When you think about handicapping the NFL, “circadian advantage” isn’t one of those terms that immediately comes to mind.
“Yards per play,” maybe. Or, perhaps, “quarterback efficiency.” But circadian advantage? What the heck does that even mean?
From a post by Frank Deford on NPR’s website:
Typically, human energy flags during the day—but, for some primordial reason, picks up again around 6 p.m. By 10, though, the sandman has started his siren song.
Now, a few times each NFL season, an eastern team plays a western team in a night game. For television reasons, all the games start around 8:30 p.m. ET.
That means for an East Coast home game, the West Coast players still have their body clocks set at 5:30—ready to perk up, as the Eastern boys will soon run down. If the West Coast team is home, same thing: It’s 5:30 for the Pacific boys, but the Atlantic guys’ body clocks say it’s 8:30.
Follow me? It doesn’t matter where the game is played. The West Coast bodies are coming to life as the East Coast bodies are feeling nature’s circadian cues to sleep.
Deford argues that the location of the game doesn’t matter. A West Coast team will always have a circadian edge over an East Coast team in night games, and researchers found that “over a quarter-century span, the West Coast teams beat the East an amazing 70 percent of the time against the spread.”
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Why is this relevant this week?
Well, the Detroit Lions just happen to be scheduled to play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football. San Francisco is currently a 6.5-point favorite at most sportsbooks, a line that makes a lot of sense.
After a road win at Green Bay to open the season, the 49ers are probably perceived to be about a field goal better than the Lions on a neutral field, and when you factor in 3 or 3.5 points for home-field advantage, you arrive at the current point spread.
In other words, it’s unlikely this circadian advantage is factored into the line.
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We wrote a post more than a year ago about circadian advantage in the NFL.
That post looked at only Monday Night Football games, but these were the nuggets worth taking away.
Two professors studied every Monday Night Football game from 1970 to 1994 that featured a possible circadian advantage. Here are their findings:
|TEAMS||MNF OVERALL WIN %||MNF HOME WIN %||MNF ROAD WIN %|
West Coast teams won 71 percent of their home games and 56.3 percent of the time on the road. Compare this to the East Coast (43.8% at home, 29% on the road), and the ‘circadian advantage’ becomes apparent.
Of the 63 games studied, West Coast teams won by an average of 14.7 points per game whereas East Coast teams won by only 9 points per game.
To validate their findings, the authors then took a look at games in which a West Coast team played a home game against teams that aren’t on the East Coast, and vice versa. The results can be found in the table below.
|TEAM||MNF vs NON-WEST COAST||MNF vs NON-EAST COAST|
The statistics show that East Coast teams perform 23.7 percent better against teams with less ‘circadian advantage’ whereas the win percentage of teams from the West Coast drops 12.9 percent.
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“Well, all that’s great,” you’re probably saying. “But these studies stopped in the mid-1990s. What about more recent results?”
We’re glad you asked.
Since 1995, there have been 19 Monday Night Football games where a West Coast team played an East Coast team. The Western team covered the spread 14 times (74%) by an average of 12.4 points.
Last year, the Chargers won 38-14 at Jacksonville as 3-point favorites in Week 13, and the Niners beat Pittsburgh 20-3 as 3-point home favorites in Week 15.
West Coast teams are also 8-1 ATS on the road compared to just 6-4 at home and are 11-4 as a favorite (3-1 as underdog).
Deford promises you’ll “cash in” if you take San Francisco -6.5 this weekend on Sunday Night Football. We won’t go that far, but this is an extremely interesting finding.
Other games to watch in 2012:
- Dec. 16, San Francisco at New England
- Dec. 23, San Diego at New York Jets