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Steve Johnson doesn't care about the NFL schedule

Steve Johnson doesn't care about the NFL schedule.

Chris Brown of buffalobills.com is not happy with the way the Bills’ schedule shakes out. Again. Last year, this is what Brown wrote after examining the 2012 schedule:

After playing what is expected to be a physical contest with the 49ers in San Francisco in Week 5 [Chase: In retrospect, not that physical], the Bills then face the Cardinals in Arizona in Week 6. The Cards will have the benefit of three extra days of prep time for Buffalo as their Week 5 game is on Thursday night.

The very next week when the Bills play host to Tennessee, the Titans will also have three extra days of prep time for Buffalo because they’re playing on Thursday night the previous week (Week 6) as well.

The Bills look to get a break as they’ll have a bye week in Week 8 to get two weeks to prep for the Texans in Houston. But that extra prep time will be a wash because Houston also has their bye in Week 8.

Finally while the Bills are battling the Texans in Houston, the Patriots will be on their couches watching at home while their head coach grinds tape for two weeks to prepare for the Bills who travel to New England in Week 10 as the Pats have their bye in Week 9.

Brown’s claims were accurate: Buffalo did face a team coming off extra rest (i.e., more than eight days) four times in five weeks. Of course, those were the only times all season the Bills played a team coming off extra rest. Still, if we look at the 2012 season, it’s fair to say the Bills got the short end of the scheduling stick.

But they don’t have the biggest beef. Philadelphia faced four teams coming off bye weeks last year, tying the ’09 Falcons, ’05 Chargers, ’03 Cowboys, and ’99 Chargers for facing the most teams coming off a bye week since 1994.

The Eagles also played two teams coming off Thursday night games (the Cowboys, both times), giving them six games against teams with extra rest. The Seahawks had the second worst luck in 2012, playing one game against a team coming off 13-15 days of rest (i.e., a bye week) and four games against a team with 10-11 days of rest (i.e., off of a Wednesday or Thursday night game). Buffalo was tied with the Falcons for playing the third most games against teams with extra rest. The table below shows the results for 2012:

Team
13-15
10-11
Total
PHI426
SEA145
ATL314
BUF224
DET213
OAK213
MIA123
KAN123
NYG033
TAM123
DAL202
CLE202
GNB202
HOU112
BAL112
STL112
IND022
PIT022
ARI022
CHI101
JAX101
NOR101
DEN101
SFO101
NYJ101
CAR011
CIN011
NWE011
WAS011
TEN011
SDG000
MIN000

Fast forward to 2013, and Chris Brown has essentially revised his post.

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.

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.

Additionally, Buffalo will play Cincinnati in Week 6 off 10 days rest and 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.

There are actually a couple of errors in this post. The Bills play the Bengals after Buffalo has a Thursday night game, so it’s the Bills and not the Bengals that will have extra rest for the game. But in addition to playing the Jets and Dolphins off of bye weeks, the author missed that Buffalo plays New Orleans in week 8, while the Saints have a bye in week seven. And the Bills do face three teams coming off Thursday night games, as the article notes. You can see the full schedule, including wallet-sized and iPhone-friendly copies, here.

That gives Buffalo six games against teams with extra rest, the most in the league in 2013.

Team
13-15
10-11
Total
BUF336
HOU224
ATL134
CAR303
CHI213
ARI213
TAM123
OAK123
NYG123
PHI123
SEA033
SDG202
WAS112
IND112
DET112
DEN112
NYJ112
CLE112
STL112
CIN112
MIN022
GNB101
PIT101
NOR101
TEN101
DAL101
MIA011
BAL011
JAX011
SFO000
NWE000
KAN000

The 49ers, Patriots, and Chiefs don’t face a single opponent all season coming off of extra rest (i.e., a bye or a Thursday night game). I don’t want to take a cheap shot at New England, as the team isn’t having a killer offseason, but they’ve had the most favorable schedule over the last two years: a combined zero games against teams coming off byes and only one game against a team coming off a Thursday game. The Bills, with 10 such total games, have faced the most unfavorable schedule in the NFL.

Now every team gets one bye week and one Thursday night game, so each team will have the advantage of extra rest in two games against their opponents this year.1 That means we could say that a team like New England is +2 in the extra rest department (two games with extra rest, zero games against teams with extra rest), while Buffalo is at net -4 (two games with extra rest, six games games teams with extra rest).

Or another way to put it: Buffalo is at net -2 in small extra rest games (three times they play opponents coming off Thursday games, one time they come off a Thursday game), and net -2 in large extra rest games (3x they play opponents coming off byes, one time they come off a bye). That’s just in theory: in reality, Buffalo plays Atlanta coming off the Bills bye week, but the Falcons play a Thursday night game the week before. That converts Buffalo’s schedule into a net even amount of games on small extra rest (twice they play opponents coming off Thursday games when they have regular rest, once they play off their own Thursday game, and against the Falcons, they have 14 days of rest and Atlanta has 10) but puts them at net -3 in terms of games where their opponent has large extra rest (the three bye week games are now not countered by Buffalo’s bye). Based off of Danny Tuccitto’s research at Football Outsiders, that’s even worse, as the full extra week of rest is the real thing that matters.

