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Do bye weeks really matter in the NFL?

That answer is WAY more complicated than you think.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

We barely know anything about anyone yet, and NFL teams are already taking breaks. This weekend, six teams will be on a bye. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, St. Louis, Arizona and Seattle will all be sitting on their figurative butts, resting before coming back in Week 5 to play 13 straight weeks of regular season football -- the longest uninterrupted stretch that any teams will face this season.

This doesn't seem fair. Knowing what we know about football -- namely, that it's the most violent and physically taxing sport your grandmother is still happy to discuss with you -- having an early bye week should be a disadvantage. The cream of the league -- both of last year's Super Bowl participants, the 3-0 Bengals, the surging Cardinals, the surprising Browns -- could go skidding into the playoffs on an empty tank -- tired, hurt and neutered because they drew an unfavorable scheduling blip.

The effect of bye weeks has been studied before. Bill Barnwell did a good job covering it a couple years ago. He and others found essentially the same thing -- the effect of where a team's bye week falls is essentially nil. Teams perform mildly better during the weeks immediately before and after a bye, but not at a substantial rate. The effect on overall regular season win percentage is all but zero, and actually favors early bye weeks by an insignificant margin.

But what happens when the regular season is over? The important thing is getting to the playoffs and going far. Do teams with late bye weeks have an advantage when it comes to making the playoffs, winning once they're there, and ultimately going to the title game? Maybe teams with early byes are pushed to exert themselves late in the regular season, and deflate like balloons once they're in the postseason. Maybe there are karmic forces at play. Maybe cosmic.

Maybe we need chart.

Season Avg. bye week Super Bowl winner Super Bowl loser Conference finalists Playoff participants Sub-.500 teams
2013 8.31 12.00 9.00 10.00 8.75 8.00
2012 7.69 8.00 9.00 8.25 8.50 7.37
2011 7.37 7.00 7.00 6.50 8.08 7.08
2010 7.19 10.00 5.00 7.50 7.08 6.81
2009 7.00 5.00 6.00 7.25 6.33 7.66
2008 6.50 6.00 7.00 5.50 6.08 6.27
2007 7.00 9.00 10.00 8.25 6.92 7.07
2006 6.06 6.00 7.00 6.50 5.75 6.42
2005 6.50 4.00 8.00 7.00 6.58 6.29
2004 6.50 3.00 5.00 6.00 6.50 6.60
2003 6.50 10.00 3.00 5.75 6.33 6.62
2002 6.50 10.00 3.00 6.50 6.00 5.85
Averages 6.93 7.50 6.58 7.09 6.91 6.84

What am I looking at?

Average bye weeks by season of the league at large, compared to those seasons' Super Bowl participants, Conference Championship Game participants, playoff participants and sub-.500 teams. I went back to 2002, when the league added the Houston Texans and realigned the divisions.

What did we find out?

That there really isn't much of correlation between playoff success and a team's bye week. The last twelve Super Bowl winners, especially of late, have had later-than-average byes. Last year's Seahawks won with a bye on the back stretch, but then again the Patriots won back-to-back championships following the 2004 and 2005 seasons after taking time off supremely early in the season.

The average bye week of a Super Bowl participant is 7.04 for the last 24 teams. Four of those teams had byes in Week 4 or earlier. Even a small sample size adheres more or less to what we should expect.

If we actually put stock in the fact that teams that make conference championship games (i.e., win at least one game in the playoffs) tend to have later bye weeks than the teams they beat, we can still confidently say that an early bye week isn't a death sentence. In 2008, the Baltimore Ravens made the AFC Championship Game on a Week 2 bye, because their scheduled game against the Houston Texans that week had to be pushed back due to Hurricane Katrina.

So fear not! Your team will not be getting hosed because of its bye week.

So that's it?

I think so.

Sure there isn't anything else?

What are you getting at?

Why did you write this?

Because statistical anomalies are neat, and even weak correlations are fun to consider.

But you knew that you wouldn't find anything?

I did?

I'm just a literary device. So get to it.

Life is a limited data set. And we mush things together to render meaning -- look, there's some dirt, some trees, some water and we call it serenity; and look, there's some brown hair, a nose, a pair of green eyes and we call it the love of our life.

We imbue banal things with importance because we need to -- life must be important to live it -- and because our selection is so small. Open the world, give us the time and capability to comprehend all of it and our lives might be wildly different. The lives we give ourselves would be something no doubt truer, if not better. We might find the person we love truly instead of the person we decide we must love.

I don't know, what if we were born in Kansas City or something?

Maybe we'd be talking about sports again.

Then consider this: Those 2008 Ravens had outscored the Pittsburgh Steelers 14-3 after falling into a 13-0 deficit at the start of the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game. A fourth quarter Troy Polamalu interception return for a touchdown sealed the game for the Steelers, however, sending them to a Super Bowl that they later won. What if the Ravens complete the comeback? The average bye of the last 12 Super Bowl winners might have dropped more than three-tenths. The average bye of Super Bowl participants would be under the league average.

The Ravens' fate was beholden to Polamalu's existence. --


-- just as our own fate may be beholden to small opportunities we missed or took, or what we ate for breakfast, or what another guy ate for breakfast. Or maybe bye weeks do matter on a case-by-case basis, but we'll never know exactly how much because we don't have the power to observe all that we would like to comprehend.

We can pretend we have predictive power, that we our the masters of our fate, but that control is minimal. We can change our environment, but really we're just changing the set of rules by which we're bound.

So life is just meaningful meaninglessness?

I guess. A lot like bye weeks.

Thank you for reading my article!