Amid the NFL’s effort to broaden interest in the game and showcase the league’s most salable stars, convenience for member clubs and players often gets lost in the fold. There has always been a huge discrepancy between the cumulative travel distances for certain teams, like the Raiders in 2018 and 19, which were so notoriously washed up that the league’s head of broadcasting offered the closest thing to an apology we’ll ever see from the NFL. .
In 2018, Oakland traveled more air miles than three other teams combined. In 1919, their final season before moving to Las Vegas, the Raiders went from September 22 to November 3 without playing a game at their stadium. And during what one month stretch, they logged more air miles than nearly the entire NFL. Compared to his peers’ comfortable business trips, Jon Gruden was essentially Eudoxus of Cyzicus.
Take AFC North this year, for example. The geographically restricted division almost always enjoys convenient, short-range travel. This year, the Steelers will travel less than 6,500 miles. If they didn’t want to fly to Atlanta, they could take a bus all season. They do not cross time zones. This is an immeasurable advantage to break into a rookie quarterback who is already going to have his head spinning. Kenny Pickett could be stretched out in a Winnebago filling up its gas tank hours before most of his kicks and still make it in time for the Instagram outfit reveal.
While this post is not solely based on travel issues, everything should be taken into account: rest time, overall opponent strength, number of difficult games in a row. Starting the NFL season with a challenge is akin to taking off on a cross-country ride powered by an LED balloon. We’ll also delve into what appears to be the politics behind primetime gaming and where that leaves certain franchises.
Let’s start with the six teams that can most argue for being underdog by programmers this season.
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks win the Most Traveled Franchise of the Year award with 29,446 air miles thanks to their home state and their Munich date (Week 10, November 13) against the Buccaneers. While his schedule strength (based on last year’s win percentage) is relatively manageable at 11th, and his opening game roster is surviving (Broncos, 49ers, Falcons, Lions, Saints, and Cardinals during DeAndre Hopkins’ suspension ), their post-Munich bye gaming snippet week gets absolutely relentless. The Seahawks will rest a week after Germany before taking on the Raiders, Rams, 49ers and Chiefs for five weeks, with a game against the Panthers serving as their only rest. The Seahawks aren’t doing too poorly from a rest standpoint, with a six-day rest period between week 1 and week 2, and a short week-long turnaround between a Sunday game and Thursday night football, which takes place from December 11 to 15. All in all, international play (which, being Germany’s first time hosting an NFL game, comes with some added complications), combined with four major cross-country trips (Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Detroit, and New Orleans) make this an unenviable way to start the post-Russell Wilson era.
2. Cleveland Browns
To be clear, the Browns opted for it. We’re not saying they’re tied, per se, but we’re pointing out a clear discrepancy in primetime games for Cleveland versus other teams that have made equally significant roster moves this offseason. The Browns are slated for two such matchups: a Week 3 game on Thursday against the Steelers and a Halloween home duel against the Bengals in Monday night football. While the NFL hasn’t released any information about a possible suspension of Deshaun Watson, one has to wonder if the idea was to sweep the Browns’ prime-time games earlier in the season – when Watson would likely lose his time – so the announcers wouldn’t have to spend three hours discussing the troubling details of Watson’s allegations, a task some commentators have struggled with before.
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The Broncos, for example, play five prime-time games and one featured game in London, which is also in an alternate time slot. Matt Ryan and the Colts have three prime time games. I think we can say with some confidence that the Browns’ placement — almost exclusively on the CBS 1 p.m. time slot — is an effort to avoid a long-term stream of criticism to the league’s television partners for what could be a perceived inability to deal with a sensitive subject. If you’re a prime-time player, or a Browns head coach hoping the additional television time will help your bid for a head coaching opportunity in 2023, it’s unfortunate to have only one prime-time network game and a prime time streaming opportunity in 2022. Visibility in these positions is important.
