The folk­lore of the NFL bye week

Rest is good, but may not im­pact record

The Buffalo News - - WEATHER - By Mark Gaughan NEWS SPORTS RE­PORTER

The value of rest and re­cu­per­a­tion for foot­ball play­ers dur­ing a long NFL sea­son is hardly a new idea.

Marv Levy was a lead­ing pro­po­nent of the con­cept dur­ing his great run as Buf­falo Bills coach, and it wasn’t a new idea for Levy back then. He started to em­brace the phi­los­o­phy in the 1950s, when he used to travel the coun­try at­tend­ing foot­ball clin­ics run by leg­endary Ok­la­homa coach Bud Wilkinson.

“Start­ing way back with Bud Wilkinson, he stressed you don’t have to prove over and over and over and over in prac­tice how tough you are,” Levy said from his Chicago home this week. “Too many coaches

Den­ni­son ad­justs, but run game hasn’t

Bills of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Rick Den­ni­son de­serves credit for not strictly uti­liz­ing his patented zoneblock­ing run plays. But ei­ther way, the re­sults are be­low ex­pec­ta­tions.

used to say we’ve got to keep them tough, we don’t want them to miss the rhythm. I don’t agree with that ap­proach at all.”

Levy didn’t work his team very hard dur­ing the NFL’s bye week, which was in­sti­tuted in the league in 1990.

Levy’s Bills teams went 8-1 af­ter a week of rest dur­ing the bye.

“When you have that bye week, it is a good chance to rest the play­ers and get them re­freshed,” Levy said. “The play­ers have been go­ing for quite a while now, start­ing with train­ing camp and the off­sea­son work. The bye week should be a plus to al­low you to re­fresh, to give you more time to pre­pare and to heal from some bang-ups that guys have.”

Rest for play­ers is one ben­e­fit of the bye week that vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one agrees upon th­ese days.

Is it an ad­van­tage that makes a dif­fer­ence in win­ning and los­ing?

The bye week stats

Over the past 15 years, teams com­ing off a bye in the reg­u­lar sea­son are 259-218-3, a win­ning per­cent­age of .539.

That’s an uptick, but it is hardly em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence that the bye makes a dif­fer­ence in win­ning, es­pe­cially since it’s hard to sep­a­rate it from so many other fac­tors. Home


teams win at a 58 per­cent rate in the NFL over the long haul – since 1990.

“You would think it should be higher than 54 per­cent be­cause you have that ex­tra week of rest,” said Joel Staniszewski, a Las Ve­gas hand­i­cap­per, for­mer odd­s­maker and na­tive of Sloan.

In fact, it is hard to make any con­clu­sions about the ef­fect of the bye based on win­ning-and-los­ing ev­i­dence.

The mys­tique about the ef­fect of the bye week is larger than re­al­ity.

Do teams com­ing off the bye out­per­form ex­pec­ta­tions, mean­ing the point spread?

No. Over the past 10 years, teams com­ing off the bye cover the spread 52.3 per­cent.

“If you win 52.3 per­cent of games you bet, you’re ba­si­cally break­ing even,” Staniszewski said. How about the tim­ing of byes? The Bills are on an early bye this sea­son. There’s a gen­eral per­cep­tion it’s bet­ter to have a bye later in the sea­son, in mid-Novem­ber, to re­fresh for the stretch run to the play­offs.

No ev­i­dence sup­ports this. Since 2002, both Su­per Bowl win­ners and losers have had byes stretch­ing from Week 3 to Week 12 and ev­ery­thing in between. Ditto for play­off qual­i­fiers. (This sea­son the bye weeks stretch from Week Five to Week 11.)

Do teams that have a late bye do bet­ter the fi­nal month of the sea­son? Nope. A study by ESPN an­a­lyst Bill Barn­well a few years ago showed no cor­re­la­tion.

Do some teams get cheated by the NFL sched­ule-maker by hav­ing to play too many teams com­ing off a bye? This has been a com­plaint among Bills fans in the past. Again, as the 54-per­cent win to­tal sug­gests, it’s hard to make a case.

The Bills are 7-8 (.466) com­ing off the bye the past 15 years, which is bet­ter than their over­all win per­cent­age (.421) since 2002. They’re 4-3 in games against op­po­nents that had the pre­vi­ous week off the past five years.

The Bye Week Swami

Kansas City coach Andy Reid is 16-2 in his reg­u­lar-sea­son ca­reer with the Ea­gles and Chiefs com­ing off a bye week. That’s tied with Levy for the best per­cent­age (.889) of any coach. Ob­vi­ously, Reid’s record is more impressive be­cause he has coached twice as many post-bye games as Levy.

One would ex­pect Reid to have a good post-bye record. He coaches good Coaches since 1970 Coach Games Andy Reid 18 Marv Levy 9 Mike McCarthy 11 Den­nis Green 14 John Har­baugh 9 Wins 16 8 9 11 7 Losses 2 1 2 3 2 teams. His ca­reer win­ning per­cent­age is .696.

