by Celso T. Castilho - 09/29/2005
As we noticed last weekend, the Redskins did not build on their very quiet undefeated record, the Ravens avoided underachieving, the Lions didn't lose another road game and the Texans didn't score their weekly touchdown.
Per NFL scheduling, the Sunday slate will be minus four teams from weeks 3 to 10.
Although most will recall from our youth sports careers that the bye week brought unending boredom, professional athletes (and coaches) presumably look forward to their off week.
Conventional wisdom dictates that the players utilize this time to rest, recover from injury, and perhaps shore up on fundamentals. Similarly, coaches likely take the extra time to bone up on division rivals, insert tweaks into their game plan and to make certain that the team is focused on their next rival.
For wagering purposes, how should we interpret the bye factor? For starters, it is prudent to remember that the oddsmakers have all the information at hand about teams' trends as they go into and come out of bye weeks. We could trust that the lines already account for the bye factor, however significant we determine that to be.
I set out to find hard statistical data to support any claims about a given team's propensity to play particularly well or poor around a bye week. The results were disappointing, or if you have never really given much thought to the bye week, quite comforting. A reliable study by the Gold Sheet tracked the performance of teams coming off the bye over the last three years. Simply stated, a team coming off a bye week is only 30-46-1 vs. the spread, or a disheartening 39.5%. Furthermore, the team that stayed home for ten days and returns from the bye on their own turf is a dismal 8-24 when facing a team that did not enjoy the bye week.
An assortment of theories can attempt to explain this ostensibly unlikely pattern. One possibility is that a team spent too much or too little time on the practice field, and didn't bring a rejuvenated energy to their next game. Another scenario has a team a team rolling prior to a bye, and the interruption actually halts their momentum. Last, it could be that the opposing team did not receive the memo that team A came off their bye week, and proceed to outplay them anyways.
Whatever your preference, it's clear that the bye week does not have a uniform effect on all teams. Therefore, I strongly suggest that the bye factor be relegated to secondary status when breaking down a game. A "situational" approach will yield a better assessment of a team's chances because of the multitude of variables to consider if one tries to handicap the bye factor. Take the Baltimore-Jets game for example: Will the Ravens likely win because they had an extra week to regroup or because they'll face a very inexperienced quarterback? Similarly, many of the games featuring teams coming off a bye will have storylines that will be much more relevant in assessing a team's prospects.
The Redskins, Lions, Texans and Ravens will resume their schedules this week. Again, I consider the impact of the bye week to be varied. The Skins are surely grateful that recently promoted QB Mark Brunell had a chance to get a large share of the repetitions with the first-team offense. They will host a talented Seattle team, and the game figures to hinge on whether Seattle could run on Washington. Impact of the bye: slightly favorable.
The Texans and the Lions hit the road against two of the league's undefeated squads, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay, respectively. Prior to the bye, neither team could stop the run. To compound their difficulties, they are going against teams that excel with the run and boast stout defenses. Impact of the bye: negligible.
Finally, the Ravens 'won' the most during their off week. Hard pressed to explain the team's lackluster start, Head Coach Brian Billick held training camp style practices in an effort to refocus his squad. However, it's doubtful that a few extra practices fixed the team's offensive line problems, or transformed QB Anthony Wright into an accomplished signal caller. Their big 'win', of course, refers to the fact that they'll face a very green Jets quarterback in Brooks Bollinger.
Thus, a quick glimpse at each team returning from a bye shows that some problems lay much beneath a week's rest. Remember, the oddsmakers already took the bye into account when setting the lines, and that the statistics don't favor the better rested teams....
In case you're still thinking about your survivor pool this week, strongly consider the Falcons hosting the Vikings. I cannot envision Minnesota containing Atlanta's rushing offense. We know that all problems snowball from that big gain on first down.
I expect Atlanta to replicate the success of my teams in previous weeks (Washington, Cincinnati, and Seattle).