The days after the release of the NFL schedule has traditionally been a time for Dallas Cowboys fans to bemoan the inequities inflicted on their team. There was the stretch around Thanksgiving they have faced for several years when they have been scheduled to play consecutive Thursdays as a sop to Thursday Night Football, awkward placement of the bye week, and going into games with less rest than their opponents. 2022 is different. That TNF game has been separated from the Thanksgiving one, the bye is in a good place, and Dallas is facing more teams with less time to prepare than the other way around.
Does that matter? Conventional wisdom has always maintained that a team with fewer days to prepare than their opponent is at a disadvantage. Preparation time is compressed and players nursing the inevitable minor injuries that occur have less time to heal up. While analytics has not been kind to conventional wisdom lately, this is something that is hard to dispute. It is also not something you can easily quantify.
What can be easily determined is how many times a team has more or less days to get ready than their opponent. The work has already been done for us, in an analysis by Warren Sharp for NBC Sports Edge. While the main thrust of his article is the failure of the league to try and make things more equitable, it does include a look at which teams gained extra rest and preparation time over the course of the season, and who lost it.
Each individual block on the chart represents a game where the team either gained or lost an edge in rest days. An easy one to understand is the + and -7 almost every team has, representing their game after their bye week. Totaling the pluses and minuses gives a nice overall comparison. And as you can see, the Cowboys have the fourth best situation in this year’s schedule.
Here Sharp’s summary of the favors done for Dallas (which he implies is more often the case than we as fans believe.)
Dallas is another hot-button team in that they often seem to have the schedule fall their way and this year they have a substantial net rest edge of +8 days. Their lone major disadvantage is Week 7, when the play the Lions who are coming off of their bye. But Dallas has a full bye week edge of their own vs the Packers in Week 10, and they also have +4 and +3 rest edges. Dallas play the Colts in Week 13 on Sunday night football the week after hosting the Giants for Thanksgiving. The Colts, however, are coming off a Monday night game in Week 12. So the Colts are on short rest while the Cowboys are off a mini-bye. Additionally, the Cowboys have a rest edge of 3 days entering Week 18 vs Washington, having played the Titans on Thursday of Week 17 (of note, however, this is the first time the Cowboys have played a road Thursday game on a short week since the NFL expanded Thursday night football in 2006. They had been one of two teams to never be forced to play on the road on Thursday on a short week prior to 2022.)
Additionally, Dallas has more opportunities to benefit from short weeks for the opponent than any other team in the league. As Sharp notes in the article, there are different ways to look at the time between games differential, such as this.
The Cowboys play six games vs teams who have less than a week to prepare for Dallas. Last year, only one team even played four games vs opponents with less than a week to prepare for them.
It is also interesting to note that the Green Bay Packers, often thought of as a league darling, really got the shortest end of this particular stick, while the Buffalo Bills wound up in the most favorable situation of any team. It is completely opposite treatment for two teams that are seen as sure to make the playoffs.
Speaking of making the playoffs, take a look at the rest of the NFC East. All three are neutral or within one game of being so. However, timing is also something that plays into all this. Crowding those short weeks together is rough as it keeps disrupting the routine for players and staff alike. In that aspect the Washington Commanders were treated very rudely.
The Commanders remarkably play four games with three-day rest disadvantages. This happens when you play a team coming off a Thursday night game, or what we like to call a “mini-bye”. In Week 10, the Commanders play the Eagles, who are off a mini-bye after playing Thursday of Week 9. The same happens when Washington plays the Giants in Week 13 (NYG plays on Thanksgiving the prior week), the 49ers in Week 16 (SF plays on Thursday of Week 15) and the Cowboys in Week 18 (DAL plays on Thursday of Week 17). So not only is Washington playing four teams off mini-byes, they are playing all four very late in the season.
Given that the Commanders are the game 17 opponent for Dallas, this is a bit one-sided. That is not a complaint, of course, just a look at the facts.
And Washington is not the only division rival facing some extra challenges from the schedule.
One team must play four short week road games (out of 17 total games) and five other teams must play three short week road games.
Let’s examine the Eagles. They are the team that must play four short week road games this season:
Week 3 in Washington off of a Week 2 MNF game
Week 9 in Houston on Thursday night off a Week 8 Sunday game
Week 11 in Indianapolis off a Week 10 MNF game
Week 16 in Dallas on a Saturday afternoon off a Week 15 Sunday game
There is zero excuse to force a team to play four such games. Again, last year only a handful of teams played two such games and none played more than that.
You hate to see it.
As mentioned, Sharp tries to look at all the ways the schedule affects teams, including rest for the players and reduced/extra preparation time. When he combined everything, the Cowboys slipped to the sixth best situation in the league, which is still good. It also is a big jump from last year, when they were 21st in the same calculation. It also has both the Commanders and Eagles in the bottom six.
There is no reason to believe the schedulers set out to help or hurt the chances of any team in making the schedule. Other considerations drive much of this, such as the week 17 contest on TNF. Amazon no doubt wanted a good matchup to finish their inaugural year as the streaming platform for Thursday NFL games. The premium ones went to SNF and MNF, but the game against the Tennessee Titans should be entertaining, with both teams the preseason favorites to win their divisions. It also worked out nicely for Dallas since, as mentioned, they got away from having to play back to back Thursday games for the first time in years.
How much all this really helps or hurts teams is not a clear thing. It certainly has much less impact than injuries. Still, every little edge helps. And this year, the schedule very much favors the Cowboys.