upsets over the years, and each was a division game.
- Cincinnati (8-8) vs. Baltimore (13-3), 11/30/2006: The Bengals grinded out a 13-7 win.
- Cleveland (5-11) vs. Pittsburgh (9-7), 12/10/2009: Even though the Steelers were on a four-game losing streak, this was still a shocking upset. Cleveland won 13-6.
- Indianapolis (2-14) vs. Houston (10-6), 12/22/2011: Here is your biggest upset when Dan Orlovsky led a game-winning touchdown drive to down Houston 19-16 last season.
If you were to predict the Giants will win at least three more games than the Panthers this season (that is realistic), then the Giants would have been a smart pick in spite of Carolina’s home-field advantage.
In the 25 wins by the home team, the home team had an average of 1.64 more wins than their opponent. In the 12 losses by the home team, the home team had an average of 3.33 fewer wins than their opponent.
In all 37 games, just five teams who would finish the season with a losing record managed to win, regardless of site.
Basically, the results confirm a lot of what we already suspected: good teams win at home, home-field advantage matters more between evenly matched teams, and good teams still win most road games against inferior competition.
Here are the 13 road teams, Giants included, to pull off the Thursday night win since 2006:
Road Victories on Thursday Night Football (Since 2006)
W 34-31 OT
It was the fifth Thursday win for the Manning brothers, as Peyton had four of the last 12, including the previous largest margin of victory (MOV) with an 18-point win in Atlanta on Thanksgiving 2007.
Next week’s Thursday night game is Cleveland at Baltimore. If how each team handled the Cincinnati Bengals this year is any indication, expect that home record to go back up to 27-13 with ease.
Though, since it is a division game, probably wise to not expect the type of ease in which the Giants handled Carolina this week. As you can see, that was a rare domination and statement game for our defending champions.
Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.