International Games: ‘To Bye or Not To Bye?’

International Games: ‘To Bye or Not To Bye?’

While NFL fans around the world typically spend the days immediately following each season’s schedule release in deep discussions over the best matchups, playoff contenders and ideal dates for watch parties – players tend to focus almost exclusively on their bye week, particularly when they have an international game scheduled in.

Recognising the unique challenges that come with playing overseas, the NFL provides each of the selected teams with the opportunity to choose whether or not they take a bye week after their international game.

That said, should a team opt out of a bye at this point in the season, they no longer have any influence on the timing of their bye – as NFL Director of Broadcasting, Charlotte Carey said in a recent interview: “If you go over to Europe we have those conversations – but otherwise, there is no conversation on where your bye falls.”

Given the taxing journey between the U.S. and London – with the shortest flight time being just over seven hours from New York and a time difference of anywhere from five to eight hours resulting in considerable jet lag – one would expect a bye following an international game to be a favourable option. However, of the seven teams playing in 2024’s four games across London and Munich, three of those teams – the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars – opted out of an early bye week.

Therefore: to bye, or not to bye – that is the question.


To Bye?

Since 2007, the overwhelming majority of teams to have competed in London and Germany have taken a bye straight after their international matchup. In fact, of the 106 possible post-international-game byes, 88 were utilised.

In an interview with NFL Network after the 2022 schedule release, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur referenced the impact that the trip over the pond can have, saying: “It definitely has its own set of challenges in terms of preparation and travel – it takes a little bit of a toll on the body.” Consequently, injuries that can occur at any given point during the course of a season are further exacerbated as a result.

A unfortunate example of this was on full display following the aforementioned Packers’ game against the New York Giants at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2022. With his team behind by five points, Aaron Rodgers attempted to steal victory in London with a deep ball on the last play of the game. Not only did the pass fall incomplete, but the play also resulted in Rodgers breaking his thumb.

Through taking the bye, players can capitalise on the extended personal time before returning to practice. Additionally, the strain that travel can place on injuries is likely to hinder a player’s longevity unless given appropriate time to rest and recover – a bye week ensures that players are provided with exactly that.

Without a bye week, however, Rodgers was thrust into preparation for the next game with little opportunity for relief. The four-time MVP later admitted that the injury had negatively impacted his performance from that point onwards – undoubtedly contributing to Green Bay missing out on the playoffs and 57% of this year’s international teams opting for an early bye.

Not To Bye?

As mentioned previously, the Patriots, Jaguars and Jets all opted out of a bye week following their 2024 international game – which, upon further analysis, makes a lot of sense. Since the NFL International Games began in 2007, teams who chose not to take a bye following an international matchup had a 67% win rate in their next game. Conversely, the teams that chose to take their bye week had a win rate of only 48.5%.

This explains the evident shift that took place in 2022, where five out of the six teams to play in Europe chose to opt out of an early bye week – with 80% of those teams winning their next game.

For the New York Jets in particular, the decision to take a later bye is justified by a number of reasons.

The last time the Jets played in London, New York chose to take a bye before their next game – where they lost 54-13 at the hands of the New England Patriots. Furthermore, last season the Jets struggled considerably with injuries – notably to new QB Aaron Rodgers and their offensive line. With Super Bowl aspirations in 2024, head coach Robert Saleh hopes that a later bye will allow players to recover ahead of a playoff push, revealing at a recent press conference:

“We prefer a later bye. There’s so much data now with regards to the London trip and so many teams have tried it so many different ways. We feel really comfortable about what we’re going to do.

“There’s a couple of things from our last trip that we learned.”

This sentiment is echoed by several leading NFL coaches – with Baltimore Ravens head coach, John Harbaugh stating ahead of their London game in 2023:

“We didn’t really want to have a bye too early – we like the later bye.”

Evidently, there are pros and cons to both an early and late bye – with a multitude of factors contributing to the decision-making process. That said, with league commissioner Roger Goodell floating the idea of an 18-game regular season and a subsequent additional bye week, maybe teams will be able to enjoy the best of both worlds in a truly international NFL.

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