Assembling an NFL schedule with 32 teams, bye weeks and at least one prime time appearance for every club is no easy task. The painstaking work in crafting a schedule that works has been well documented. However, since the league instituted the 13-week Thursday night prime time schedule in 2012 there are a handful of teams that have been handed a big disadvantage in terms of preparation time for their next opponent.
Almost every NFL club now appears on the Thursday night schedule in a given season. Those that don’t are on Sunday or Monday night. Coupled with those alternative game dates appears to be a perception that the shortened weeks on the front end for Thursday night participants or the extra rest for players and prep time for coaching staffs for the game that follows will even out. That has not proven to be the case.
One of the teams that has been at a decided scheduling disadvantage has been the Buffalo Bills.
Last year Buffalo had four games in a five-week span in which their opponent had extra rest and prep time via a bye week or having played a Thursday night game the week prior. In that span the Bills also had their own bye week, but the benefits were nullified by the fact that their opponent (Houston) also had a bye the same week.
Buffalo went 1-3 in those games in 2012.
This year’s schedule is unfortunately playing out in much the same fashion. In this year’s 2013 NFL slate Buffalo faces five opponents that will come off of extra rest leading up to the week that they face the Bills.
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The division rival New York Jets will be the beneficiaries of extra rest leading up to both of their games with Buffalo. They have a 10-day break prior to their Week 3 matchup with the Bills at MetLife Stadium as they’re scheduled to play Thursday night in Week 2. The Jets will also come off of their bye week to play the Bills in Week 11.
Still another division opponent, the Miami Dolphins, will get two weeks to prepare for their Week 7 matchup with the Bills. They too have a bye week prior to their important division game with Buffalo in Miami. That's immediately followed by a second straight opponent coming off the bye with a road game in New Orleans in Week 8.
Additionally, Buffalo will play Jacksonville off 10 days rest in Week 15.
Making the schedule an even greater challenge is for the second straight year Buffalo’s bye week has been compromised. The Bills’ bye week in Week 12, when Buffalo would enjoy an extra week to prepare, will be weakened by the fact that their opponent in Week 13 (Atlanta) will be coming off a Thursday night game.
To better illustrate how the league’s scheduling has slanted the playing field when it comes to extra rest and prep time, Buffalobills.com examined the 2013 NFL schedule for each of the 32 clubs.
Buffalo is the only team in the league in which five of their games are against clubs coming off extra rest. They’re also the only team with three of those games against divisional opponents.
The only other NFL club that comes close is the Atlanta Falcons. They have four games against teams coming off extra rest including a pair of division opponents in Carolina and Tampa Bay.
Six teams play three games against opponents coming off extra rest (Arizona, Carolina, NY Giants, Oakland, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay). Another seven have just two games against clubs with extra preparation time.
A whopping 14 teams have just one game against an opponent coming off more than a week of rest leaving just three teams which have no scheduling disadvantage.
Kansas City, New England and New Orleans have no games against opponents with an extended rest.
The Saints do face Seattle coming off their bye week, but have a Thursday night game of their own providing them with three extra days to prepare themselves.
Only four NFL teams had their bye weeks compromised. Their opponent that week either had a bye themselves or a Thursday night game the same week (Buffalo, Houston, Indianapolis, Seattle).
Any NFL coach would emphatically state that an extra three days to prepare for an opponent coming off a Thursday night game is invaluable. The benefits of a bye week are even greater.
When a team is on the other side of that prep time equation it’s a decided disadvantage, one that the league must strive to correct. When more than half the league has one or fewer such games, while others have two or more an edge inadvertent or not exists.
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Not even counting Buffalo’s compromised bye week, almost a third of the Bills’ 2013 schedule (31%) will put them at a disadvantage in terms of rest and prep time. Realizing three of those games come against division opponents greatly stacks the deck against Buffalo.
For a contending team like Atlanta a quarter of their schedule is against opponents with extra rest and prep time including a pair of division rivals.
The NFL needs to find a formula to keep the number of games against opponents with extra rest to a maximum of three, ideally two if possible. Even more important, none of those games against opponents coming off longer layoffs should be against division opponents.
As NFL coaches and players often state, division games count double knowing how critical they are in determining a team’s postseason chances.
The National Football League has a history of being very vigilant in maintaining a level playing field. This however, appears to be a scheduling anomaly that has gone undetected.
It’s very difficult to call the NFL a league of parity when there’s one team with half of their division games against clubs with extra time to rest and prepare, while another in the same division has none. The league simply has to do better.