“When we have good play­ers and good coaches,” Reid said last year, “good things hap­pen. I’ve been lucky enough to be in those sit­u­a­tions.”

Yet Reid out­per­forms ex­pec­ta­tions. Reid’s teams are 11-1 as fa­vorites af­ter the bye and 5-1 as un­der­dogs. It’s not like he’s fac­ing door­mat teams, ei­ther. Of those 18 games, 11 were against teams that fin­ished .500 or bet­ter.

Since Reid took over in Philadel­phia in 1999, he has given his play­ers the en­tire bye week off from prac­tice. That was a de­par­ture from most coaches back then, but more NFL coaches have Ties 0 0 0 0 0 Win % .889 .889 .818 .786 .778 Ac­tive coaches Coach Andy Reid Mike McCarthy John Har­baugh John Fox Bill Belichick Games 18 11 9 15 23 copied the prac­tice over the years. Reid sticks to his full-week-off pol­icy even when he earns a bye week for the play­offs, which most coaches don’t do. Reid is 3-1 af­ter the bye in the post­sea­son.

“Some­times I think it’s good to step away whether you’re do­ing well or not do­ing well,” Reid has said. “Com­ing off a win or a loss . . . some­times it’s good to get away and get recharged.”

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy copies Reid by giv­ing his play­ers the full week off. McCarthy is 9-2 af­ter the bye. But the Pack­ers have been fa­vored in seven of those wins, five of them by a touch­down or more.

Buf­falo’s Sean McDer­mott coached Wins 16 9 7 10 14 Losses 2 2 2 5 9 Ties 0 0 0 0 0 Win % .889 .818 .778 .667 .609 un­der Reid in Philadel­phia from 1999 to 2010. He has fol­lowed suit this week by giv­ing the Bills the full week off af­ter some meet­ings on Mon­day.

Did McDer­mott learn some valu­able bye-week lessons from Reid?

“I’ve taken some notes over the years, yeah,” McDer­mott said Mon­day.

Yet Reid’s pro­teges don’t au­to­mat­i­cally win af­ter the bye.

McDer­mott worked with for­mer Reid aide Ron Rivera at Carolina the past six years. The Pan­thers were 2-4 af­ter the bye. In all four de­feats, the Pan­thers ei­ther were un­der­dogs or lost to a win­ning team.

New Eng­land’s Bill Belichick is 14-9 af­ter the bye, count­ing his ten­ure in Cleve­land. He’s 12-4 (.750) af­ter the bye since his great Pa­tri­ots run be­gan in 2001. No sur­prise there. Belichick’s over­all win per­cent­age since 2001 is .762.

Belichick usu­ally does not give his team the whole week off. The Pa­tri­ots usu­ally meet on Mon­day, have a full prac­tice Wed­nes­day, then are off through Sun­day.


The week off gives coaches ex­tra time to study the next op­po­nent.

How­ever, com­ments from Reid and other coaches sug­gest that there is at least as much ben­e­fit, if not more, from the self-eval­u­a­tion that coaches can do dur­ing the week off.

“What you’re able to do is take that time and go back and look at ev­ery inch of it on tape and you come out with some things,” Reid told the Kansas City Star in 2014. “You come out and say ‘Hey lis­ten, we can do bet­ter right here. Maybe we need to run this a lit­tle bit more,’ whether it’s of­fen­sively or de­fen­sively. It’s that type of eval­u­a­tion you go through.”

McCarthy fa­mously switched star de­fender Clay Matthews from out­side to in­side line­backer in 2014 at the bye. The de­fense per­formed much bet­ter on the way to a 7-1 post-bye record.

“This game is about try­ing to im­prove con­tin­u­ously, and stay­ing true to fun­da­men­tals is some­thing that we do each and ev­ery day,” McCarthy told re­porters be­fore his bye two years ago. “I guar­an­tee you as I stand here to­day, we get to­gether as a staff, it’s go­ing to go back to fun­da­men­tals. We’re go­ing to spend more time on fun­da­men­tals next week with the ex­tra day get­ting ready for the Bron­cos.”

Coaches aren’t ma­gi­cians. McDer­mott can’t turn re­ceiver Kaelin Clay into Sammy Watkins be­fore the next game against Tampa Bay. But one can be sure the Bills coaches are tak­ing a harder look at the play­ers’ strengths and weak­nesses.

Said McDer­mott of team’s self-as­sess­ment: “I think that’s huge. As I men­tioned ear­lier ... the self-aware­ness as to what we’re do­ing well, and there’s a lot of things, and what we’re not do­ing well enough.

“This will be a big week to put in our work, a lot of it be­ing off the field,” McDer­mott said, “but it starts by be­ing hum­ble, be­ing hon­est with our­selves, and say­ing ‘Hey, what can I do bet­ter? What can we do bet­ter?’ ”

James P. McCoy/Buf­falo News

Sean McDer­mott is hop­ing a full week off for his play­ers will lead to a good week of prac­tice next week in prepa­ra­tion for the Oct. 22 game against Tampa Bay.

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