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Making a schedule for a London NFL team

Would the NFL roll out the carpet for London?

Would the NFL roll out the carpet for London?

Bill Barnwell wrote an interesting article about the hurdles the NFL must jump to successfully place a team in London. We don’t know whether the NFL would move an existing team or place an expansion team in London (presumably with the introduction of a second expansion team, likely in Los Angeles, as well). Thirty-four teams is an unwieldy number, so expansion might even bring us to 36 teams (with six teams in three divisions in each conference).

Anecdotally, it seems like most fans are against placing a team in London, or expansion, or change of any kind. For me, the most interesting hurdle to analyze is how to come up with a schedule for a London team. And I think I’ve figured out a decent solution (there are no perfect options). I’m going to use the Buffalo Bills 2013 slate of opponents as a model just because I need to pick some team’s schedule as a model for London’s franchise (I’m going to self-appoint them the Monarchs for purposes of this post). Here are my thoughts:

Week: 1 – Cincinnati Bengals (Home – Friday at 2:30 Eastern)
Week: 2 – Baltimore Ravens (Home)

The big hurdle in creating the schedule is limiting the number of cross-Atlantic trips for the Monarchs.  As a result, you need to bunch together home and road games. And since we want to have the London games in the middle of the season — so we can give the opponents in those games a bye after playing in London — that necessitates a couple of home games early in the year.

The NFL can use the time zone difference to its advantage here, and create a March Madness-style of Friday afternoon fun. On Thursday Night, we have the opener featuring last year’s Super Bowl champion.  And then on Friday afternoon — at 7:30 PM in London — we get another huge event. There would be a Super Bowl-type of atmosphere at the “Week 1 Kickoff Extravaganza” in London on Friday night, and you can be sure that it would get monstrous ratings in England. The NFL doesn’t schedule Friday night games because it doesn’t want to compete with high school football, but the time zone difference works to everyone’s advantage here. The Bengals can fly home after the game and be back in Cincinnati early in the morning on Saturday — which gives them two extra days to prepare for week two.

It also makes sense to have a team that played on Thursday Night in the NFL opener play in London in week two. This year, that would be the Ravens, but it can also be the non-Super Bowl champion appearing in that game.  Baltimore can fly out to London early in the week, using those extra days to help ease some of the travel burden. If they like, the Ravens (or whomever is in the week two slot) can get a Monday Night game in week three.

Week: 3 – Jacksonville Jaguars (Road)
Week: 4 – New Orleans Saints (Road)
Week: 5 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Road)

London’s schedule will always include an East Coast trip, so I’ve put these three games together here.  Depending on which division the Monarchs are in, the schedule will change, and obviously New Orleans isn’t an East Coast city. Still, this seems like a reasonable travel itinerary — the Monarchs will have just had two straight home games, and a trip to Jacksonville isn’t so bad. I would suggest the London team do a Youngstown, Ohio and stay in one city for three weeks.1 In this scenario, the Monarchs could stay anywhere in SEC country for a few weeks to practice, before heading to play the actual games.

Week: 6 – Kansas City Chiefs (Home)
Week: 7 – New York Jets (Home)
Week: 8 – New England Patriots (Home)

This would probably be the toughest part of the schedule: flying from Tampa Bay to London takes close to nine hours. The week 5 game would always be scheduled for 1PM, which would put the Monarchs home at around 7 or 8 in the morning local time on Monday. London would get three straight home games, and the team’s opponents would get byes in weeks 7, 8, and 9.

Week: 9 – Cleveland Browns (Road)
Week: 10 – Pittsburgh Steelers (Road – Monday Night)

Traveling to Cleveland from London is a little rough (an eight-hour flight), but the Monarchs have been home for three straight weeks. Ideally, the week 10 game should come against a team near the week 9 opponent. In seasons where London plays the AFC West or NFC West, you would slot the two games against West Coast teams here.

One thing you might not have considered: scheduling Monday Night Football games for London will be challenging. A 9PM kickoff on the East Coast is a 2AM kickoff in London, which seems like a sure way to anger the British fan base. Still, if you do want to have a Monday Night game, I think it makes sense to do it as a lead-in to the bye week, and after another game in America. You could simply mandate that the Monarchs never play on Monday Night, but that doesn’t seem like the type of branding Goodell is going after.

Week: 11 – Bye

After that stretch, we give London a bye, before setting them up for three straight home games.

Week: 12 – Miami Dolphins (Home)
Week: 13 – Atlanta Falcons (Home)
Week: 14 – Carolina Panthers (Home – Thursday Night)

Nothing too controversial here. In weeks 13, the Dolphins would have a bye. The tricky issue here is the Falcons, because we don’t want to give them a week 14 bye (too late in the season). Instead, we have the week 13 opponent automatically play at home and on Monday Night in week 14. That should make the transition a little easier for the Atlantas of the world. As for Carolina, we give them a bye in week 13 — in fact, it should be scheduled so Miami and Carolina are the only two teams with a week 13 bye, as that’s already later than ideal — and make the week 14 game on Thursday Night. That means the Panthers play a game in week 12, plays 11 days later in London, and then plays 10 days later back in America: that doesn’t seem too problematic.

The one issue here is what time a “Thursday Night” game would be scheduled for in London. They’re not going to start a game at midnight, which means we’re looking at a likely 3PM start on the east coast. That’s a pretty tough sell for the Panthers and NFL Network, but the NFL may view this as a small price to pay.

Week: 15 – Miami Dolphins (Road)
Week: 16 – New York Jets (Road)
Week: 17 – New England Patriots (Road)

The schedule closes with three road games against division rivals. Those games can’t be at home because of the travel involved for the other team, but London could stay on the East Coast and play these games without too much trouble.

So those are my thoughts on how a scheduling might work for a London franchise. There are other options2, but I like this one best. I know most fans are anti-London, but I still find this to be a fun theoretical exercise.

  1. Some have suggested that a London team would have a “sister” city in the U.S. That makes some sense, and would make putting together a schedule easier if you assume that they would play one game at this sister city’s site. But (1) I’m not sure if the sister city plan is what the NFL is envisioning, and (2) I can’t think of a good city that makes sense. You would want it to be on the East Coast, I think, but that part of the country is pretty well-represented in the NFL right now. I don’t know how much sense it makes to have a team with say, a London-Birmingham connection. I think the sister city plan would make scheduling easier, but practically, it’s hard to think of an appropriate connection with a U.S. city. []
  2. Here’s one of them: Split the season into three parts. Weeks 1 through 4, London plays on the road; a slate of Pittsburgh-New Orleans-Jacksonville-Tampa Bay would seem to cause minimal additional travel woes for the Monarchs, and obviously this doesn’t inconvenience any current NFL team.

    Then London would play eight straight home games, with a bye week placed in the middle after four home games. The beauty here is that you could give the opponent a bye following the London game each week — weeks 4 through 12 are the bye weeks right now, so six of the eight games could be the week before a bye and with no disruption. The last two home games would be during weeks 12 and 13: a simple solution would be to give two teams byes in week 13, and to play the week 13 game on Thursday Night, giving the opponent ten days between games (you would also give the opponent a week 12 bye). The Monarchs’ last four games would be on the road — at Cleveland, at the Jets, at New England, and at Miami.

    This schedule causes minimal hassle to the rest of the league and to the London franchise. The Monarchs would have to make just two trips across the Atlantic Ocean during the regular season — back home after week 4, and after week 13 to America.

    This is the simplest option, but there are some drawbacks. The most obvious: how excited would fans be at the prospect of eight home games in nine weeks? Would London like playing the role of traveling vagabond for half the season every year? []

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