With the 2019 NFL Draft quickly approaching, much of the focus league-wide has been on scouting prospects, deciphering which teams are trade-up or down candidates, or identifying positions of need for each team. But for teams like the Saints, who are without a first round pick and with just one pick in the first four rounds, the NFL Schedule Release (occurring Wednesday, April 17th) will have as much of an impact (if not more) than the draft as far as the 2019-2020 season goes. Although the opponents are already set, the order, dates, times, and other scheduling quirks still have major impacts on a team’s expected record.
With that, there’s one more housekeeping issue before we can get to the Saints schedule wish list. The two standard NFL rules I have noticed regarding schedules are as follows:
- Teams that play road Thursday Night games always play at home the week before (never on Monday).
- Teams that play road Monday Night Games always play at home the following week (never on Thursday). With that said, these wishes are in no particular order, but I try to identify the general importance of each wish.
Start and end the season on the road.
When talking with most fans, a priority will be an easy start to the schedule so their team can come out the gates on fire. But book-ending the season with road games is tremendously beneficial for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, it means that your middle chunk of the schedule contains 8 home games in 6 road games. That means fewer 2-3 game road trips, less travel, and more home-stands where the team can get extra time for preparation and recovery.
Secondly, starting the season on the road is the easiest possible week for travel. The fourth preseason game is at least 10 days prior to the game, and few, if any, meaningful players are playing in it. The team has the whole offseason to prepare for the game, and these factors can help minimize the negative value of a road game.
Finally, ending the season on the road is ideal for resting purposes. While the Saints were able to clinch the #1 seed in 2018 with 7 home games and 8 road games, it’s more likely they’d be able to clinch something significant (whether that be a playoff spot, the division, a bye, or home-field advantage) with 8 home games and 7 road games. Ending the season on the road increases the chances that the last game doesn’t matter at all, and the Saints could have an opportunity to rest key players.
Have the Bye Week in Week 9 or later.
Ideally, you want your team’s bye week towards the halfway point, but you’d prefer it after the halfway point. When running a marathon, the second half is significantly tougher than the first. Having bye weeks in Week 5 or 6 (as the Saints have the last two years) isn’t nearly as beneficial as receiving that week off when you’ve completed at least half of the gauntlet the regular season provides. Additionally, should the Saints fall short of a First Round Bye, having a later bye week would ensure the Saints couldn’t play more than 11 weeks in a row. When the Saints played the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round in 2017, it was their 14th week in a row with a game.
Have a home Thursday Night Game.
Each team plays a Thursday Night Football game every year, and having a home Thursday Night Game can provide even more value compared to a Sunday game. While there have been conflicting studies regarding the extent to which a team’s home-field advantage increases on Thursday Nights, there certainly haven’t been any that point to an added advantage for the road team playing on Thursday as opposed to Sunday. Road teams face an even shorter week than normal given that they involve a travel day. So there’s an extra advantage to be gained if…
Have a home game the week before the Thursday Night (preferably against an easier opponent).
As noted previously, if the Saints, have a road Thursday Night game, they will automatically have a home game the week preceding. But, if they are lucky enough to receive a home Thursday Night game, having a home game preceding it gives the team an incredibly valuable extra day of preparation while the opponent must travel to New Orleans. I also note that an easier opponent would be preferable. Rest is crucial in these Thursday Night games, so an easier opponent (like the Cardinals for example) would be an excellent game to potentially get out ahead early and run clock later in the game.
Have a road game following the Thursday Night game.
Much like starting the season on the road, travelling after a Thursday Night game is easier than travelling on a normal week. There’s more time for recovery and extra days for preparation, so it’d be beneficial to use that extra time preparing and travelling to a road game. Also, given that there is extra time to prepare for this game, one of the harder road games is preferred.
Have a road game following the Bye Week.
Have a Monday Night/Sunday Night game before Bye Week (preferably on road).
Monday Night and Sunday Night games, particularly on the road, give teams shorter weeks following the game. Last week, the Saints were lucky to have their bye week directly following a Monday Night matchup against the Redskins. While a game on Sunday would have led to just a five day preparation period, the Saints had a full 12 days to prepare for a road matchup against the Ravens.
This should stick out to most Saints fans relatively easily. The Saints rely on a potent air attack that thrives on fast turf in a weather-controlled Superdome. While reports of Drew Brees’ demise in outdoor stadiums or in the cold are vastly overblown, there is a decline that happens to virtually any Quarterback when battling things outside of the game such as the weather. Having 3-4 of these games before November would be wonderfully beneficial to the Saints.
Play no more than one team coming off a bye.
On average, each team should play one team coming off a bye week. For some reason, the NFL doesn’t even this out and so some teams will play zero teams coming off byes while others have to play two. Last year, the Saints were one of those teams who had to face two, matchups with the Redskins and Bengals, each of whom were coming off bye weeks. While the Saints turned both games into routs, a bye week makes approximately a one point difference in a point spread, so take any advantage you can get.
Example Ideal Schedule
- Week 1: @ Seattle; Sunday 3:25 PM
- Week 2: vs San Francisco; Sunday 3:05 PM
- Week 3: @ Chicago; Sunday 7:20 PM
- Week 4: vs Arizona; Sunday 12:00 PM
- Week 5: vs Dallas; Thursday 7:20 PM
- Week 6: @ Carolina; Sunday 12:00 PM
- Week 7: @ Tennessee; Sunday 12:00 PM
- Week 8: vs Tampa Bay; Sunday 12:00 PM
- Week 9: vs Indianapolis; Sunday 3:05 PM
- Week 10: @ LA Rams; Monday 7:15 PM
- Week 11: Bye
- Week 12: @ Atlanta; Sunday 12:00 PM
- Week 13: vs Carolina; Sunday 12:00 PM
- Week 14: @ Jacksonville; Sunday 12:00 PM
- Week 15: vs Houston; Sunday 3:05 PM
- Week 16: vs Atlanta; Sunday 7:20 PM
- Week 17: @ Tampa Bay; Sunday TBD