With the National Football League still under scrutiny when it comes to injuries, controversial in-game calls, as well as physical and medical off-field abuse, it cannot afford to add disastrous scheduling to its list of faults. However, it has. Moreover, the team affected by it the most for the 2019 season? The Oakland Raiders.
The NFL has toyed with the idea of increasing its regular season from 16 to 18 games, and although that theory is making headlines again today, that is not why I’m here.
West Coast Bias
It’s a given that East Coast teams tend to be closer in mileage to each other than West Coast teams, faring their time and miles traveled is at an advantage. Now of course, you’ll get fans for teams such as the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys, who remind you that their three division rivals are all grouped up north and they’ll take three separate trips up there during the year, because thanks to the NFL, they’re rarely scheduled in back-to-back weeks.
Even so, in the 2019 season, the Dolphins will travel just more than 17,500 miles and the Cowboys will travel just more than 18,000. It’s good enough to be in the top half of the most traveled miles in the league this season, but they’re nowhere near travelling 35,308 miles. Why does that specific number matter? That’s approximately how many miles the Raiders will see under their wings by the time the season is over.
The first “WTF” moment you should have is when you realize the Raiders are home for the first two games of the season, September 9 and 15, but not again until November 3. You’ll see the NFL shrug its shoulders and say “Hey, we put them in their home uniforms on October 6, right before their bye week.” Yeah, thanks for that “home game” in London right in the middle of a five-game stretch of away contests, appreciate it.
It’s great and all, that a rebuilding Raiders get the chance to rotate in and play the NFC North, especially after the (still) shocking Khalil Mack trade to the Bears last year. It’ll be interesting to see that reconnection. Nevertheless, a connection that didn’t happen for the Raiders is a 257-mile connecting flight from Minnesota to Green Bay. On September 22, Oakland will play its first away game at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Vikings, and instead of heading to Wisconsin, will travel to Indianapolis. At least the NFL only doubled that distance for the 511-mile flight, but instead of staying up north in the middle of that six-week away streak and playing the Packers, they’ll travel to London and “home” for its bye week without playing a true home game before finding themselves up in Lambeau anyway.
After the Week Seven matchup with the Packers, they’ll head straight down the middle of the United States to Houston before jumping all the to Detroit. Again, why did we have to take a fun southern trip to come back up where we were?
Only the Rams top the 30,000-mile mark on the year with the Raiders, but division-rivals Los Angeles Chargers take the third spot with more than 28,000 miles. It isn’t until spot seven that an AFC team pops up (Jacksonville), but with that being said the discrepancy looms not just between division, but the sole fact in miles traveled as well.
Would I care so much if most teams traveled in the tens of thousands of miles with a few outliers? Honestly, I wouldn’t care at all. I do care though that the New York Jets travel just 6,794 miles. Now the Dolphins fans reading this are saying “yeah, that was our earlier point.”
What makes it even better is the six teams from the AFC East and NFC East sit at the bottom six of the list as they all travel the least amount of miles in the league. The Philadelphia Eagles (27) and the New England Patriots (28) do travel more than 10,000 miles, but the Washington Redskins (29), Buffalo Bills (30), New York Giants (31) and Jets all come in under that threshold. It also helps that in this scheduling rotation year, those two divisions play each other. Cue Raiders fans: “of course”.
Call for Fairness
Overall, teams can’t control how the league schedules the season. Similarly, teammates don’t cheer each other on when it comes to off-field abuse, or don’t get furious with botched calls (right, New Orleans?) and wish injuries. Yet, the league needs to take pride and ownership in creating the least amount of controversy for each season as it can. Some teams will have to travel more than others. It’s a given, but creating devastating disadvantages and such a travel discrepancy when they have all the power to make sure it doesn’t happen, is a problem.