Thursday night’s alright for throwing

If you’ve watched NFL Network at all the last few days you might know that Thursday Night Football begins this week. Raiders and Chargers from San Diego means the first of the ‘short weeks’ is upon us. From a fantasy perspective, it’s always nerve-wracking to have to set a guy or two for Thursday night, three days ahead of the rest of the action. Some owners stay away from the Thursday guys just because they don’t want the potential of looking at a couple of “0” spots on their roster while your opponent still has their whole team to play. Yes, I actually know people who do that.

Weird, we are, as fantasy owners.

Look, I’m of the philosophy you play who you want to play regardless of the day they play (if Calvin Johnson played on a Tuesday at 3 a.m., I would still play him). But I can help you with this: how do players respond in the first Thursday game? Is it so much of a schedule change with the shorter week it affects their production? Let’s take a look back at the first three years of TNF (that’s what we call it here at the NFL) and see how the players performed.

2008 – Broncos 34, Browns 30: Jay Cutler (we’ll have him with a quite different result next) was good for 447 yards and three touchdowns. Eddie Royal caught six passes for 164 yards (which is the last time Royal was relevant anywhere).  Ryan Torain ran for 64 yards and a score (yes, he was originally a Bronco).  Brady Quinn (yes, he actually started a game) threw for 239 yards and two scores, one of them to Kellen Winslow (boy is everyone I mention on a different team now?) who also caught 10 balls for 111 yards. Jamal Lewis ran for 60 yards and a score.

2009 – 49ers 10, Bears 6: This was the infamous 307-yard, five-interception performance for Cutler. Alex Smith was good for just 118 yards and an INT. Matt Forte had 41 yards rushing and 120 receiving. Greg Olsen caught seven passes for 75 yards. Frank Gore ran for 104 yards and a TD, but no 49ers wideout had more than 48 yards receiving.

2010 – Falcons 26, Ravens 21: The quarterbacks were great. Matt Ryan went for 316 yards and three TDs, while Joe Flacco passed for 215 yards and three TDs. Roddy White caught 12 passes (remember when Roddy White could do that?) for 138 yards and two scores. Anquan Boldin and Todd Heap each were over 50 yards receiving and a TD. The running game struggled – Ray Rice had just 59 yards on the ground and Michael Turner totaled 39.

So what can we take away from this?  If you’re playing your QB Thursday night, expect fireworks. Five out of the six quarterbacks had great days through the air (even Cutler sliced up San Francisco despite those picks). WR production was pretty good as well. But running backs? Not so much. Possibly it’s the short week and lack of recovery time, but only one RB cracked the century mark on the ground. No one else was even close to 100 besides Gore.  Obviously if you have a stud RB, you’re playing him. But if you’ve got choices, shy away from the Thursday plays and wait for Sunday.

See Jason Smith on NFL Fantasy Live, airing Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET on the Red Zone Channel, and Tuesday-Friday on NFL Network at 2 p.m. ET and 12AMET/9pmPT.  He writes Fantasy and other NFL pith on NFL.com daily.  Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca.  He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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