How much does an NFL bye matter? Not very much at all
The postponement of the Bucs' season opener from Sunday to Nov. 19 due to Hurricane Irma means Tampa Bay and Miami will both take their bye this week and then play 16 games in a row.
It's a daunting challenge, and this has been met by justified concern from players and coaches -- Dirk Koetter said "nobody wants that," and defensive tackle Chris Baker said asking a team to play 16 games in a row is "crazy." Losing a midseason bye takes away both the actual break -- resting an overtaxed body from even practice for four straight days -- but also the psychological benefit of knowing there's eventually a week's relief from the NFL grind.
Having a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on the site of a game changes all the priorities, however, and while the NFL considered moving the game to sooner this week in Miami, or even playing at a neutral site out of harm's way, the league and the two teams opted to move the game to Week 11.
That leaves a question: How much does a bye week really help an NFL team?
For a long time, the NFL simply played 16 games in 16 weeks, adding the bye week in 1990, with minor tweaks since. Bye weeks have generally been between Week 4 and Week 10, which puts the rest at a time when it can be appreciated by tired players. To have a bye earlier or later than that is unusual -- the Bucs were due to have a Week 11 bye, which would be their latest in the last 20 years.
You can find an example to prove nearly every bye theory. Think a week off can kill a hot team's momentum? The 2005 Bucs were 5-1 before their bye, and went just 6-4 the rest of the way. Think it can wake a bad team out of a slump? The 2009 Bucs were 0-7 before their bye, then went 3-6 to close out the year.
Think an early bye is wasted? The 2001 Bucs had a Week 2 bye, opened 1-0, then went 8-7 after the bye and made the playoffs. The 1993 Bucs had two byes in the first seven weeks, opened 1-6 in their first nine weeks with the added rest, then went 4-5 playing their last nine games in a row.
How about a really late bye? If you want gloom and doom from this postponement, you'll point to the 1990 Bucs, who didn't get their bye until Week 14, and opened 4-2, but hit a wall and lost their next six games, finishing 6-10.
The Bucs have had their bye between Week 4 and Week 8 every year for the last eight seasons, and they haven't had a winning record going into the bye since 2011, when they were 4-3. After that week to rest up ... they lost their remaining nine games to finish 4-12.
Add up the past 20 seasons of Bucs football and look at the win percentage before and after the bye, and you can see how little difference there is between pre-bye football and post-bye football. Before the bye, the Bucs are 52-59, which works out to winning 46.85 percent of the games; after the bye, they're 98-111, which works out to winning 46.89 percent of games.
The difference between the two success rates is 0.043 percent, which works out to an extra win for every 2,320 games played -- the Bucs have played 644 games in their 41-year history, so about 100 years from now, they'll have played enough games to show one win's difference in that pre-bye/post-bye disparity.
The Bucs already had a crush of a final six weeks -- they were coming out of the bye and had the Falcons twice and a trip to Green Bay in the next four weeks, so if they go from say 7-3 before Miami to a 3-3 finish, it's not necessarily just because of Hurricane Irma three months earlier.
Read whatever you want into the significance of the postponement -- it's definitely an obstacle the Bucs will have to negotiate over the final two months of the season, but it's also not necessarily the season-killer some are making it out to be.
(Others have done extensive league-wide studies on byes and their advantages: Check out Bill Barnwell's in 2012 for lots of good numbers.)