And the Bills have a right to feel angry about the situation. No other team has 3 more games where their opponent has an extra week of rest than games where they have the extra week; in fact, the Panthers are the only other team with a net of -2 in these large extra rest games. In week 5, Cam Newton and the Panthers play the Cardinals off of Carolina’s bye. So far, so good, but then in weeks 6 (Minnesota), 10 (San Francisco) and 11 (New England), the Panthers face opponents coming off of their own bye weeks. (For those curious, the Falcons have the worst net balance of small extra rest games, with 4 weeks where they have 3-4 fewer days to plan than their opponents.)

This puts Buffalo with the six teams mentioned in the beginning of this post (2012 PHI, 2009 ATL, 2005 SD, 2003 DAL, and 1999 SD) to have a net of three games where their opponent has an extra week of rest. So yeah, I would agree with Chris Brown that the Bills are getting kind of screwed. Even the situation Carolina is in this year — having a net of two more games where your opponent has an extra week to prepare — is pretty rare: the 2012 Falcons, 2010 Colts, and 2010 Seahawks were the only teams in that situation over the last three years.

So, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering how much of a detriment it is to Team A to play Team B when Team B is coming off of a bye week and Team A is not. From 1994 to 2012, that situation happened 475 times. On average, the team without extra rest (i.e., the teams like the 2013 Bills):

  • scored 20.2 points and allowed 22.2 points
  • won 45.4% of the time

However, 260 of these 475 teams were on the road against a team with an extra week of rest, so we would expect them to fare worse than average. If we break it down further, the team without extra rest:

  • When at home (215 games), scored on average 21.3 points and allowed 21.4 points, but won 52.1% of the time. On average, these teams were favored by 2.1 points.
  • When on the road (260 games), scored on average 19.3 points and allowed 22.9 points, winning 39.8% of the time. On average, these teams were 2.8-point underdogs.

So home teams playing opponents with a week’s worth of extra rest do a bit worse than the usual home team and are generally overvalued by Vegas (i.e., the line doesn’t properly account for the value of extra rest). Road teams also do a bit worse than expectation, although Vegas seems to peg this number properly. Road underdogs facing teams with extra rest did pretty well, going 93-84-5 against the spread; the real culprit was road favorites playing teams coming off byes: they went just 32-42-2 (but don’t use these numbers to bet on games: in fact, road favorite against teams with large extra rest went 5-1 against the spread the last two years).

You might wonder if we need to account for team strength in this analysis. The answer is no: the sample size is large enough that a more granular analysis is not needed — on average, the team not coming off of bye weeks has been about 0.3 SRS points better than their opponent, a differential that is roughly the same in the home/road splits, too. If we think of home field as worth three extra points, then playing at home against a team coming off of a bye essentially negates home field advantage, since the two teams score the same number of points on average. As for road teams, they generally win about 43% of the time, and that drops to 40% here (and remember, these teams were ever so slightly better than their opponents, too). So we can say there’s a small but discernible impact to facing teams with extra rest. But we can be pretty comfortable in saying that the Bills have bigger things to worry about, too.

Previous “Random Perspective On” Articles:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams

  1. OK, that’s not entirely true. The Broncos and Ravens, who meet on the opening Thursday night of the season, each get a later Thursday night game. That gives them a slight advantage relative to the rest of the league. []
{ 13 comments }
  • Richie June 24, 2013, 2:15 pm

    [New England] isn’t having a killer offseason

    It’s not? I thought that was the problem…

    Reply
    • Chase Stuart June 24, 2013, 2:23 pm

      I’m glad someone saw what I did there. On these long posts I always wonder how many people actually read the thing.

      Reply
  • George June 24, 2013, 4:13 pm

    I’ll definitely come back and take a look at this in a bit more depth just a little pushed for time at the moment – as this kind of thing really interests me. Personally I went with the Winston figure of 2.61 points better than expected for the team coming off of the bye (which looking back at it, I note didn’t split this into home and away off of the bye but grouped it). One quick thought off the top of my head re: the Bills and the Jets vs Bills games – in one of the games the Bills don’t have to travel very far to play (approximately 278 miles which has to be a short distance as travelling goes – does distance account for any unfavourable deals like this?) and in the other their Homefield Advantage accounts for the benefit of the Jets getting the extra rest (now amongst other things it will most likely come down to EJ Manuel and if the Bills are actually better than the Jets – my gut reaction is that they won’t be, I can’t put a number on it yet but my gut feeling is no).

    Reply

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