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The Bye Week Blues

Green Bay Packers vs San Francisco 49ers, 2022 NFC Divisional Playoffs Set Number: X163912 TK`1

Background: Football: NFL Playoffs: Rear view of Green Bay Packers Devante Adams (17) in action vs San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field during the Packers’ 13-10 upset loss to the 49ers. Green Bay, WI 1/22/2022 CREDIT: Jeff Haynes (Photo by Jeff Haynes/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

“ I gotts da bye week blues hangin’ round my door

I gotts da bye week blues —- and that ain’t good news no mo’.”

For all of the talk about the number one teams in the conference doing all they can to earn the bye week heading into the playoffs —- well, now that the NFL playoffs have been expanded to 14 teams, with only two teams earning the bye —- for a second year in a row, a bye week team will not win the Super Bowl.

Back when the top two teams of the conference earned bye weeks, the prior seven Super Bowls were won by a #1 or #2 seed —- which was ample proof that earning the bye week gave those teams a clear and distinct advantage.

  • 2013: SEA #1 NFC
  • 2014: NE #1 AFC
  • 2015: DEN #1 AFC
  • 2016: NE #1 AFC
  • 2017: PHI: #1 NFC
  • 2018: NE #2 AFC
  • 2019: KC #2 AFC

That was then...this is now:

  • 2020: TB #5 NFC
  • 2021: CIN #4 AFC vs. LAR #4 NFC

Being able to handle the bye week, is a significant challenge for NFL teams, especially now that the NFL has adopted a 17 game schedule and some of the bye weeks, for some teams like the Cardinals and Patriots, came in late November or early December.

The Cardinals and Patriots suffered the late season Bye Week Blues this year —- both teams were at the top of their conferences heading into the week off —- but after the bye —- both teams lost to division rivals, then lost their division titles and then got trounced by their division rivals in the Wild Card round.

It’s one thing for a young, banged-up Cardinals team under a third year head coach to have a tough time handling their bye week, but to see a Bill Belichick team lose 4 of his last 5 games is an eye-opener. To date, no coach has seemed to know how to handle the bye week better than Bill Belichick.

The fact is —- the majority of NFL teams (19 of them) this year suffered The Bye Week Blues, as only 13 teams compiled winning records in their regular season games following their byes. Those teams:

  • LAR* 5-2
  • SF* 8-4
  • CIN* 5-3
  • KC* 5-1
  • DAL* 7-4
  • PHI* 3-1
  • WFT: 5-4
  • GB* 4-1
  • TB* 7-2
  • BUF* 7-4
  • MIA 6-1
  • PIT* 6-4-1
  • TEN* 4-1

There’s 11 of the 14 playoff teams. The other three:

  • ARI* 2-4
  • LV* 5-5
  • NE* 1-3

Note: ARI, LV and NE lost in the Wild Card round which lends some credence to the notion that how teams handle their bye weeks is often a determining factor for teams heading into the playoffs and how well they perform, if they get there.

However —- rather amazingly, neither the Packers nor the Titans were able to handle their playoff bye weeks, as those #1 seeds were “one and done” while hosting their divisional round games.

So, what are the factors that make handling the bye week so challenging?

First of all, it can be very difficult for a hot team to maintain its competitive edge and momentum, because whenever there is a change in the normal routine, there are numerous distractions followed by a critical re-adjustment period.

Now, for some of the players, the bye week works to their advantage in terms of getting the rest and whatever rehabilitation they need. But, for others, having a week off often means a significant change in sleeping habits —- and it is a sweet reminder of the halcyon days that are so enjoyable for the players during the off-season.

As a high school teacher, I always knew that the toughest time of year to keep students focused, well-motivated and on task was throughout the seven weeks after April vacation. One would think and hope that the students would come back from the vacation rejuvenated and re-energized —- but that was rarely the case. In so many cases, the students returned even more tired and restless than they were when they left —- because so many of them were up all night partying or hanging out with their friends.

Thus, for any person coming off a vacation where the next and longest vacation is now in sight, it takes a great deal of self-discipline and motivation to close out the year on a sprint to the finish line.

As I have been saying over the past few weeks, the toughest thing to do in sports is close out games and seasons. Closing out games and seasons on a high note takes a special self-confidence, a collective maturity, a super strong will and an extraordinary summoning of physical and mental stamina.

The same hold true for coaches. The grind is at times oppressive, particularly as the pressure to close out games and seasons mount. The daunting truth is —- and any coach can tell you this —- coaches carry the burden of knowing that there is always more work they can put in —- but, seeing as there aren’t enough hours in the day in order for coaches to turn over every rock and check every box, the best coaches are the ones who are able to prioritize their preparations in order to maximize time.

