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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019
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The Redzone: Early starts are a cause for alarm (clocks)

On Sunday, the Oakland Raiders lost their ninth consecutive game when asked to kick off at what is 10am for them. Steven O’Rourke is not happy.

Image: Tom Uhlman/AP/Press Association Images

TICK TOCK. TICK tock. Time is of great concern for Irish based fans of the NFL. How do we balance watching our favourite sport, which has us awake until after 4am three times a week, with running a normal life? It’s alright for you night owls but what about early birds?

Well, a study published in the May edition of the journal Emotion found that, in general, morning people felt happier and healthier than their night owl counterparts. Being a morning person, the researchers discovered, also had a positive effect on your immune system. The reason for this isn’t clear, but the researchers speculated it may have something to do with your biological clock syncing with your social clock.

Of course, doing the opposite, knocking your biological clock out of sync with your social clock by operating on three or four hours sleep, is going to have negative effects that I’m sure some of you have experienced: overtiredness, irritability and an overdependence on caffeine.

All talk of circadian rhythm

There is another side effect of knocking your body out of whack with life’s natural circadian rhythms which presents itself, in the case of the Oakland Raiders at least, as the complete inability to contest games taking place at 1pm on the east coast of the United States. On Sunday, they lost their ninth consecutive game to kick off at that time.

It’s generally accepted that athletic performance tends to peak in the mid to late afternoon. Research by Stanford University in the late nineties found this was consistent with existing circadian rhythm research showing a late-afternoon peak in anaerobic capacity and anaerobic power (a measure of quick-burst muscle strength), as well as body temperature, reflexes, co-ordination, and other indicators of physical performance.

This means teams travelling from east to west should rarely suffer in terms of performance because they are still in their athletic comfort zone. A 1pm start in San Francisco for the Patriots, for example, is the same as kicking off at 4pm at home. However, when the 49ers kick off at 1pm in Foxborough, it is the equivalent of playing at 10am on the west coast.

Does it make a difference? Yes, significantly so.

The early bird catches no breaks on the road

Analysis of east/west coast bias, conducted between 2007 and 2011, found the six teams from the Pacific (Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego and Oakland) and Mountain (Arizona and Denver) time zones  were statistically 6-7% more likely to lose a road game than teams from the central or eastern United States.

Of course, this could be accounted for by the fact a number of these teams haven’t been very good in general during that time period. However, three of them – Arizona, San Francisco and San Diego – were between 22.5% and 30% less likely to win on the road than at home where they all had winning records greater than the NFL average of 57%.

Most strikingly, in road games starting at 10am Pacific, the six teams from the west lost 84 of 133 encounters in the five years analysed. That’s a loss percentage of 63.2%.  If you take 2011 (and the playoff run of the 49ers and Broncos) out of the equation, it’s even worse with a loss rate of 67.9%

And if you think early starts are bad, having to travel from west to east is even worse. As I’ve already said, home field advantage in the NFL works out about 57% or thereabouts.  However, in games where east coast teams host the six western teams, the home side won 72.3% in the time period analysed. This shows the six teams travelling from west to east are at a significant disadvantage and is yet another reason why an NFL franchise in London is impractical.

Of course, this data is based on a five-year sample and it’s impossible to tell how it would play out over 10, 20 or 50 years. It also remains true that statistics aren’t everything and circadian rhythms don’t account for the Raiders’ Tommy Kelly and Lamarr Hunt needlessly getting thrown out of Sunday’s game with the Bengals or Carson Palmer having his worst performance of the season against his former team.

All sorts of factors play their part in the Oakland Raiders being a terrible football team but having to play games at, what is for them, 10am certainly doesn’t help. Nine consecutive losses when faced with such an early kick off are proof enough of that.

Now, where’s my coffee?

Week 12 results

  • Houston Texans 31 @ Detroit Lions 31
  • Washington Redskins 38 @ Dallas Cowboys 31
  • New England Patriots 49 @ New York Jets 19
  • Minnesota Vikings 10 @ Chicago Bears 28
  • Oakland Raiders 10 @ Cincinnati Bengals 34
  • Buffalo Bills 13 @ Indianapolis Colts 20
  • Denver Broncos 17 @ Kansas City Chiefs 9
  • Tennessee Titans 19 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 24
  • Seattle Seahawks 21 @ Miami Dolphins 24
  • Atlanta Falcons 24 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23
  • Pittsburgh Steelers 14 @ Cleveland Browns 20
  • San Francisco 49ers 31 @ New Orleans Saints 21
  • Baltimore Ravens 16 @ San Diego Chargers 13
  • St Louis Rams 31 @ Arizona Cardinals 17
  • Green Bay Packers 10 @ New York Giants 38

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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