In general, I am not someone who believes in proactive lookaheads with NFL scheduling. It’s the ultimate snow-globe league. So many things will change, often with no warning.
Early in the 2019 season, we thought Miami was the punching bag of the league, Tankapalooza. In the second half of the year, the Dolphins were a covering machine (and won five of nine games) while Ryan Fitzpatrick and DeVante Parker covered themselves in fantasy glory.
That’s the story of the NFL right there.
All disclaimers granted, the NFL released its 2020 schedule Thursday evening and it’s still fun to dream about it. We need wins in this time of boredom and anxiety, and meandering through the fresh NFL season is a win.
I like to say that every NFL season is weird in its own way. The endless 2020 calendar already has weirdness covered. Let’s take a look at the new NFL slate, understanding that any of it could be changed down the road.
Caution, pan is hot.
First Fantasy Step: Bye Weeks
If there is one thing that’s instantly fantasy-actionable, at least a little bit, it’s bye weeks. Perhaps you’re in a Best Ball draft at the moment and need to pair quarterbacks logically.
Here’s the state of the byes, assuming no rescheduling is needed:
Week 5: Packers, Lions
Week 7: Colts, Jaguars, Vikings, Titans
Week 11: Bills, Bears, Dolphins, Giants, Jets, Niners
Week 12: Everyone plays
Week 13: Panthers, Buccaneers
So the thick byes are Week 8 and Week 11 (six teams each). The skinny byes are Weeks 5 and 13 (just two teams). Skinny-bye players can prove valuable because it will give you better coverage in the heavier-absence weeks, but the roster you draft in the summer will be in constant flux. It’s hard to say what you’ll want, need, and have around Halloween.
The NFL tied all bye weeks to the Week 2 schedule; every Week 2 matchup features teams that share the same bye week, allowing an easy escape hatch if those games wind up being canceled.
Sunday Night — always the favored child
• The primetime slate follows the general scheduling paths. Sunday Night Football gets the filet, Monday Night Football gets a hamburger, and Thursday Night Football is pot luck. This is built into the league infrastructure. It’s the same thing every year.
• The NFL eschews Friday games because it doesn’t want to trample on high school football. But high school football generally ends in late November or early December, and the league decided to do something different this year. Its holiday gift to you: Minnesota at New Orleans, Christmas Day, on a Friday. Nothing says yuletide spirit like Kirk Cousins handing off.
• It’s going to take me about two-three more years to stop saying “San Diego Chargers,” but the league wants to help with the Raiders relocation. Jon Gruden’s crew received four primetime games, and they’re all home games. Viva Las Vegas.
• The Steelers and Ravens drew the night game on Thanksgiving, following Houston-Detroit and Washington-Dallas. I know this isn’t true, but it feels like 43 straight Pittsburgh-Baltimore games have been stand-alone games. It’s also the 11th time the Cowboys and Redskins play on Thanksgiving, and the fourth time in five years.
Schedule Odds and Ends
• If you’re going to evaluate overall strength of schedule, building it from team over/under totals is a logical path to take. Go where the puck is headed, not where it’s been. The Colts, Lions, and Titans have the easiest schedules in one such cutup (your O/U mileage will vary), while the Falcons, Giants, Jets, Raiders, and Broncos have the hardest schedules. Again, take this with a grain of salt. Every NFL season will have expected contenders that tank and expected doormats that contend.
• Although New England could still be a good team in 2020, carried by Bill Belichick’s defense, I don’t see a billboard player on this offense. Watching the Patriots try to grind out 17-13 wins while hiding its quarterback; that’s not my idea of a good time. Nonetheless, New England landed on five primetime games, one of six teams to receive the maximum. Perhaps Jarrett Stidham is going to be the surprise of the league. Or maybe the rest of the country needs to hate-watch the Patriots during this difficult time.
• Are the Browns post-hype sleepers? Or merely just asleep? A year after getting primetime darling status, they only have two stand-alone games on the 2020 slate.
• For obvious reasons, there are no European games on the 2020 schedule. You’ll have to deal with eight actual home games, Jacksonville.
• The Jets and Dolphins are set for back-to-back games (Weeks 10 and 12), sandwiched by a bye. Maybe that’s done for logistical reasons. Maybe it’s done to test the self-loathing of those fanbases. It’s strange. But I like it.
• The Ravens received five primetime games, as expected, and they also have on paper — for whatever this means to you half a year in advance — a very easy closing schedule. Kansas City, Green Bay, New Orleans, Dallas, and New England also maxed out with five stand-alone games.
• There’s plenty of fun packed into Week 1, if we can get there. Houston at Kansas City was always one of the most logical openers, a playoff rematch, a chance to gush over Patrick Mahomes and question Bill O’Brien. You never know how much opening-week rust to expect, but that could easily become a pinball game.
• Drew Brees and Tom Brady face off twice in the NFC South, with the first draw coming on the opening Sunday. It’s pesky to see just three games in that 4 PM ET block in Week 1, but you understand where the networks are coming from.
• Weeks 15 and 16 feature Saturday games, glorious staples for December. The NFL leaves college football alone for three months, then opens things up later. I wish we could play Saturday games all year (and maybe ditch Thursday football, other than on Thanksgiving), but I’ll take what I can get.