For a sport that usually gets things right, the NFL is really messed up in one easily correctible respect – how it approaches the bye week.
Val Pinchbeck was the one guy in the vast machinery of the mechanism that is the NFL that configured the NFL schedule. With the complexity of dealing with dual-purpose stadiums and making sure that teams had a fair and equal home-to-road game distribution, Pinchbeck also had to deal with the bye weeks.
When the NFL, in one of its more "Selig-esque" moments, decided to add just one expansion team when the Browns came on board, creating an odd number of teams, there had to be at least one team on a bye week each of the 17 weeks of the season.
When the NFL realigned, it had the opportunity to rectify this problem in a clean and simple way. Perhaps Pinchbeck had the answer. We'll never know. Pinchbeck was killed March 6, 2004 by a taxi leaving his office in the NFL headquarters in New York City, leaving work preparing the 2004 schedule.
The bye week system is horribly flawed and, in a league where the smallest competitive advantage can be the difference between winning and losing, it is a system that can be easily fixed beyond the need for future tinkering.
This weekend proves the significant flaw in the league's bye week policy. Whether done to appease TV networks so CBS or FOX wasn't without four teams in a week, teams from different divisions and conferences share bye weeks. If things were slightly different in the NFC North right now (translation: if the Vikings were 5-3 instead of 2-6), there would be an outcry coming from Wisconsinites.
This weekend, all four of the NFC North teams will play each other – the Lions head into Soldier Field to play the Bears and the Vikings go to Lambeau Field Monday night. However, two of them have a marked and decided edge. The Vikings and Lions are both coming off of their bye weeks. Granted, both have to play on the road, but at a time in the season where everyone is sore, having a much-needed week of rest and healing can provide the octane boost one team needs to beat another.
The Packers are coming off a shootout with San Diego that Green Bay won. The Vikings are coming off two weeks of preparation from their coaches. If the players aren't ready to try to pull an upset, it won't be due to lack of coaching preparation, given the two weeks they've had to game-plan the Packers. While the Vikings aren't in a position to bring out the vocal opposition of Packers faithful, there has to be someone in Chicago that is bemoaning the bye-week disadvantage.
Not only are the Lions coming off their bye week, the Bears were on the road in Philadelphia Monday night and have to turn around on a short week to play a team they have to beat in order not to fall out of contention for second place or, potentially, a division title. A loss kills that chance. The Bears are coming into a short week against a young team coming off a much-needed bye. Is that fair?
These sort of playoff-changing type scenarios happen every year because the Pinchbeck Plan was never executed. There are eight four-team divisions in the NFL. Why not start formulating a schedule on one simple premise – every bye week includes all four teams from the same division and the week after their bye they play one another.
It is not only so simple, it is so necessary. The Bears are coming off their season-saving win at Philly when they were an eight- to nine-point underdog. They weren't supposed to win. Their reward? Three days of actual preparation for an opponent that has had two weeks to get ready.
For a sport that does so many things right, while the other three major professional sports can't seem to keep their feet from tangling, this is one major flaw in the business of football that would appear to be so easily rectified that it's a shame the Pinchbeck Plan was never adopted. It may cost the Bears a playoff spot. In a league built as much upon leveling the playing field as any in the history of professional sports, this is one glaring omission that can so simply be undone and made right. Don't do it for Lovie Smith. Don't do it for the next team that may get ousted from the playoffs by the system. Do it for Val.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Holler: Bye-week system has flaw
Viking Update Top Stories
Pass protection fails Bradford, VikingsThe Minnesota Vikings still haven’t been able to solve their offensive line issues, a theme going back to last year, but Mike Zimmer and the players aren’t denying it. They have to…
Viking Update5:23 PM
Notebook: Bradford-Wentz duel fizzlesSunday's game between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles was supposed to be a marquee battle of quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz. Instead, it was a long day…
Viking Update3:39 PM
Vikings record-seekers vs. EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings’ loss was littered with mistakes, but a few players worked their way up in the franchise record book.
Viking Update3:14 PM
WATCH: Vikings vs. Eagles highlightsHighlights, or really lowlights for Minnesota Vikings fans, as they drop their first game of the season, 21-10, to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Viking Update2:57 PM