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Offseason Research

WHO WAS HURT MOST BY THE NFL SCHEDULE RELEASE

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: May 15, 2022, 8:32 pm ET

The NFL released its 2022 schedule and it’s a major cause for re-evaluation of schedule strength.  Why?

Strength of schedule truly has two components:

1. Strength of scheduled opponent
2. Difficultly of scheduled timing

We knew WHO each team was playing this year. So from that perspective, we knew strength of scheduled opponent.  

But we didn’t know WHEN each team was playing. So we didn’t know the difficulty of the schedule situation.

For example:  How many days do they have to prepare for their game?  How many does their opponent have?  Are they coming off a road game on a short week?  Is their bye week edge negated?  

Which means we need to evaluate strength of scheduled timing.

Strength of schedule in regards to opponents and strength of schedule in regards to timing are two completely different things, and we could only evaluate the latter once the schedule dropped.

In order to evaluate the latter, we look at a number of variables related to rest and prep.

Those include:

-    Net rest edges
-    Opponent’s days to prepare for your game
-    More or less rest than opponent
-    Short week road games
-    Games off road Sunday night or Monday night
-    Negated bye weeks
-    4 games separated by 17 days
 

Net rest edges

Net rest edge can be massive.  Net rest is the edge in days of rest a team has by game, summed over the course of the season. For example:  this year the defending Super Bowl Champion LA Rams play the opening Thursday game on September 8th vs the Bills.  They don’t play again until the following Sunday, which is ten days after their prior game.  In that Week 2 game, they play the Falcons, who played seven days prior on opening Sunday.  Thus, for Week 2, the Rams have a net rest edge of 3 days and the Falcons carry a -3 for the game.  Sum it over the course of the season, and you get the net rest edge for the entirety of the season.

Last year, there were six teams with net rest edges of +9 or better over the course of the season.  These included the Rams (+9) and the surprising Bengals (+11).  Both made the Super Bowl.   It’s not always the total rest that matters.  It can also be “games with a rest advantage” that matters.  For example:  the Bengals were +11, but had just 3 games with a rest edge.  What truly helped them is they played zero games with a rest disadvantage.  On the other end of the spectrum, Washington played five games with a rest disadvantage and went 1-4 in these games.  Rest edge does not mean you’re easily going to win a game nor does rest disadvantage mean you’re going to lose.  But it’s a factor and it matters to teams.  Particularly when we’re talking about a 3+ day rest edge.

Last year, for example, teams with a rest edge of 3+ days went 33-23-1 (59%) and covered the spread at a 54% rate.  Since 2015, teams with a rest edge of over 3 days won 53.8% of games and covered 52.7%.  It may not seem like a LOT, but it’s a factor.  And even though often the betting line attempts to account for such a rest edge by taxing the more rested team, these teams are still covering the spread at a 52.7% clip (barely enough to blindly bet every single team with over 3 days rest at -110 odds and still profit).

This graphic shows the net rest edge for each team this season. Each block is a single game where one team has a rest advantage or disadvantage.

For example, a +1 block for Buffalo indicates they have 1 extra day of rest compared to their opponent for one game this season. Sum up the individual game blocks and you get the net rest edge for the season.  A team with just 4 blocks means in their other 13 games, they have even rest with their opponent.

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You can see how important this is when you study the haves and have nots. The Bills are +12 and the Packers are -12. That’s a 24-day swing in rest edge. To put that in perspective: in a sport that spans FOUR months from start to finish, one team has nearly ONE month more rest than another team. That hardly seems justifiable. 

Remarkably, this is an improvement from schedules the NFL has issued in the past.  Last year, the Patriots were -14 in net rest, which represented a 27-day swing from the team with the most net rest.  

Let’s talk about a few teams of interest here:

In very strange fashion, the NFL made THREE different teams each play FOUR GAMES vs opponents off of a “mini-bye”.  This happens when you play a team coming off a Thursday night game, so that team has three extra days of prep and rest.  Last year, no team played four opponents off of mini-byes.  This year, it’s happening to three teams:  the Commanders, Jets and Jaguars.

The Commanders remarkably play four games with three-day rest disadvantages.  This happens when you play a team coming off a Thursday night game, or what we like to call a “mini-bye”.  In Week 10, the Commanders play the Eagles, who are off a mini-bye after playing Thursday of Week 9.  The same happens when Washington plays the Giants in Week 13 (NYG plays on Thanksgiving the prior week), the 49ers in Week 16 (SF plays on Thursday of Week 15) and the Cowboys in Week 18 (DAL plays on Thursday of Week 17).  So not only is Washington playing four teams off mini-byes, they are playing all four very late in the season.

