This Monday night, Washington’s NFL team will face a dauntingly familiar obstacle in the heat of a playoff race. It’s not their opponent, the struggling Carolina Panthers. Rather, it’s a home Monday Night Football game.
Washington is a brutal 2-15 at home (.118 winning percentage) under Monday night’s primetime lights since 1996, the worst record in such games in the NFL. In that same 20-year span, they are 82-66 (.554 winning percentage) on all other days at home.
The Monday Night Football games aren’t close either; Washington is routinely blown out at FedEx Field, losing by nearly two touchdowns on average. Their average point differential dwarfs other teams that struggle at home on Monday nights. On a per-game basis, it’s nearly three times lower than the next worst team.
Only ten other NFL teams have negative point differentials during home Monday night games over the last two decades. The sum of those ten point differentials is -235 points, just five points worse than Washington’s -230, as this graphic shows.
Why has Washington struggled in these games and not in their other home contests? In short, they’ve gotten an unlucky draw, consistently facing tougher competition than other teams on Monday nights.
At face value, it seems plausible that the NFL would select better teams to play in primetime games to boost national ratings and interest. The numbers, however, say otherwise.
In 2014 and 2015, the average team to appear on Monday Night Football ended the season ranked 16 in DVOA (a metric of overall performance), exactly the midpoint of all 32 NFL teams.
The average end-of-season DVOA rank of Washington’s opponents was 11, better than about two-thirds of the league. In fact, more than 40 percent of their opponents ended the season ranked within the top five in the NFL in DVOA — and more than 70 percent ranked within the top half of the league.
Another way of looking at the quality of Washington’s opponents is their record entering the Monday night matchup. Eleven of Washington’s 17 opponents entered the game with a winning record and just three had losing records (three games were played in the season’s first week).
Facing this difficult slate of competition, Washington continually lost the turnover battle. Their average turnover margin per Monday night home game was -1.24, the worst of any NFL team.
Similarly, their defense struggles to stop opposing offenses, allowing the most yards per play (5.86) in the NFL in these games. Their average yardage differential (yards allowed per game subtracted from yards gained per game) is also the worst in the league, at -60 yards.
This all adds up to total disaster for Washington from kickoff through the final whistle. Their average point differential through each quarter is significantly lower than any other team in the league. Down by nearly double-digits at halftime, they lose, on average, by two touchdowns on Monday nights.