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Unusual bye format traces to lockout

NFL Lockout Looms As Negotiations Reach Final Day

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - MARCH 03: A parking lot sits empty at New Meadowlands Stadium, home of the NFL���s New York Jets and New York Giants, March 3, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Last minute negotiations between the NFL owners and its players union are being held as the two sides face a midnight deadline to avoid a possible lockout next season. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Long ago, the NFL decided to expand the 16-week season without truly expanding it. By adding a bye week, the league squeezed 17 weeks of programming out of a 16-game slate of games. (In 1993, the league actually used two bye weeks, creating 18 weekends of football.)

This year, the bye format has a few unusual twists. There has been, for example, a proliferation of weekends with six teams off, when the more traditional approach has been to give only four teams at a time a week off. Also, the byes usually begin in Week Four. This year, they started in Week Five.

The strangest aspect of the bye-week scheduling arises in Week 10, when no teams will be off. In contrast, four teams will have a bye in Week 11.

Typically, when the byes end, they end for everyone. (Except in 1999 through 2001, when at least one team was off every week, given that the league had only 31 franchises.)

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tells PFT, “It’s mostly random but linked to potential work stoppage planning.”

The 2011 schedule contains multiple hints of work stoppage (i.e., lockout) planning. The Week Three schedule, for example, consisted exclusively of games between teams whose bye weeks occurred at the same time, allowing those games to be made up during what otherwise would have been a Sunday off. (Under that scenario, the entire Week One and Week Two schedule could have been shifted to weekends in January 2012.)

Still, the decision to schedule no byes in Week 10, but to have four byes in Week 11, seems odd. Perhaps it was the only way to match up the many variables to allow the Week Three games to be played later. Perhaps Week 10 was the drop dead final opportunity to launch a reduced season.

Either way, those of you who play fantasy football won’t have to account for players not playing this weekend, even though folks who have men who play for the Saints, Colts, Texans, and Steeler will need to line up replacements in Week 11.