The 2021 NFL schedule is set to be released next Wednesday, May 12, at 8 PM. With the expanded schedule bringing 17 games throughout the regular season, teams will still only have just one bye week during the regular season.
Teams are almost getting an additional bye week to start the season in the form of Week 4 of the preseason as it has been cut down to only three games for most teams. For those who may not know, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys each have an additional preseason game when they match up on Thursday, August 5, in the Hall of Fame Game. The game which will be removed from the preseason is where the regularly scheduled Week 4 preseason game would be played on Thursday one week before the NFL kickoff game. Now teams will have the extra week to reevaluate their players and recoup from their final preseason game before stepping on the field for the 2021 regular season.
What will be interesting to see when the schedule is released on Wednesday is if the NFL keeps their typical bye week structure ever since they expand into 32 teams in 2002. From 1999 to 2001 when there was an odd number of teams, there was at least one team each week with a bye. Now, the NFL could schedule as many or as few bye weeks as they wish. In 2020, bye weeks were scheduled from Week 5 to Week 13.
Unfortunately, as Steelers fans came to find out, rescheduling games because of the global pandemic caused both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans to have their 2020 bye week in Week 4. Although the Steelers continued to simply respond to whatever hand was dealt them by the NFL, having to play so many games in a row to finish out the season was very likely one of several factors which led to the Steelers late-season collapse.
I have never been one to buy into the importance of when the team’s by week fell. What was more important was using the bye week properly. Unfortunately, the Steelers could not properly implement their bye week in 2020 as it was thrust upon them the Thursday before their scheduled game. Although they did not have to play a game that week, they didn’t get to utilize the bye week in the typical manner.
After seeing how having such an early bye, and not really having one at all, affected the Steelers in 2020, one has to think that having an early bye with an extra game during the regular season is not a desired placement. Hopefully the NFL will not be scheduling bye weeks as early as normal seeing as how teams will be playing regular season games the second Sunday of January. If the league starts bye weeks in Week 5 yet again, seeing teams play 13 straight regular-season games much like the Steelers had to in 2020 is not something that they should intentionally schedule.
Looking at how the 2020 season panned out, it was two teams who had late byes who managed to pull off a Super Bowl run. The Kansas City Chiefs had their bye week in Week 10 which was in the middle of November. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the latest possible bye week as they were off in Week 13.
Yes, Tampa Bay had a bye in Week 13.
Their bye week was in December.
After their bye, the Bucs only had four more regular-season games. After losing two straight before the bye week to the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay went on to win their final four games of the regular season and their four playoff games in route to a Super Bowl victory.
To put the advantage of Tampa bye week into perspective, the Steelers also won eight straight games coming out of their bye. But instead of this leading to a Super Bowl victory, it led to the Steelers losing in Week 13, which just so happened to be the exact same week Tampa had their bye.
When the 2021 NFL schedule is released on Wednesday, looking at when the Steelers have their bye may be more important than when they face certain opponents. While it’s not impossible for a team to overcome an early bye, especially if they know it going into the season, it is more advantageous to get a refresher late in the season and then carry straight into the playoffs. So as anxious as I will be to see when the Steelers play in prime time or when they face-off against their AFC North opponents, this season I will first be checking where there is no game scheduled, especially since there is a 17th regular-season game, and hopefully the week number is in the double digits.