Fantasy Football Won't Be Impacted by New NFL Schedule

Liam McKeone
NFL / Rob Carr/Getty Images

The 2021 NFL season will be the first with 17 regular-season games. This will have a lot of ripple effects both in the near and far future. In the short term, we all need to get used to seeing 11-6 and 8-9 records. In the long-term, historical records will have to be put in perspective as players collectively put up one game of additional statistics per season.

There's one specific consequence of the extended season that the NFL apparently did not anticipate. Because the schedule is now 18 weeks long, the latest bye a team can possibly have will come in Week 14, rather than Week 13 as in previous seasons. This makes for an even more grueling opening schedule for any team that ends up with a Week 14 bye because they'll play 13 straight weeks of football before getting a week of R&R. But that's not the consequence in question.

A Week 14 bye could completely change fantasy football. Why? Because, as many who have participated over the years will tell you (probably without being asked), fantasy football playoffs traditionally start in Week 14. With no byes previously in Week 14, everyone's players were guaranteed to play. It ensures the playoffs will end by Week 16 at the latest, which is crucial because Week 17 games are often meaningless and the best teams, who often boast the most productive fantasy players, usually rest their top players.

Now, though, with Week 14 byes on the table, fantasy football faces a reconfiguring problem. And the NFL simply had no idea. Per Peter King:

9. FANTASY PLAYOFFS. I first learned on Twitter of the tens of millions of fantasy players being impacted by the 17-game season and the four week-14 teams on the bye. That’s the weekend, traditionally, that fantasy football playoffs begin in many leagues. Schedulemeister Howard Katz didn’t know either. “Not until you just said it,” Katz told me. ESPN’s Matthew Berry told me that ESPN leagues—with tens of millions of players—have four teams make the playoff in standard league, and those leagues are likely to have cumulative playoff matchups for Weeks 14 and 15, with stats totaled over eight quarters and two weeks instead of over one game. “The theory is that in a two-week period the best team will likely prevail,” Berry said. Then the two surviving teams would play another cumulative round for the championship—combining weeks 17 and 18. Berry didn’t think it’d be impossible to navigate. “Fantasy players are nothing if not adaptable,” Berry said. “Last year, we all had to deal with Wednesday afternoon football.”

With how much attention the NFL tends to pay to the tiniest details, it's mildly surprising they didn't take this into account. Especially in light of how much tangential interest is drawn solely because of fantasy football. It wouldn't have affected much even if the league did input this into their schedule calculus-- real football matters more than fake football, after all-- but it's a money-driver and the league has been incorporating it to bring new viewers into the fold for a long time.

Ultimately, Matthew Berry is right that people will figure it out. An easy solution is to start the playoffs in Week 15 rather than 14. An apt point was made about how weird the 2020 schedule was forced to be with positive COVID tests knocking out teams for weeks at a time. But consider it a PSA to all you fantasy football commissioners out there. Between last year and this, your job is now nearing Roger Goodell levels of difficulty.