Do Good NFL Teams ‘Rise to the Occasion’ on Monday Night Football?

Over the years, I’ve heard NFL players, commentators and fantasy football analysts hypothesize that Monday Night Football brings extra motivation for teams to perform well. Whether it’s the national TV audience or playing under the lights, the theory is that players and teams want to show the world just how good they are.

While this idea seems plausible enough, I’ve never been presented with statistics or data proving it to be true. With the help of our Bet Labs software, I decided to run the analysis and find out for myself whether good teams actually do play better or “overperform” on Monday Night Football.

To start, I needed a universal way to measure just how “good” a team is and, more importantly, who the “better” team is on a per game basis. Thankfully, oddsmakers do most of the work by determining point spreads for every NFL game. Using NFL spreads, it’s reasonable to assume that the favorite in each game is “expected” to be the better team. We can also surmise that as a point spread increases, so does the expectation of how much better the favorite should be than the underdog.

With this in mind, I created a Bet Labs system that isolates all NFL favorites playing on Monday night, dating back to 2005. I then analyzed favorites at the -3 and -7 point-spread levels to see how teams perform against the spread (ATS) as they get better (or are expected to be better) than their opponents.

After compiling the data, I did the same analysis for all other NFL games, with Monday Night Football excluded.

The table below displays the ATS results:

  Monday Night Football All Other Games
All Favorites 76-63 (54.7%) 933-967 (49.1%)
-3 and Greater 67-52 (56.3%) 750-803 (48.3%)
-7 and Greater 29-18 (61.7%) 299-322 (48.1%)

*Opening and closing lines from Pinnacle were used to determine ATS records.

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Right off the bat, the results show that good NFL teams cover the spread on Monday Night Football at a rate 54.7%, compared to a 49.1% cover rate in games on all other days. Already, we see good teams “rising to the occasion” or outperforming expectations on Monday night.

Furthermore, the better the team is expected to be, the better the ATS performance, culminating in a 61.7% ATS win rate for favorites of 7 points or greater on Monday Night Football. Interestingly, we see the opposite trend in all other NFL games, as 3-point favorites only cover 48.3% of the time and 7-point favorites are even worse at 48.1% ATS.

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