Competitive Advantage

Brad Childress and other NFL coaches talk a lot of competitive advantage -- wanting to get it themselves and not give it up to other teams, whether hedging injury reports or having a dome team playing in poor weather conditions. But the league itself has created one of the biggest competitive advantages for some teams and not others and it's a problem with an easy fix.

With all of the changes Commissioner Roger Goodell has implemented since taking over as the boss man of the country's most popular sport, one that should be on his agenda is straightening out the inequities of the NFL schedule. It is a mess and gives some teams a competitive advantage over others.

It's not Goodell's fault the system is a mess. There's never been a completely equitable method for handing out schedules, but at times the balance of power in a division can be tipped because of scheduling. Every year some team or teams get shorted by the schedule maker and has to play three consecutive road games. Other teams have a brutal slate of opponents at the beginning or end of a season. Those can't necessarily be changed. What can be changed is the bye week procedure.

When first instituted, the bye wasn't about giving players a rest, it was about adding a 17th week of games for television networks to pay for without lengthening the NFL season. When it began, it was pretty simple. The teams from the same division were given the same week off – with the exception of fifth-place teams who were clumped together in a garbage week bye.

But then came the Browns. In a move that was more than mildly ridiculous, the addition of the Browns gave the NFL an odd number of teams, meaning that there needed to be bye weeks every week. That was when the situation got messed up. But, even as the Texans were added to give the league an even number again, the bye week malaise continued. Sadly, with the Texans on board, there is no need for it.

This year the Vikings are one of the few teams that don't play a team coming out of its bye week. They should consider themselves lucky. Buffalo plays division rivals Miami and New England when both are coming off their bye weeks. In the AFC South, if the Jaguars want to knock off the Colts and take over the division crown, they'll have to get a prime-time home win in which they've been playing all year without a rest and the Colts are coming off their bye – a clear competitive disadvantage for the Jaguars.

With all the confusion and nonsense of the bye-0week schedule, the problem could be eliminated quite simply. With four-team divisions, give each division a shared bye week and, when they return, have them play one another. That way there's no scenario of one team being rested and one team not. That may not have been possible when there were 28 or 30 teams, but with 32 you have a cube that includes eight divisions of four teams playing 16 games in a week.

The potential exists to add a new flavor to the game through the schedule. The league could have weeks that include nothing but divisional matchups. Like baseball's interleague play, the debate over which conference is superior could be discussed during the season with one or two weeks that include nothing but interconference games.

While these scenarios are possible, the one that absolutely needs to be addressed is the inequity provided by the bye week system. One team having two weeks to prepare for another while the opponent could have a long road trip and a short preparation week is inherently unfair. It wouldn't take much to change the rule and it would be an easy fix.

It's understood that schedules are a complicated thing, but with 32 teams, finding a balance has never been easier.

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