In 1993, and only in 1993, the NFL had two bye weeks. The one-year experiment stretched the regular season to 18 weeks.
Now, with the addition of a 17th game, the season permanently becomes an 18-week proposition, minimum. It also feels like a matter of time before the NFL adds an 18th game. At that time, or possibly before then, the league could bring back a second bye week.
The league has resisted returning to two byes because the networks didn’t like it. With every team getting two weeks off in an 18-week season, the week-in, week-out schedule became diluted.
But the circumstances have changed, and they will change some more. For starters, the league has expanded from 28 teams to 32 since 1993, which provides two extra games per week. More importantly, as legalized gambling spreads and as advances in technology allow for robust in-game, per-play betting by projecting images in real time from stadiums to homes and sports bars, the league and the networks will prefer having fewer games played at once.
That’s why it’s likely if not inevitable that the league eventually will expand broadcast windows, with four on Sundays (the London games could begin at 9:30 a.m. ET), two on Mondays, one on Tuesdays, one on Wednesdays, and one or two on Thursdays. (Friday and Saturday are off limits from Labor Day until mid-December, due to the broadcast antitrust exemption.)
A second bye would help to further limit the cluster of 1:00 p.m. ET games that becomes a dizzying experience for those who’d like to focus on one game at a time. Those six, seven, eight, nine, or 10 games played at once also represent missed opportunities to maximize in-game betting on any one contest.
Use of a second bye also would make it easier to justify a creative alignment of gaps between games, making it easier to fill in Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays without having players perform on insufficient rest.
Regardless, more is coming. More than 17 games. More than 18 weeks. Eventually, 18 games. Eventually, two byes.
(Eventually, more teams.)