by Gwynn Guilford
David K. Randall explains how the rigid 8:30pm timing of Monday Night Football leaves teams vulnerable to their circadian rhythms, particularly in that "strength, flexibility, and reaction times surge in the early evening, when [they pull] the body out of the post-lunch funk":
The scheduling of Monday Night Football games presents a unique circadian problem, especially if a team from the West Coast is playing a team from the East Coast. Players on the West Coast team are playing at their equivalent of 5:30 p.m…, [while East Coast players'] bodies are past their natural performance peaks before the first quarter ends. By the fourth quarter, the team from the East Coast will be competing close to its equivalent of midnight. Their bodies will be subtly preparing for sleep by taking steps such as lowering the body temperature, slowing the reaction time, and increasing the amount of melatonin in their bloodstream. Athletes on the team from the West Coast, meanwhile, are still competing in the prime time of their circadian cycle.
The trend bears out historically, it seems – with surprisingly consistent odds:
The Stanford researchers dug through 25 years of Monday night NFL games and flagged every time a West Coast team played an East Coast team. Then, in an inspired move, they compared the final scores for each game with the point spread developed by bookmakers in Vegas. The results were stunning. The West Coast teams dominated their East Coast opponents no matter where they played. A West Coast team won 63 percent of the time, by an average of two touchdowns. The games were much closer when an East Coast team won, with an average margin of victory of only nine points. By picking the West Coast team every time, someone would have beaten the point spread 70 percent of the time.