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Bye-Bye, Bye Week

So it’s the bye week for Pittsburgh, and Chicago, and the Chargers, and New England, and Cleveland, and Minnesota. That’s 6 teams not playing football this week, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Those 6 teams get to rest and recharge at the halfway point of the season, 8 games played and 8 more to go. Pittsburgh, New England, and Minnesota are all sitting at 6-2, and are positioning to earn a coveted week off for Wild Card weekend which falls on week 18 of the season.

Playoff Byes are so important that the top 2 teams in each conference are given a week off to start the playoffs. Then the top 2 teams that win each conference, get a week off before the Super Bowl. Rest is very important to maximize the chances of star players playing in big games. The NFL knows this, and it’s why byes are built into the playoff format, twice!

Having byes early in the year is not ideal for any NFL team. Injuries are going to happen throughout the season, and it is advantageous to get a week off, as late as possible. This maximizes health heading down the stretch to make the playoffs and hopefully play in them as well. With the playoff format of byes being so well understood, conversely there is no rhyme or reason as to how bye teams are decided and scheduled. From 2010-2013 the Steelers enjoyed 2 week 5 byes, a bye week 4, and a bye week 11, which was the last week of byes that year. Having a bye after 3 or 4 games played seems almost useless when factoring in the team has to play another 12-13 games before having a chance to rest, and that is a tough task for any football team.

After 2013, the trend for byes later in the season began for the Steelers. They had a bye the last week of the season in 2014 (Week 12) and 2015 (Week 11). They then were awarded center season byes in 2016 (Week 8), and Week 9 this season. Since 2014 the Steelers have had byes that gave them the best chance to be healthy at the end of the year. It doesn’t always work out, as season ending injuries can happen any week, but they still had the best chance of having their star players healthy, with the placement of those byes.

Not only is it not set when a team gets a bye, but he bye weeks change from year to year. Here are the starting and ending weeks for byes since 2010:

2010: Week 4 – Week 10; 7 bye weeks
2011: Week 5 – Week 11; 7 bye weeks
2012: Week 4 – Week 11; 8 bye weeks
2013: Week 4 – Week 12; 9 bye weeks
2014: Week 4 – Week 12; 9 bye weeks
2015: Week 4 – Week 11; 8 bye weeks
2016: Week 4 – Week 13; 9 bye weeks No bye week 12
2017: Week 1 – Week 11; 8 bye weeks No bye weeks 2-4

This past year was an anomaly, since Miami and Tampa couldn’t play due to a hurricane and had to take their bye week 1. If they didn’t have to take the bye so early, there would have only been 7 bye weeks this year, and they would have occurred week 5-11. I think the format for 2017 was supposed to be the most fair way to currently handle bye weeks. There is still room for improvement, and I have an idea to make the bye weeks consistent, fair, and still profitable for the NFL.

I would propose a 4 week period of byes scheduled near the center of the season, and I would target weeks 8-11. This gives teams a rest after 7, 8, 9, or 10 games, leaving 9, 8, 7, and 6 games respectively left to play. To make it consistent, 8 teams have a bye during each one of those weeks. The teams on a bye will be the directional opposite of each conference. This still maximizes regional advertising during bye weeks, so the regional television stations can still play the opposite conference games locally if the other local division has a bye.

For Example:
Week 7: AFC North, NFC South
Week 8: AFC East, NFC West
Week 9: AFC South, NFC North
Week 10: AFC West, NFC East

Then each following year the teams move up one week, so if you had a bye week 7 in 2018, you would have a bye in week 8 of 2019. The team with the week 10 bye would then have the week 7 bye the following year. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The only downside to this type of bye system is it would be very difficult to schedule players to play for fantasy football. Though it may also shake up the fantasy standings to make for more interesting playoff runs.

This format may be bad for fantasy football, but it would be great for actual football. Giving teams an equal and consistent chance to rest and get healthy for the last stretch of the season. Then we could all say bye-bye to the current bye week format, and create a better bye for all NFL teams to buy into.

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