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The NFL Bye-Week System Is Broken. Here Is How To Fix It.

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By jjflr
Published: November 14, 2007
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Just in case you hadn’t noticed, the NFL Bye-Week system is broken.  Your friendly NFL informer, jjflr, is here to explain how to fix it.  To preface my analysis and solution, let’s go over the history of the bye-week system:


n      The Bye-Week system was implemented by then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 1990.

n      It was initially proposed to give players ‘rest and rejuvination’ time.  The real reason?  Expanding the NFL schedule to 17 weeks, thereby increasing T.V. revenues.

n      It worked so well, the NFL attempted a ‘2-bye weeks’ per team system in 1993.  It failed and they went back to 1-bye per team per year the next season.

n      This year, the bye weeks moved from weeks 3-9 to weeks 4-10.

n      Since inception, teams coming off of their bye week have won 52% of the time.

n      Recently (’05,’06’,and ’07), however, the winning percentage has increased to 58%.


Year in and year out, 2 predominant themes surround bye-week scheduling. 


1)      WHEN a team gets their bye week.  Several theories abound.  Players and coaches can’t even agree on when the best time is for a bye week.  The punishment of training camp generates some opinion that an early-season bye is best.  However, others feel a late-season bye is better to reinvigorate a team for the stretch run.  History shows that there is very little evidence that either one affects a team’s chances of success.

2)      HOW the bye is going to affect the team the rest of the year.  If a team is playing well, will the bye kill their momentum?  Conversely, if a team is playing badly, could it give them time to fix the problems?


Overall, the assumed ‘advantage’ that a team has against their opponent coming off of a bye-week is overblown, however it is still there.  Statistical evidence shows that a team has a slight advantage coming out of their bye week, winning 52% of the time since 1990, although the trend seems to be growing, with post-bye teams winning 58% over the past 3 seasons.  This could be due to the fact that organizations are now figuring out how to best utilize the bye-week now that they have had time to work with it over the years.


Some organizations and coaches seem to perform better off of bye weeks than others.  Mike Shanahan has been very successful coming out of the bye week and proved it once again this year with a victory with 2 weeks to plan.  The Vikings are always one of the best organizations to take full advantage of the bye week and they, too, won their post-bye match-up in 2007.  Other teams that historically seem to thrive with 2 weeks off are the Cowboys, Packers, and Eagles. 


However, oddly enough, some organizations seem to regress after the extra week.  The Giants and Bucs are 2 of the worst teams coming off of a bye.  The Giants already lost their post-bye game once again this year.  The Bucs have theirs on Sunday.  Other teams that seem to struggle coming off of the bye:  the Seahawks and Bengals.


WHEN a team gets their bye-week and the advantage to it is very subjective.  We do not know how a season would have played out differently if a team had a different bye week.  The statistical evidence does not support any advantage for a certain week and we just don’t know how their season would have ended differently.

There is NO doubt that a bye week can change a team's overall momentum, though, regardless of whether it is positive or negative momentum.  This year, the Raiders played very well prior to their bye in week 5.  Their offense was on a roll and after winning 2 in a row, they found themselves in 1st place.  They haven't been able to get back on track since their bye, losing all 5 games.  Conversely, the Eagles typically use their bye week as a platform to explode for the rest of the season.


There is a 3rd aspect to the current bye-week system that is rarely discussed but is just as important in the big picture.  That is, “How many post bye-week OPPONENTS a team faces each year.”  IF you are of the belief that a team coming off of their bye has an unfair advantage, then the team they are facing is at a DISadvantage.  With the current system of SEVEN weeks of bye play, it gives too MANY opportunities for a team to match-up with a team coming off of 2 weeks of rest.


This year, for example, the Pittsburgh Steelers will face 3 teams coming off of their bye week, including this week’s opponent, the New York Jets.  At the same time, EIGHT teams in the league will not face a single team with 2 weeks to prepare for them.  The Bills have had to face a 2-week-rested Patriots team, a crucial division rival,  several times through the years, and must do it again this Sunday.  THAT is inexcusable and puts the Bills at a disadvantage most likely. 


Which brings me to my point.  For all of the reasons listed above, the current bye-week system is broken. 


Currently, each team gets 1 bye week.  There are 7 weeks of bye rotation.  5 of those weeks have 4 teams ‘off’ and 2 of those weeks have 6 teams off.  Therefore, during almost half of the season, there are from 26 to 28 teams playing on a weekly basis.


Here is the solution:  The bye week system needs to be shortened to 4 weeks.  In a matter of 22 days, EVERY NFL team will take their ‘extra’ week off.  During weeks 6, 7, 8, and 9, there will be 8 teams each week taking their bye.  There will be 24 teams still playing during these 4 weeks, allowing the NFL plenty of flexibility to schedule some intriguing contests for prime-time, etc.


This would ensure that the bye weeks are all taken at approximately the same timeframe during the season, which eliminates the issue of a team getting their bye at a ‘better’ time in the season according to some players, coaches, and fans. 


This would also reduce the chances of a team facing multiple teams coming off of their bye during the year, making a more equitable schedule for each team and a better competitive balance.


It would NOT affect the 17-week schedule, thereby protecting the T.V. revenue and it would allow the NFL to continue to forego a prime-time game during the World Series, as the NFL schedule would be ‘lighter’ from mid-October to early-November with this system.


22 days is ALL that is needed to eliminate 2 of the 3 ‘bye-week issues’.  The 3rd issue of how well a team performs after their bye week is out of anyone’s control.  Some teams just seem to take advantage of the extra week better than others.  Nothing can be done to change that.


I am certain that one of my PSH friends near New York will personally hand-deliver this plan to the NFL offices in New York City.  I will look forward to seeing my plan implemented as soon as 2008 (and will be looking for my royalty check in the mail). 

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