Is there a better way to construct the NFL schedule? Of course. The question is how we might improve it for the benefit of the league, players, and fans. What if it produced dozens more nationally televised games each season — including the addition of Wednesday Night Football — while eliminating short-rest weeks? The following is a proposed win-win-win solution.
Proposed New NFL Schedule
Any new NFL schedule should benefit the league, players, and fans. There’s a narrow path to achieving this goal, but it’s doable if we take a step back and consider its ramifications. The NFL is an incredible enterprise. And its long-term sustainability might be bolstered with a few meaningful tweaks.
No More Short Weeks
How often have we witnessed an elite talent get hurt on Sunday, and then can’t get cleared in time for their Thursday Night Football matchup four days later? In Week 4 this season, Jonathan Taylor hurt his ankle.
Had his next game been on Sunday, he might have played. Instead, because it was on Thursday, he couldn’t, depriving fans of an opportunity to watch one of the league’s top running backs do what he does best.
This proposed new schedule would eliminate short-rest weeks. No more quick turnarounds. The worst-case scenario would be Monday to Sunday, or six days between contests. This would allow for more regular practice schedules and longer player recovery times at least one week per season.
Two Bye Weeks per Season
This proposal would expand the regular season by one week while maintaining the 17-game schedule. In other words, each team would earn a second bye.
The merits of this approach are clear. Last year, the NFL expanded its season by one game. Team injuries are a constant, and load management is real. Some teams are forced to play in 12 straight weeks through the end of the season.
But suppose the AFC East kicks things off with a bye in Week 2? Then the NFC East follows with a bye in Week 3? And so on through Week 9, at which point the cycle would repeat?
We could debate whether Week 2 is too early for an initial bye. And of course, there would need to be divisional parity, where they adjust the bye-week order each season. But using this approach, the final bye weeks would take place in Week 16, meaning all teams would compete in the final three weeks of the season.
Introducing Wednesday Night Football
Adopting this strategy, the NFL could keep Thursday Night Football. In fact, the league could add Wednesday Night Football, bringing it more revenue for itself and the broader industry without compromising quality. How would this be possible?
Let’s use the above example, with the AFC East earning a Week 2 bye. Wednesday and Thursday Night Football would then kick off in Week 3, featuring (for example) the Bills vs. Patriots on Wednesday (nine or 10 days after their previous games) and the Dolphins vs. Jets on Thursday (10 or 11 days after their previous games).
By featuring intra-divisional rivalries, the NFL would augment its brand and revenue, the teams would be more prepared, the players would be relatively more rested and healthier, and fans would receive an extra night of football-watching bliss.
While this is happening, another division (e.g. the NFC East) would enjoy their bye week before doing battle in Week 4, when the Commanders might face the Giants, while the Cowboys could tangle with the Eagles — again, on Wednesday and Thursday. Eight weeks later, the process would repeat, thereby giving each division two opportunities to compete in prime time on Wednesday or Thursday following their bye.
This approach also means that these teams wouldn’t have to play again for 10-12 days. In other words, in each season, players would get 9-12 days off between games at least four times: before and after each of their two Wednesday or Thursday Night Football matchups.
And let’s not forget about Thanksgiving. Using this season as an example, my proposal assumes two divisions (e.g. the NFC East and NFC North) would earn byes in Week 11 in the lead-up to Thanksgiving. Then Wednesday of Week 12 would feature either an NFC East or NFC West game (for example, Giants vs. Eagles).
Thursday would feature the Lions, as usual, against a divisional rival, followed by the Cowboys vs. Commanders, and then the customary nightcap comprising the other two NFC North teams.
NFL schedule changes take time to implement. There are no perfect solutions. And one tweak might do more harm than good for primary or even secondary stakeholders.
But a revised schedule that puts more weight on prime-time rivalries, more extended rest periods for players, and additional viewing opportunities for fans would be a win-win-win. It’s the convergence of quantity and quality, and that’s exactly what the NFL strives for.