The NY Jets are another team that plays four teams off of mini-byes.  Unlike the Commanders, they aren’t all bunched to the end of the season.  But oddly, they play teams off mini-byes in back-to-back games, and do that twice.  First, in Week 4 vs the Steelers and Week 5 vs the Dolphins.  Then in Week 14 vs the Vikings and in Week 15 vs the Bills.  The worst part about that second set of games is both are road games for the Jets.
The Bills, after a net rest disadvantage in 2021 of -1, are fortunate to have a net rest advantage of 12 days in 2022.  They have their standard bye (and face the Packers at home off the bye).  They also have a uniquely great situation in that they play three games on Thursday which translate into two separate mini-byes.  They have a mini-bye leading into a home game vs the Titans in Week 2.  They then play on Thanksgiving Week 12 vs the Lions (both teams have just 3 days rest entering this game) but then play the Patriots the following Thursday in Week 13, who also played on Thanksgiving.  So neither team is at rest disadvantage for that Week 13 game.  However, the Bills Week 14 game vs the Jets is preceded by that mini-bye.  So there are two +3 rest edges.  Buffalo also plays the Chiefs in Week 6 on standard rest, but the Chiefs are off a MNF game in Week 5, thus the Bills have a one-day rest edge.  Buffalo does play two Monday night games and have a one-day rest disadvantage in their next game.

Dallas is another hot-button team in that they often seem to have the schedule fall their way and this year they have a substantial net rest edge of +8 days.  Their lone major disadvantage is Week 7, when the play the Lions who are coming off of their bye.  But Dallas has a full bye week edge of their own vs the Packers in Week 10, and they also have +4 and +3 rest edges.  Dallas play the Colts in Week 13 on Sunday night football the week after hosting the Giants for Thanksgiving.  The Colts, however, are coming off a Monday night game in Week 12.  So the Colts are on short rest while the Cowboys are off a mini-bye.  Additionally, the Cowboys have a rest edge of 3 days entering Week 18 vs Washington, having played the Titans on Thursday of Week 17 (of note, however, this is the first time the Cowboys have played a road Thursday game on a short week since the NFL expanded Thursday night football in 2006.  They had been one of two teams to never be forced to play on the road on Thursday on a short week prior to 2022.)

The Packers are clearly the most negatively impacted team.  They face the Bills and the Cowboys off byes (-7) and the Commanders off a TNF game (-3).  They play the Dolphins on a short week after MNF (-1) and have a week 17 game vs the Vikings with a day less rest (-1).  On the positive, they play on TNF (+3 for their game vs the Eagles).  But instead of getting 7 days rest edge off their bye, it is partially negated as the Rams are coming off of a Thursday night game (+4).

That said, teams with great coaching CAN overcome rest disadvantages.  For example, Matt LaFleur’s Packers (13-3 in all 3 of his season) are a NFL-best 5-1 in games the last three years when their opponent had over 3 days rest advantage.  Meanwhile, teams like the Dolphins (1-5 the last three years with a rest disadvantage over 3 days), Jaguars (0-4) and Raiders (0-3) haven’t been able to win in such disadvantageous situations.  So, while the Packers are certainly “losers” in this metric this season, everything must be taken into context.  

The bottom line:  rest disadvantages hurt teams which are poorly run or weaker more than they hurt better teams, rest edges (particularly those of 3+ days) do matter, and the NFL’s scheduling department did a slightly better job here than last year.

 
Opponent’s days to prepare for your game

If the standard is a game every 7 days, with 6 days of rest in between, how often does an opponent have more than standard rest to prepare to face your team?

One team this year, the Jets, play six games where their opponents have extra time to prepare for them.  Last year, three teams fell in this category, so the NFL improved by reducing this occurrence.

Thankfully this year, every team plays at least one game where their opponent has extra time to prepare for them.   Last year, two teams (Bengals and Panthers) played zero games vs teams having extra time to prepare.

Thus the NFL did a great job distinctly narrowing the gap between the have and have nots.  Last year we had five teams facing either 6 opponents with extra time to prepare or no opponents with extra time to prepare.  This year, it’s only one team in that category.

It’s still not perfect, but it’s getting better.  

But we still have a team like the Jaguars playing five games where their opponent has extra time to prepare and only one game where their opponent has less time to prepare (-4 net).  There are three teams with a -4 net in this metric, while in 2021, there were five.

And oddly, it’s the other end of the spectrum that has an anomaly we didn’t last year.  

The Cowboys play six games vs teams who have less than a week to prepare for Dallas.  Last year, only one team even played four games vs opponents with less than a week to prepare for them.