From a programming standpoint, there’s an absolutely brutal snippet of Cleveland’s schedule from Week 5 to Week 12 (Chargers, Patriots, Ravens, Bengals, Dolphins, Bills, and Buccaneers).
3. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals’ schedule is perversely loaded back and forth, with the only identifiable weak point coming in late September, early October of the season. Arizona opens the season at Arrowhead and then travels to Las Vegas for the Raiders’ home opening under Josh McDaniels. After that? Welcoming defending Super Bowl champion Rams. The Cardinals are following a short break (October 16-20 in games against the Seahawks and Saints, respectively) with a tough stretch that includes a game in Minnesota, a trip to Los Angeles to face the Rams, an eight-day break before to play the 49ers in Mexico City’s brutal, high-altitude contest, which is followed by a short six-day rest period to welcome the Chargers home. After that Chargers game on November 27th? They are Patriots, Broncos and Buccaneers. Good luck to Kliff Kingsbury and Co., who went into this season knowing they would have the second biggest programming force. While the Cardinals’ short rest games are fairly even, they, unlike other international teams, have not said goodbye after leaving the country. I would be curious to hear the NFL’s opinion on this. Yes, Phoenix to Mexico City is a flight of only about 3 and a half hours, but it’s a journey over unforgiving terrain, elevated 2,000 feet above sea level than Denver. Also, according to rest metrics provided by NFL Stats and Information, the Cardinals have one of the least advantageous short-rest breaks in the league this year.
4. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are tied for the NFL’s easiest schedule force next year, which means we have no obligation to feel sorry for them. That said, the way their schedule opens up is difficult, with only one clearly winnable game between the season opener and Halloween. Dallas starts the season with home games against Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, followed by two divisional games against the Giants (Monday at night Football) and a short rest game against the Commanders. After taking on a talented Washington defensive line, the Cowboys travel to Los Angeles to face the reigning champions, then skate back across the country for a division game against the much-improved Eagles in Philadelphia, a 1,200-mile flight followed by 1,300 miles. to fly. A Mike McCarthy rivalry game against the Packers doesn’t come much closer after this unenviable stretch. It’s worth noting that the strength of the preseason schedule tells us next to nothing about an upcoming season if non-conference games are layered a little too hard. Often, for example, NFC East teams tend to play their opponents in intradivisions and lose games in the season that they shouldn’t.
5. Saints of New Orleans
I’m always curious to know what the teams think about needing a week off after an international trip. The Saints, who cross the NFL’s second time zones this year (30), do not no say goodbye after returning home from the game against the Vikings at Tottenham. In fact, they go from England to a home game against the Seahawks, to a home game against the Bengals, to a Thursday night four-day turnaround against the Arizona Cardinals. This is tricky from a logistical point of view, but some coaches prefer to keep playing if the perceived momentum is in the right direction. I think there is a expectation of rest after an international trip, but whether or not to claim depends directly on recent performance. The Saints don’t have their farewell week until early December. I think coaches with veteran quarterbacks prefer later byes for late-season injury maintenance, but with Jameis Winston, I wouldn’t want to wait that long for an opportunity to self-observe a notoriously erratic passer, especially without Sean Payton on board.
6. Green Bay Packers
The least advantageous break time award goes to… the Packers. According to the NFL’s data science department, Green Bay has the most unequal rest days earned vs. lost rest days among all NFL teams. This will be worth looking at because Aaron Rodgers has in the past expressed his frustration with the way the Packers approach certain travel logistics. In order to make up for some of the lost recovery days, the Packers will have to be smart about certain stretches, like their early-season trip to London, which is preceded and immediately followed by home games. The Packers’ schedule is also notably busy and features an end-of-season game against the Lions, which could be significant given Detroit’s emergence as a fashionable playoff pick this year. The Lions have the most advantageous rest division of any NFL team this year.
More coverage of the NFL schedule:
• How the NFL Built (and Rebuilt) the 2022 Schedule
• Ranking of the 10 best games of the year
• Analyzing each network’s prime time games
• Five best games to bet