The Detroit Lions’ 2024 schedule repeats the frustrating trend of the 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 the previous 10 seasons. From 2019 onwards, the first slate of bye weeks came in Week 5 (the NFL would not expand to an 18-week schedule until the 2021 season).

The Lions have the (probably) unfortunate luck of having their first potential bye week, coming in Week 5. Detroit is no stranger to early bye weeks. Over the course of a decade of football, the Lions have had three bye weeks and two bye weeks. In fact, the Lions haven’t had a bye week after Week 10 since 2016.

This got me thinking: Will the Lions really get early bye weeks? At a glance, it seemed so. For comparison, the Green Bay Packers I had bye weeks in Weeks 14 (2022), 13 (2021), and 11 (2019) — far later than anything Detroit has seen recently.

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

This is a great set of plots and a great set of data. However, the value we’re really interested in here is the average, represented by the “X” inside the box. This represents the team’s average bye week since 2015. Let’s put that into a more manageable format, ranked from oldest to newest average bye:

In fact, the numbers support my hunch: The Detroit Lions, on average, have the first bye week in the entire NFL. The average bye week since 2015 is -7.1 during the first half of the season. The next closest team, Dallas CowboysOn average, approximately half a week. in contrast, Indianapolis Colts You have a bye week average of 10.6 – over the full three weeks after Detroit.

Are the Lions once again being corrupted by the NFL? You may want to suppress your anger for a moment.

It doesn’t seem to be a case of unpopular teams getting an early bye or popular teams getting a late season bye. the Arizona Cardinals You have an average second-last bye week, but no one describes them as a national selling point. the Pittsburgh Steelersmeanwhile, have one of the largest fan bases out there, but their bye week average is just 8.1, good for fourth in the NFL over the past decade.

Although early bye weeks are far from ideal, especially over the course of a 17-game schedule, the NFL likely has a reason for that. What do the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions have in common? Both teams are staples of Thanksgiving games. Since 2006, the NFL has hosted three games on Thanksgiving, but only the Cowboys and Lions have annual games. Thanksgiving typically falls around Week 12 of the NFL season, and as a result, the league will likely lean toward early bye weeks for these two teams.

Although this is the most likely explanation, it is not the explanation that satisfies me. Aside from their early start time, Thanksgiving games are essentially “Thursday Night Football,” a weekly slate of games notorious for the poor quality of football due to the short week. Looking at the 2024 schedule,… Minnesota Vikings Playing on “Thursday Night Football” in Week 8, they still have a bye week in Week 6. If the Vikings can get a bye close to Thursday’s game, why can’t the Lions get a bye in Week 10? If anything, it would make sense to have a bye right before Thursday’s game to make up for the shorter week.

An early bye isn’t the end of the world, but in a brutal sport like football, injuries are bound to pile up over the course of a season. The Lions are more likely to be beaten by Week 12 than Week 5, meaning the extra week of recovery could have less of an impact. The league is doing the Lions no favors.

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