In Week 5 vs the Rams, LA is on a short week off MNF
In Week 8 vs the Bears, Chicago is on a short week off MNF
In Week 12 vs the Giants, NY is playing on the road on a short week on Thanksgiving
In Week 13 vs the Colts, Indianapolis is playing on a short week off MNF
In Week 16 vs the Eagles, Philadelphia is playing on a short week as the game is Saturday
In Week 17 vs the Titans, Tennessee is playing on a short week as the game is Thursday

Not all of these games present rest edges (only three of them do) but it is odd to see a team have so many games vs opponents on short rest:

The average last year was 2.1 games vs opponents on short rest per team and only one team was at 4 games.

The average this year is 2.6 games vs opponents on short rest per team, and no team is over 4 games aside from Dallas at 6 games. 

 
More or less rest than opponent

Once again, the schedule strongly favors the Cowboys.  Dallas is the only team in the NFL this year to play five games where they will have more rest than their opponent.

Again, this isn’t WHO they play. The NFL created this schedule on their own and decided they will let the Cowboys play five games where they will have more rest than their opponent and will play only two games where they will have less rest than their opponent.

The Chiefs +3 game edge in this category is tied for the best for any team (Panthers, Lions and Cowboys).

On average this year, teams play 2.9 games with more rest than their opponent, up from 2.6 last year, which is a step in the wrong direction.

Which teams have the worst?

The Packers and Cardinals are all net -3, with the Packers playing 2 games with more rest and 5 with less (-3) and the Cardinals playing 1 game with more rest and 4 games with less rest (-3).  

The NFL did a better job this year of reducing the extremes in general, with the lone exception of the edges the Cowboys received. 

But we still have a team like the Cowboys at +3 games and a team like the Cardinals at -3 games, marking a 6-game swing from best to worst in a 17 game season in this category.

 
Short week road games

Here we see another disappointment from the schedule makers and an inequality that should be eradicated from the schedule.

And again, in this category, we’re moving in the wrong direction.

Last year we saw 28 games where a team was playing on a short week on the road.

These short week road games are the worst type of games to have to play. Less time for coaches to prep, less time for players to heal and get healthy, less time to install a game plan.  Less of all of that than your opponent, because you also have to travel to the game.  

This year, there are 43 short week road games, up from 28 in 2021.

Last year, no teams had to play more than two such games.

But this year?

One team must play four short week road games (out of 17 total games) and five other teams must play three short week road games.

Let’s examine the Eagles.  They are the team that must play four short week road games this season:

Week 3 in Washington off of a Week 2 MNF game
Week 9 in Houston on Thursday night off a Week 8 Sunday game
Week 11 in Indianapolis off a Week 10 MNF game
Week 16 in Dallas on a Saturday afternoon off a Week 15 Sunday game

There is zero excuse to force a team to play four such games.  Again, last year only a handful of teams played two such games and none played more than that.  

Additionally, being in the NFC, the Eagles play only eight road games (nine home games).  So half of their road games are on short weeks.

Meanwhile, countless teams paly zero road games on short weeks.  This year, 21 teams play between zero and one short week road game.  While the Eagles play four.

Naturally the Saturday games on Christmas Eve this year will add an extra short week road game for some teams, but the NFL could have balanced out the schedule to avoid the teams playing on the road in Week 16 

We also have five teams playing three short week road games:

Patriots
Saints
Colts
Commanders
Bills

As mentioned previously, the NFL finally forced the Cowboys to play a short week road game for the first time since at least 2006, when they sent them to the Titans in Week 17.  So that was the lone positive in this category.

As you probably would guess, teams in this situation do fair worse than average, although the better coached and deeper teams will perform better.

Since 2015, teams playing on the road on a short week win only 45% of their games.  And if they are the perceived worse team (an underdog) they cover just 46.4% of their games.  When teams are favored, they have done quite well, covering 63.5% of games (47-27-5 ATS).

The bottom line:  this hurts poorly run or worse teams more, but in a league built on trying to be equitable and fair, there no reason that a team should play three or four short week road games while 21 teams play zero or one.  More parity and balance is badly needed, and while this was a focal point last year, the NFL schedulers made this problem worse this year (six teams with 3+ short week road games, up from zero last year, 43 total short week road games up from 28 last year).

 

Games after playing on road Sunday night or Monday night

Teams hate when they have to travel home and arrive in the wee hours of Monday AM or Tuesday AM.  It throws a wrench in their week of prep.

Obviously, many teams this year don’t play any SNF or MNF games, so they have zero issues.  

Last year, no team played more than two road SNF or MNF games.

