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What an NFL “smart schedule” might look like for the Cowboys

And how it improves fairness and the fan experience

Horse Racing: 34th Breeders Cup World Championships Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

While an inordinate amount of attention has been given to the upcoming NFL draft, one of my favorite days of the season is quietly approaching. The NFL will release the 2018 schedule soon, mostly likely on April 19th (one week prior to the draft). I imagine I’m not alone in devouring the schedule, noting the opener, the Thanksgiving opponent, what December looks like and mentally calculating wins and losses.

And every year there’s something that seems dumb or unfair about the schedule. Maybe it’s three consecutive road games. Maybe it’s a trip to the west coast one week and one to the east coast next week. Maybe it’s a Thursday afternoon game following a Sunday night road game.

Virtually every team’s fanbase can point to their schedule and claim their team is being jobbed. So, I’m here to propose an improved NFL “smart schedule”. We’ll apply six new improvements, designed to make the game more fair, and improving the NFL fan experience:

  1. No team’s games can be scheduled less than six days apart.
  2. No team’s games can be scheduled more than 11 days apart.
  3. No team shall play more than two consecutive games at home or on the road.
  4. West coast teams shall play no games starting at 1 PM in the Eastern time zone or 12 noon in the Central time zones.

The biggest issue with current NFL scheduling is the growth in the number of games played on Thursdays. Thursday games generally leave only three days to recuperate from the previous game and prepare for the Thursday game. This simply isn’t enough time. This is reflected in the poor caliber of play on most Thursday night games.

The other big issue with the schedule is the bye week. The bye week seems to distort time and space for fans, with the 13 day wait for the next game often feeling much longer.

The simple solution to these two issues is to combine them: have teams play their Thursday game following their bye week. This would do a couple things:

  • Teams would play their Thursday game on 10 days rest; no more playing before normal bumps and bruises have healed; no more rushed game plans.
  • Fans would would only have to wait 10 days to get their NFL fix.

So, how would this look for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018? We have to start with the things we know. These are the Cowboys opponents for the year:

Here’s the other things we know:

  • Dallas will be scheduled for three Sunday night games - this has happened every year since Sunday night games became the league’s premier weekly showcase.
  • Dallas will be scheduled for a single Monday night game.
  • Dallas will play on Thanksgiving

So, adding all this up, here’s a potential 2018 Dallas Cowboys “smart schedule”:


  • The Cowboys at Philadelphia for the Thursday night season opener seems like a natural. Normally the league honchos like for the Super Bowl champion to face a team that was also in the playoffs the prior year (preferably a team they faced the prior year in the playoffs) but if there’s any team they’d be willing to substitute in it would be the league’s number one television attraction. Dallas has played the season opener once before; in 2012 the team traveled to the Meadowlands to face the reigning Super Bowl champion Giants in a game the Cowboys won 24-17. (That game was actually played on a Wednesday night; which might be the only NFL game played on a Wednesday). It would also be nice for the Cowboys to not face the Giants in week 1. The Cowboys and Giants have faced each other on opening week the last three seasons and six of the last seven years; it’s time for some new blood. Also, Dallas has started every season since 2013 at home; it’s time to start on the road.
  • It’s unlikely Dallas would be scheduled for three “Sunday” night games in the season’s first six weeks but I’m going with it for now. This allows the team’s sole Monday night appearance to be combined with the team’s bye to avoid a short week. It also provides for zero Sunday night games late in the year, giving NBC the opportunity to flex Dallas into even more Sunday night games should they desire.
  • The team’s bye week is surrounded by the team’s lone Monday night appearance and the team’s annual Thanksgiving game. This insures they never have fewer than seven days between games nor more than 10 days between games.
  • Speaking of Thanksgiving, I chose the Redskins for a couple reasons. First, there’s no “marquee” team among the team’s non-divisional, home opponents. New Orleans is the closest but it’s not like they’re the Patriots. Also, historically, the Redskins and Cowboys have played wildly entertaining Thanksgiving games over the years (unlike Philadelphia and the Giants). Cowboys and Redskins on Thanksgiving just feels right.
  • Speaking of New Orleans, they would be one of the three “Sunday” night opponents, along with Philadelphia and Seattle. All three of those feel right.
  • December would feature five Sunday afternoon games. However, as noted above, some of these games could be “flexed” into the nighttime slot. Specifically, Jacksonville, Carolina and Philadelphia are games that, depending on each team’s record, could be attractive targets for NBC.

Now, I understand it’s easy for me to make a “smart” schedule for one team. I didn’t take stadium availability into consideration or any of the dozen or so variables that come into play when making schedules. Surely computers can devise an NFL schedule that doesn’t force teams to play on three days rest or start games at 10 AM in the player’s native time zone.

So, what do you think BTBers? Do you like a “smart” schedule? What do you think of this possible Cowboys’ schedule for 2018?

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