Will the Early Bye Doom the Vikings?

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA TODAY Sports)

The NFL announced its full schedule on Thursday, and fans can now begin to plan their road trips for the upcoming season. For Minnesota Vikings fans, this could include plans for the Week 2 Monday Night Football game in Philadelphia, a Week 4 game against New Orleans Saints at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, and a Week 6 contest in Miami.

However, Minnesota has a Week 7 bye, much earlier than fans and players want. Will an early bye week be a death sentence for the Purple?

The NFL expanded to a 17-game season for the first time in 2021. Bye weeks didn’t begin until Week 6, one week after the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons faced off in the first London game of the year. The league gave four teams a Week 6 bye, including the Jets and Falcons. When they reached their bye week, these four teams were a combined 8-12 (.400).

These four teams were 30-38 (.441) at the end of the season. The Jets and Falcons were non-factors for the playoffs. However, the New Orleans Saints (9-8) and San Francisco 49ers (10-7) were jostling for a playoff spot in Week 18. The Saints were eliminated when the 49ers beat the Los Angeles Rams, giving the Philadelphia Eagles the head-to-head tiebreaker over New Orleans.

Even with the Saints and 49ers battling for playoff positions, they floated around the .500 mark the entire season. They were middling when they entered their bye, and the 49ers needed a second-half comeback in Week 18 to beat the Rams and avoid a 9-8 record. The four teams who entered Week 6 hovering around the .500-mark stayed that way the entire year, showing their bye didn’t dictate that team’s success.

Conversely, four teams were awarded the league’s final bye week in Week 14. The Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and Eagles were a combined 28-24 (53.9%) entering the bye. They were 37-31 (54.4%) by season’s end.

The Colts were 7-6 when they reached their bye week. Appearing to hit their stride, Indianapolis won their next two games to improve to 9-6. Surprisingly, though, they lost their final two games of the year. They missed the playoffs entirely after losing 26-11 to the 3-14 Jacksonville Jaguars.

After beginning the year 9-4, the Patriots came out of the bye and lost three of four games to end the season. On the other hand, Miami won three of four to finish 9-8, narrowly missing the playoffs. And the Eagles won three of four, improving to 9-8 to edge the Saints to qualify for the postseason.

Like their Week 6 bye counterparts, the teams with Week 14 byes collectively enjoyed similar success before and after their bye. The Eagles and Dolphins took advantage of the late bye. However, the Patriots and Colts still wore down at the end – even with what is seen as an ideal bye week. And even though the Patriots and Eagles made the playoffs, both got beaten handily during Wild Card Weekend.

We’ve seen that teams with the early bye week only improved by .041% and stayed relatively in the same spot all year. The teams with the late byes improved by only .050% and didn’t threaten deep playoff runs. So what happens when teams get their bye right in the middle of the season in Week 10?

The Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, New York Giants, and Houston Texans were a combined 12-24 (.333) going into their Week 10 byes. They were 24-44 (.353) at the end of the season. Of this group, only the Bengals made the playoffs. They were also the only team in the grouping with a winning record when the bye hit at 5-4. Cincinnati went 5-3 to close the season, almost mirroring their pre-bye record and continuing the trend we have seen thus far.

Finally, we will check out how the playoff teams fared before and after their byes. NFC playoff teams were 44-21 (.679) heading into their bye weeks; their overall record was 80-39 (.672) when the season ended. AFC playoff teams were 41-24 (.631) when they entered their bye weeks. Their overall record to finish the season? 74-44-1 (.627), keeping the theme that teams generally sustained their season success before and after their bye weeks.

As stated above, only the Bengals enjoyed the Week 10 bye among playoff teams. In total, seven playoff teams had bye weeks after the Bengals, and six had bye weeks before Week 10. The average bye week for the 14 playoff teams was Week 10, just like it is for the entire NFL.

So before freaking out that the Vikings have an early bye week this year, just remember that wherever the Vikings stand after the London game is a good indicator of how successful they will or won’t be in 2022. And if you are still convinced that bye weeks are a critical factor, consider this: The Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers had bye weeks to begin the 2021-22 postseason. Neither won a playoff game.

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