The NFL has become a better juggler of its schedule over the years, leveling imbalances that previously struck an unlucky team or two. But many teams have annual bones to pick about repeated headaches, whether perceived or real.
The Vikings developed at least a couple gripes during coach Mike Zimmer’s tenure: traveling too much for Thursday night games and a larger imbalance between home and road prime-time games.
Well, the Vikings again play on the road off a short week — at New Orleans — and will play both night games on the road — at Seattle and Chicago. Minnesota is one of a handful of teams that, at least on paper in May, got the short end of the schedule’s quirks.
Many questions lack answers: Will fan environment be a factor in 2020? Will games even be played? The NFL’s contingency plans reportedly include pushing back the Super Bowl to fit a delayed season or a shortened slate eliminating Weeks 3 and 4, when no divisional games are scheduled, and moving Weeks 1 and 2 to the end of the year. However, the matchups are set. If there are home-field advantages this season, the 49ers cannot complain; four of San Francisco’s five prime-time games will be at home.
Here are five teams that didn’t get the easiest breaks.
Yes, Tampa Bay got a lot of prime-time games and gets Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski — the 43-year-old Brady to 30-year-old Gronk version. But the NFL also handed Brady a scheduling anomaly that hasn’t surfaced since the 2010 Vikings, according to ESPN Stats & Information. For six games, the Bucs will be less rested than the opponent. That is a headache only a head coach might truly appreciate. Tampa Bay is tied for the third-worst rest differential (minus-8 days), ahead of only Denver (-12) and Cincinnati (-12) for the season.
Remember when New England played a cupcake run of quarterbacks to start last season? Times have changed as Bill Belichick’s Patriots will face Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, DeShaun Watson and Kyler Murray; the former two on the road in the first month and the final trio during a three-game November stretch. Judging opposing passers may be a better measure of a schedule’s difficulty than last year’s winning percentage, but for what it’s worth New England’s slate (.539) is the toughest by that measure as well. The Patriots are also one of four teams to play three straight road games.
For the fifth time in seven seasons, Zimmer’s Vikings will hit the road on a short week. Minnesota is scheduled for the rare Christmas Day game — on a Friday afternoon — in New Orleans, a year after Zimmer finally led the first home Thursday game as Vikings coach (he missed the 2016 game vs. Dallas due to eye surgery). Only two of the Vikings’ seven Thursday games have been at home under Zimmer. Minnesota also twice hits the road at night, making for 13 of 22 prime-time games (59%) away from home in seven seasons.
Jon Gruden might have to set a tight curfew. The Raiders’ first season on the Las Vegas Strip comes with six kickoffs at 10 a.m. locally; no other West Coast team has more than four. They include five in the Eastern time zone, where Gruden’s young team will have long flights and early mornings against the Panthers, Patriots, Browns, Falcons and Jets, starting with Carolina in Week 1. The Raiders also have an early kickoff in Kansas City against the Super Bowl-champions. Those six road trips might temper the excitement of four home prime-time games in the new Allegiant Stadium.
First-round quarterback Justin Herbert and the new SoFi Stadium weren’t enough to net the lowly, yet talented, Chargers a single prime-time home game; they have two on the road. Their older Los Angeles brother, the Rams, tied for the NFL high with five nationally televised games. As coach Anthony Lynn tries to rebuild a young team, the Chargers will have to play four games with less rest than the opponent — one of seven teams with as many disadvantaged weeks. Like the Bucs and Vikings, the Chargers are also among the eight teams scheduled to face two opponents off a bye week.