But, as a coach, it always nags at you that might not have been able to do enough.

And then —- as diligent and thorough as a coach or teacher can be —- all of the preparation can be jeopardized by a single distraction.

One of the most talented group of AP English students I ever had was feeling confident and well primed to take the AP exam the next morning. The majority of the students had been acing the numerous practice exams I gave them. But, five minutes before the bell, one of the students had a meltdown. She started screaming about how unprepared she felt and how the exam could ruin her college admissions chances and how she sucks at multiple choice and how she couldn’t fathom being able to write three 45 minute essays that required astute rhetorical analyses.

I have never seen anything like it. In the past, some stressed-out students would come to me after class to share their anxieties, but I had never seen this kind of an outburst in class. As a result, in a New York minute, the whole tenor of the class had changed and instead of the class leaving the room on an upswing, so many of the students suddenly looked freaked out.

What might have saved the day was a student jumping in to calm her/his classmate down and to assure everyone that all of the hard work the class had put in for preparing for this exam was going to pay dividends. But, the students were so shocked by what they were seeing that no one said anything.

The students’ scores for the class wound up being about a point lower on average than I would have expected. I thought at least 12 of the students would score 5s. Yet, only 5 of them did. There is no question in my mind that the distraction at the end of that last prep class had unnerved the majority of the students. The student who suffered the meltdown scored a 3, which for most colleges is sufficient for awarding college credit. Thus, the student really didn’t need to sound the alarm bells —- but that’s what pressure can do, isn’t it? Like they say, “pressure can make diamonds or burst pipes.”

Mind you, none of these students had ever taken an AP English exam before. Talk about clock management and stamina. And the exam is given every year in May, when the students are in the highest throes of mental and physical fatigue.

For the majority of the Cardinals’ players this year, this was their first time making the playoffs and their first time playing in a playoff game.

I have learned over the years to understand why some people and teams struggle when doing something for the first time. Some adapt and catch on quickly, while the moment seems a little too overwhelming for others.

For those of you who have had to get up and speak in front of a crowd of more than 100 people, how did that go for you the first time? I was just so thankful that I had a podium in front of me to hide the uncontrollable knee knocking I was doing. I was 24 at the time. A couple of months ago I was asked to give a presentation to a group of close to 200 musicians and their mentors. It felt easy and natural. What one learns, through experience, is how to turn anxiety and adrenaline into positive energy.

And believe me —- especially trying to perform on a grand stage for the first time —- the pressure can get to anyone. Even the cockiest of the cockiest,

Handling pressure and feelings of uncertainty are one thing, but handling distractions are another.

Distractions have a predictable way of taking a player’s and his team’s eye off the ball.

The one regular season road game that the Cardinals lost just so happened to be on a rare occasion that there was an NFL Saturday night game. And it just so happened that the game featured the Cardinals’ next opponent, the Colts, who were coming to Glendale in six days. Thus, as great as the Cardinals were in treating each game as a 1-0 challenge, it’s entirely plausible that the Cardinals, players and coaches, after watching the Colts dominate the Patriots, went to sleep in their Detroit hotel rooms with the Colts on their mind, not the Lions.

Do you think that the Antonio Brown debacle was the beginning of the end for the Bucs this season?

How about the Super Bowl where Bill Belichick benched a healthy Malcolm Butler? Think of the distraction that caused for the Patriots’ players, particularly when Nick Foles was having a career passing day on his way to being the game MVP over a red-hot Tom Brady.

This past Sunday, how many of you wondered how good an idea it was for Chiefs’ WR Mecole Hardman to have a Keyshawn Johnson “give me the damn ball” tirade on the sidelines while the Chiefs were up 21-3? If you recall, Tyreek Hill had to come over and tell Hardman to STFU. Was it pure coincidence that the Chiefs, from that moment on would be outscored 24-3 by the Bengals?

Worst of all, last year, what kind of effect did Andy Reid’s son’s horrific car crash have on the Chiefs as they headed off for the Super Bowl? Was it by pure coincidence that the Chiefs played their least competitive game of the season?

A team’s ability to handle distractions is a challenge. Sometimes it feels like teams need some kind of a perfect storm to help them prevail, because the variables and intangibles are so great.

And now here comes the most critical bye week of all —- the Super Bowl bye.

Two weeks of a media circus —- two weeks of the players being fawned over and hearing how great they are —- two weeks of the players and coaches having to handle numerous diversions from the normal routine.

Which team do you think will handle the Super Bowl bye week better, the Rams or the Bengals?

It’s difficult to predict, but what does your instinct tell you?

Yup, one of these teams in the midst of all the fanfare, pageantry and media frenzy will wind up singing the ultimate Bye Week Blues.