Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy. On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: MurphyTakes5@packers.com
It seems every team claims the bye week comes at a good time for them. Part of that is good coaching – you try to see the positive in the schedule and use it to your advantage. I know that last year when we had the bye in the fourth week (the earliest possible bye), Coach Mike McCarthy was pleased. He reasoned that, with the Packers also playing on Thanksgiving, we would have two byes – one in Week 4 and a mini-bye following Thanksgiving. This year our bye falls at the mid-point of the season, and we are very pleased with the bye for several reasons.
Before I get into the benefits of the mid-season bye for us, I thought it would be helpful to give a little background on the bye. The bye has been in place in the NFL since 1990. (There were necessary byes in 1960 and 1966, due to having an odd number of teams with the addition of Dallas and Atlanta.) The bye weeks were added in 1990 to allow the NFL to generate more revenue from the TV contract. In 1993, the last year of the TV contract, each team had two bye weeks, and they eliminated the bye week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. The two-bye system was not well received by teams, fans or the networks, as we've been at one bye week per team since 1994. In the beginning years, the bye weeks were by division (i.e. all teams in the same division would have byes the same week). The league eventually moved away from this in order to have more flexibility in scheduling.
When the league started playing games in London, they guaranteed the teams playing in those games a bye the following week in order to minimize the impact of the travel to and from London. With three games in London this year (and the six locked in byes), it adds a little more of a challenge to the scheduling process. Also, the new Thursday night CBS-NFL Network package impacts the bye week scheduling. This year, every team in the League will play a Thursday game and the league schedulers try to spread out a team's Thursday game from their bye week. The bye week can fall as early as the fourth week and as late as the 12th week, and there are two to six teams that have a bye each week.
Getting back to our mid-season bye, I think it comes at a good time because we have a number of players with injuries and the extra week will give them a chance to get healthy and return. Also, the season is a long grind, and the mid-season bye gives our players and coaches a chance to take some time off and get recharged for the remainder of the season. Our players have several days off and many will be able to go home during the break. From a coach's perspective, the mid-season bye is very positive for self-scouting. Coaches will look at our tendencies on both offense and defense at the mid-point of the season, and determine if changes are needed.
The second half of the season should be very exciting for the Packers. We start with four out of five games at home, and have several attractive matchups at home. In recent years, the Packers have used the bye week to our advantage. Since Coach McCarthy took over in 2006, the Packers have posted a 7-1 mark in the game after the bye, which is tied for first in the NFL with three other teams. One of the teams with whom we're tied is the Bears, who are also coming off a bye, so the Sunday night matchup on Nov. 9 with the Bears will be very challenging and important.
Now, on to your questions:
Paul from Barnsley, UK
Hi Mark, The Rugby League reached the grand final last weekend in Australia and the final for the UK competition is this weekend. Both competitions run an eight-team playoff format that could easily by applied to each conference in the NFL and would produce 19 games rather than the 15 if the standard knockout format was used. It does this by allowing two of the top four teams to lose in the first round and still progress to the second. It may sound strange but it's worth looking into and understanding, as it reward the teams with the best records and has worked extremely well in Rugby League for many years. Do you think the NFL, players and fans would easily accept such a radical concept when the league does eventually move to a 16-team playoff?
Very interesting suggestion, Paul. While the league is studying expansion of the playoffs, I think we will only expand to 14 teams, and will still have two teams with first-round byes. I do not think there would be any support for allowing teams to lose and advance to the second round. The NFL playoffs (like NCAA basketball's March Madness) are so exciting because they are single elimination, and each game means so much. Also, the first-round byes are similar to your suggestion, in that teams advance without winning a game.
Jim from Antigo, WI
I watched the Lions vs. Falcons game from London on Sunday. The announcers mentioned that there will be three games in London this year. What is the NFL's long-term plan for London?
You were up early, Jim, and watched the first NFL game ever played in the morning (8:30 a.m. Central Time). By playing games in London, it does give the league a chance to experiment with a new time slot for a televised game. The game was played at 1:30 p.m. in London. The ratings for the game were solid (and it was telecast nationally), and it helped the ratings for the pregame shows for the noon games, so you should see more games in this time slot. In terms of the long-term strategy for London, this will be very interesting to follow over the next 3-5 years. There will be three games held next year, and the league will study whether to add more games in the future. The Jaguars have agreed to play one home game in London from 2014 to 2016. Also, the NFL owners recently passed legislation to make it easier to get teams to play in London. The big question, obviously, is whether a team would move to London. I don't see this in the short term, but it could happen in the future if logistical issues can be resolved.
Don from Fond du Lac, WI* *
I heard that you are part of the competition committee that discussed the extra point issue. I have a suggestion about how to add more significance into the kicking game. Go forward with the seven points for a touchdown, but if a kicker kicks a field goal from 50-plus yards, they receive five points, for 40-plus yards, they receive four points, 30-plus yards they receive three points, and anything else would be two points.
Thanks, Don. This is an idea that has been discussed over the years – it's kind of like the three-point shot in basketball, rewarding a team for a more difficult kick. I don't think there would be support for the suggestion, though. One of the great things about football is that teams have a strong incentive to score touchdowns rather than field goals. Also, going for a touchdown on fourth down is usually one of the most exciting plays in a game. With the long distance accuracy of our kickers, I would be afraid that teams would lose yardage intentionally in order to kick a five-point field goal.
A question from Joseph
I'm not opposed to the new rules changes for less defensive holding and pass interference; I am just really annoyed at how it's implemented. There's nothing worse than seeing a drive extended after a QB throws incomplete to one receiver, only to see a flag thrown on the complete opposite side of the field to a receiver the QB wasn't looking at. I understand the officials will never be perfect, but isn't there a way to only throw a pass interference/holding flag if the penalty occurred where the ball was thrown? Go Packers!
I've heard from a lot of fans about this, Joseph. As we've discussed previously, defensive holding and pass interference (defensive and offensive) are points of emphasis this year. There have been more penalties this year, but the hope is that players and coaches will adjust to the new points of emphasis and the penalties will come down. You make a good point, though, regarding penalties that didn't affect the play. The problem is that it is difficult for officials to tell when a penalty will or will not impact a play. For instance, in your example, a quarterback may have looked at a certain receiver initially, but decided not to throw to him because he was not open because he was held.
Patrick from Pagosa Springs, CO
Thanks for writing your very informative column. You occasionally make reference to circumstances which have "allowed the Packers to remain in Green Bay" or conversely, which, had they occurred, might have compelled the team to leave. As the Packers are community owned, I didn't think either of those occurrences was possible. Could you elaborate? Thanks.* *
Excellent question, Pat. While the Packers are in sound shape financially now, there have been times in our history when there was a real chance the team would either close down operations or move to another city. In fact, our first three stock sales were held to help ensure the team stayed in Green Bay. While it is highly unlikely our shareholders would ever actually vote to have the team leave Green Bay, if our financial circumstances became dire and we couldn't remain viable in Green Bay, the league could force the organization to shut down operations and sell the team. The new owner would then move the team to a new market. Under our bylaws, if the team is sold, the proceeds from the sale would go to the Green Bay Packers Foundation for distribution to charities. Obviously, we all hope this never happens. I don't even like writing about it.