NFL schedules over past decade show a Cowboys bias

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It's no secret the Redskins face a brutal regular-season schedule in 2020.

Look no further than the four-week chunk in their schedule where they play Dallas, Pittsburgh and San Francisco consecutively, all on the road, only to return home to face the Seahawks in Week 15. That tear of playing on short rest actually starts the week before, when the Redskins host the Bengals just four days before traveling to Dallas for a game on Thanksgiving Day.
Normal rest would have the Redskins playing the Bengals, Cowboys, Steelers and 49ers in the span of 21 days, the exact number of days between these games.
Only, those 'off days' are deceiving, because they don't account for the fact that Washington plays on short rest between the Bengals and Cowboys while also having to travel an extra day for three straight weeks, sucking up what would otherwise be allocated for three extra rest days. And then they get the good fortune of hosting Seattle, a team that finished last season 11-5.

That type of unseen schedule inequality is precisely what Warren Sharp gets at with his latest analysis of the NFL schedule. Extrapolate these quirks in the schedule out over a period of 10 years and some startling patterns begin to emerge.

As Sharp writes on SharpFootballAnalysis.com:

"After analyzing the elements that most benefit teams, one thing is clear with the NFL scheduling process: the NFL has not paid enough attention over the last decade to inequalities. Specifically, there are many inequalities related to actual execution of scheduling including player rest, coaching prep time, and distribution of primetime games."

It's in these three key areas – player rest, prep time and distribution of prime time games – where Sharp noticed the Cowboys have had advantages built into their schedule over the rest of the NFC East for the last decade.

"The five teams that have benefited most by the scheduling include the Jaguars, Cardinals, Cowboys – you know, your division rival – then the Rams and the Lions," Sharp told 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier. "Those are the five teams that have benefited the most based upon all the different factors, whether it's prime time, preparation or rest."

"The five teams hurt most were the Giants, the Colts, the Bears, the Eagles and the Texans," he said. "Now, actually, the Redskins tied for having that fifth spot."

The Cowboys Bias

"You're looking at three teams from the NFC East that were in the bottom five in terms of having advantages," Sharp said. "So they were the most disadvantaged, having the most inequality to deal with – the Giants, the Eagles and the Redskins – whereas you have a Cowboys team that's the third-most favored team based upon having the most inequality going in their favor."

"That's simply not fair. That's simply a massive imbalance within the NFC East that gives the Cowboys this big step up," he said. "And mind you, it is not just that they host a Thursday game; that is not the only reason why the Cowboys have such a big advantage here.

"The Cowboys have other advantages, including the fact they've played a net of 10 games where they've had more rest than their opponents. And if you look at a team like the Giants, they are at a net of negative-12, and the Eagles are at a net of negative-11, so you're talking about a swing of like 22 games where the Cowboys are getting this benefit of having more rest."

"And the other teams in your division – you guys are at negative eight – you guys are having a detriment of playing a lot of games where you're at a rest disadvantage versus those teams," Sharp continued. "Especially if you talk about short-week road games. I mean short-week road games, forget about it.

"You guys are tied for the most number of short-week road games in the league, whereas the Cowboys have the second fewest short-week road games in the league. That's just a thing that needs to even itself out."

"These are certainly elements that provide inherent benefit towards teams," he said. "And if the league is so focused on parity, I just don't see how you can issue schedules year after year that continue to make the gap between some of these teams grow bigger and bigger."

Thursday Games

Another advantage Dallas has isn't even unseen; it's sitting right there on the surface. While it's true every NFL team has to play one Thursday game every year, the Cowboys are guaranteed home-field advantage for theirs, on Thanksgiving Day against whichever given opponent, year after year. Same goes for Detroit.

Without offsetting that built-in advantage somehow, Dallas will continue to get away with this free pass on their schedule.

"I think it's completely unfair, for example, that the Lions and the Cowboys always get to host a Thursday game," Sharp said. "If you are going to continue that practice, there are things that you can implement in the same season to try balance it out so that they don't have such an edge.

"Not necessarily sending them on the road for a Thursday game, because then you're playing two Thursday games that same year. Maybe that would be a benefit, like to make the league a little bit more even, but there's only so many Thursday games to go around and do we really want to see the Lions twice on Thursdays?"

"So maybe what they do is they force them, if they are playing a Monday game, to play on the road on a Sunday," he suggested. "Or something like that where you're trying to recreate a little bit more parity amongst the prep and rest situation that's unfolding."

Injury Inequality
Sharp makes another key observation in his analysis. Considering the NFC East outside of the Cowboys are already at a disadvantage, it's even more troubling that two of the most injured teams over the past decade – the Redskins and Giants – both ranked as being among the top-10 worst rest situations.

The Redskins are the most injured team over that time period and have the ninth-worst prep/rest ranking. The Giants are the second-most injured team and have the second-worst prep/rest ranking. "Clearly, the teams with the most injuries tended to have some of the most unfair rest situations," Sharp notes.

We strongly suggest you read Sharp's full analysis here.