This year, the Bengals play three road SNF or MNF games:

The Bengals play in Baltimore Week 5, in Cleveland Week 8 and in Pittsburgh Week 11.

While the Rams qualify on the surface as playing three road SNF or MNF games, they don’t really count here, as you’ll see in their final game, but they play in San Francisco Week 4, in Green Bay Week 15 and in LA (Chargers) Week 17.

Naturally the game vs the Chargers is in the same stadium the Rams typically play, so isn’t truly a disadvantage from a travel perspective so they won’t be at a rest disadvantage heading into their Week 18 game.

The NFL clearly wanted to get the Bengals in more primetime games, but sending them on the road for three such road games on SNF or MNF is unfair, particularly when no team had to do similar last year.

 
Negated bye weeks

These are particularly annoying, because the two benefits a bye should theoretically give are extra time to rest and prep for your team, and a game with a nice rest edge over your opponent.

This year, 21 teams will enjoy such an edge (down from 23 last year).

But 11 will see their bye weeks negated by their opponent having a bye or substantial rest edge the same week (up from 9 last year).

Those 11 teams:

Packers
Patriots
Saints
Cardinals
Raiders
Jets
Falcons
Vikings
Texans

The goal with bye weeks should be uniformity.  Try to get teams to enjoy the same edge in their bye week.  But the NFL headed in the wrong direction this year, negating even more bye weeks from what we saw in 2021.  

Some teams have seen their bye week negated for two straight years.  For example the Vikings.  This year, their bye is Week 7 and they play the Cardinals the next week, Week 8.  But the Cardinals play a Thursday game in Week 7, thus have 10 days rest and prep to face the Vikings, giving Minnesota less of an advantage as they would have if the Cardinals played a standard Sunday game.  

The same was true for the Vikings in 2021.  Their bye was Week 7, and they played the Cowboys in Week 8.  But the Cowboys had a bye in Week 7 as well, so the Vikings had absolutely no prep or rest advantage for this game.  And as we showed earlier in the article, having 3+ days of extra rest and prep does impact performance and improves results.

 
4 games in 17 days

This is only achieved when a team plays Monday night, a short week rest game on Sunday, a Sunday game on full rest and a short week rest game on Thursday.

Previously, it happened twice per year on average.

Last year, the NFL reduced it to one such occurrence (the Eagles).

This year, thankfully, the NFL did not force any team to paly 4 games in 17 days.

 
Summary

Below is a graphic that totals all the games for all the teams in the conditions discussed above and ranks their prep and rest edge for 2022. I’ve also included the ranking for 2021 and the prior decade.

preprest

 

The teams hurt most in 2022 by the scheduled timing of games?

32. Packers
31. Patriots
30. Saints
29. Eagles
28. Cardinals
27. Commanders

Three of these teams rank bottom-5 in net rest edge, but the Eagles and Cardinals are two teams that stand out from regular net rest calculations and have uniquely negative circumstances surrounding their schedule and push them into the bottom of the rankings.

Teams that are helped most in 2022 by the scheduled timing of games?

1. Panthers
2. Lions
3. Dolphins
4. Browns
5. Seahawks
6. Cowboys

Again, several of these teams rank in the top of net rest edges, but the Dolphins, Browns and Seahawks have unique schedule quirks that help them exceed their simple net rest edge alone and push them into the top of the rankings.

In general, there were multiple areas where the NFL showed improvement in trying to improve equity amongst the 32 teams.  This includes condensing the net rest edges and reducing the extremes in disparity amongst teams.  And thankfully, no team will be playing four games in 17 days this season.

However, there is significant work that still can be done with the NFL scheduling committee to increase equity and make things more fair to all 32 teams.

More games are being played this year with rest disparities between teams.  Last year we saw 85 games played with a rest disparity between teams.  This year, it is up to 93, heading in the wrong direction.  A team like the Cowboys playing a striking 6 of 17 games vs opponents who have less than a week to prepare is clearly not equitable (no team had more than four such games last year).

We see significantly more short week road games this year (43) compared to last year (28) with a team like the Eagles playing four such games and five other teams playing three such games, when last year zero teams played three or more such games.

This year we have the Bengals being forced to play three road SNF or MNF games, when last year zero teams were forced to do so.

We are also seeing more negated bye weeks this year (11) as compared to last year (9).

The goal should be to reduce things like games with rest disparity, short week road games and negated bye weeks.  To see a schedule released for 2022 which features more of every one of those categories than last year's schedule is certainly a disappointment and outweighs some smaller strides made in other areas.  Hopefully the 2023 NFL schedule will focus on what matters most, which is increasing fairness and equity to give all 32 teams the same opportunity to win as many games as possible.
 

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football and betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.