The 2020 NFL schedule is here! The feel of a new season, even under unusual circumstances, is always awesome and something I’ve always looked forward to, both as a fan and as a player. As a fan, you might look for home games first, to get excited about attending them, and then primetime games and away game times.
As a player, it’s a little different. These are the five things we look for when the schedule drops.
1) Bye week
This is, hands down, the No. 1 thing players look for when the schedule is released. And it’s not because we don’t want to play, but more because we get a break. Not just a physical break, but a mental break.
Camp starts on Aug. 1 and the last Sunday of the regular season is Jan. 3. That’s roughly 22 weeks of football. During those 22 weeks, we will not get off more than three days — and that might be generous — until the bye week. We understand the physical rigors of the game, but that’s a long mental haul. Your body is beat up, your mind is stressed from the anxiety of playing, and you’ve spent less time around your family.
During the bye week, all of that goes away. You get a mental break from preparing and playing, and you get to spend time with family. A bye week is at least four days off, and many coaches end up giving you longer than that. Players can escape with a vacation, as I did frequently. After the bye week, you return to the team refreshed and ready for the rest of the season.
Preferably, your bye week is in the middle of the season. Week 8-10 is the best for everyone, including the coaching staff. During a bye week, the coaches do a self scout of the team’s play. They figure out what the team is good, average and bad at doing. Then, after the bye, you’d ideally change your identity to match what you do well. It’s easier to have a full set of data for the self scout after half a season, rather than after just a month of football.
2) Thursday Night Football
Thursday Night Football is important for players because just like a bye week, it’s a designated spot on your schedule for at least a weekend break. I always preferred Thursday Night Football earlier in the season, as your body is fresher and turning around from a Sunday game is more fluid for the joints. Then, you’d get a mini bye weekend.
However, my brother enjoys Thursday Night Football later, because that week of practice is super easy. You’re not in pads, and you’re probably only on the field for Tuesday practice. So, you do get a rest from the pounding of practice, but again, you’re still playing after a short rest. Whether you like TNF earlier or later, all players love the mini bye weekend.
After those first two, the next three things vary in importance for the players when the schedule comes out.
3) Primetime games
Primetime games are awesome in theory: under the lights, better opponents, and the ability for your family and friends who might not have the NFL Sunday Ticket package to watch you play.
However, too many primetime games can be tedious, especially if they are on the road. We travel back to our hometown right after the game. Playing a late Sunday game puts us back home in the wee hours of Monday morning. You’re just a zombie on Monday and Tuesday trying to recover. Monday Night Football is even worse. It ruins your week.
4) Cold weather games
As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, I never saw snow as a kid. It was always my dream to play football in the snow. When the schedule was released, I’d look for opportunities to play in the snow.
But, and this is big, no one likes playing in the cold. We look for cold weather games because we need to mentally prepare, starting in May, for playing in the cold. During actual game action, playing in the cold isn’t too bad. It’s everything else that’s tough. Warming up is more difficult, staying warm is brutal, it hurts more when you get hit and so on. No one likes it.
5) Rivalry games
Whether these are division games, or games where you are personally seeking revenge, you make a mental note of when these are. Division games are important and of course, if a game is personal for you, it feels more meaningful.
For example, when I played my brother, I had that game circled the day the schedule dropped. So did my entire family. If you’re a player who got released under bad circumstances and you get your old team on the schedule, this is a time to show them up.
Well, I hope everyone enjoys the schedule release. We are getting closer to football and I can’t wait for it to begin.