2024 Detroit Lions schedule repeats frustrating trend of past decade

2024 detroit lions schedule repeats frustrating trend of past decade

2024 Detroit Lions schedule repeats frustrating trend of past decade

When the Detroit Lions released their schedule for the 2024 NFL season, something immediately caught my attention: another early bye week?

Bye weeks have typically ranged from Week 4 to Week 14 over previous 10 seasons. From 2019 onward, the first slate of bye weeks has come in Week 5 (the NFL would not expand to an 18-week schedule until the 2021 season).

The Lions have the (likely) unfortunate luck of having the first possible bye week, coming in Week 5. Detroit is no stranger to early bye weeks. Over the decade of football, the Lions have had three Week 5 byes and two Week 6 byes. In fact, the Lions have not had a bye week later than Week 10 since 2016.

This made me think: are the Lions truly getting early bye weeks? At a cursory glance, it appeared so. As a comparison, the Green Bay Packers have had bye weeks in Week 14 (2022), 13 (2021), and 11 (2019)—far later than anything Detroit has had recently.

Do the numbers back up my hunch? Let’s examine each team’s bye week since 2015 using some box plots:

2024 detroit lions schedule repeats frustrating trend of past decade

That’s a whole lot of plots and a whole lot of data. However, the value we are truly interested in here is the mean, represented by the “X” within the box. This represents a team’s average bye week since 2015. Let’s put those into a more digestible format, ranked from earliest to latest average bye:

2024 detroit lions schedule repeats frustrating trend of past decade

The numbers do in fact back up my hunch: the Detroit Lions, on average, have the earliest bye week in the entire NFL. Their average bye week since 2015 is 7.1—well within the early half of the season. The next-closest team, the Dallas Cowboys, are almost a half-week later on average. In contrast, the Indianapolis Colts have an average bye week of 10.6—over a three full weeks later than Detroit.

Are the Lions once again getting screwed over by the NFL? You might want to hold your outrage for a second.

It does not appear to be a case of unpopular teams getting earlier byes or popular teams getting the late-season byes. The Arizona Cardinals have the second-latest bye week on average, but nobody is labelling them as a national selling point. The Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, have one of the largest fanbases out there, but their bye week average is just 8.1, good for fourth-earliest in the NFL over the last decade.

Though the early bye weeks are far from optimal, especially over the course of a 17-game schedule, the NFL likely has a reason for it. What do the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions have in common? Both teams are staples of Thanksgiving Day games. Since 2006, the NFL has hosted three games on Thanksgiving, but only the Cowboys and Lions are only annual fixtures. Thanksgiving typically falls around Week 12 of the NFL season, As a result, the league likely leans towards earlier bye weeks for these two teams.

While this is the likeliest explanation, it isn’t one that satisfies me. Aside from its early start time, Thanksgiving Day games are essentially “Thursday Night Football,” a weekly slate of games notorious for poor quality football caused by the short week. Looking at the 2024 schedule, the Minnesota Vikings play on “Thursday Night Football” in Week 8, yet they have their bye week in Week 6. If the Vikings can get a bye that close to their Thursday game, why can’t the Lions get a bye in Week 10? If anything, it would make sense to give a bye just before a Thursday game to offset the shorter week.

An early bye is not the end of the world, but in a fierce sport like football, injuries are bound to accumulate over the course of a season. The Lions are more likely to be banged up by Week 12 than they are Week 5, meaning the extra week of recuperation could have less impact. The league isn’t doing the Lions any favors.

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