For NFL fans, the schedule release is exciting simply because it gives some structure to the year. It sets the stage. While some may scoff at its importance—after all, it’s not as if the upcoming season was in jeopardy—it is interesting to see when the difficult games fall on the schedule, when the teams will be at home and away and how the weather will impact things for teams that do not play inside.
Just knowing the opponents does not provide all of this information, but the release really sets up the season and makes it feel more real than ever.
Now, these things are important for teams, as well. Though players will say they look at every game the same way, they actually don’t, so they’ll scour the schedules to see when they have easier games and more difficult ones. More than anything, coaches and owners just want to know one thing — when are the bye weeks?
Fans tend to overlook bye weeks because they’re bland and boring gaps on the schedule. While there still may be a full slate of games, the diehard fans don’t actually get to see their favorite teams play on those weeks, so it’s a letdown.
The teams, though, are very interested in how the bye week falls. If it’s too early, it could mean a long run to the playoffs, without any breaks, is going to wear the team out. If it’s too late, it could mean the same thing at the beginning of the year, or it could break down the momentum a team needs to sustain as the playoffs draw near.
Teams usually hope for a nicely balanced bye week that is, if anything, slightly toward the end of the season. It offers a rest and a reprieve, and most of all, a chance to get healthy. By the midpoint of the year, every team will have a sheet full of injuries. They’ll also have players who can technically go, but who are too banged up to play at their full capacity. A bye week that falls perfectly could give the team a chance to heal and get ready for the following week, drastically improving their chances to win what may prove to be a very pivotal game in a playoff race.
On top of that, teams will look at what games immediately follow the bye week. What they’re hoping for is a challenge—a team like New England or Seattle. Every team has a handful of these tough games, and an extra week to prepare can make a big difference. Being healthy for that specific game is also huge. If the game after the bye week is one the team should have won anyway, it’s something of a waste. Ideally, they want the hardest game of the year to fall there.
So, it is important to look at the dates and matchups on the schedule, especially for those who are looking to buy tickets and who need to know when that big home game—or an away game, for those fans who cheer across state lines—is going to be played. The big storylines following the release are always about the epic matchups and about which warm-weather teams will have to go to Buffalo or Green Bay as winter sweeps down on the frozen north. However, always remember to look carefully at the weeks when the teams don’t play, as they could have just as much of an impact on the NFL season.