Five Teams That Got Screwed by the 2024 NFL Schedule

The Jets have been treated so poorly their fans should consider a boycott. Plus, four other teams that got no favors from the league schedule makers.
Rodgers and the Jets will once again be all over your TV in 2024.
Rodgers and the Jets will once again be all over your TV in 2024. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Each year we write a column about the teams that were the most royally screwed by the league’s scheduling arm. Last year, amid Amazon’s push for a more robust slate of Thursday games that tilted the process from an attempt at creating a schedule that balanced narrative interest and the spirit of competitiveness to the writer’s room at World Wrestling Entertainment, the piece took on an entirely different tenor.

Now that the league has also roped Netflix into its Taylor Swiftian fantasy money grab, the process has lost almost all basis in reality. Shoot these people full of truth serum and beg them to tell you there was a process beyond assuming the position as powerful network bosses dictated the terms.

This year I’m going to lead the column off with the New York Jets, but I’ll say two things before I do. I’ll also preempt that by noting that the Jets start the season in San Francisco on Monday Night Football against the player who sacked Aaron Rodgers when he tore his Achilles, then follow that game up with short rest on the road against the Tennessee Titans. Three weeks later, following a newly intense rivalry game against the Denver Broncos (thanks to the Sean Payton vs. Nathaniel Hackett war of words), the team will travel to London to face the Minnesota Vikings and will not receive a bye afterward. In fact, after London, the Jets will play on Monday Night Football in a critical divisional matchup with the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 14 (ensuring that Rodgers hopefully plays and has to answer questions about the team he faced the moment he tore his Achilles four plays into last season), then Sunday Night Football on short rest against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 20, followed two weeks later by another short-rest week on Thursday Night Football against the Houston Texans. Oh, and just for giggles, they’ll play on Sunday Night Football one last time before a merciful Week 12 bye. That’s six national games in total.

With that in mind …

Point A: If this schedule was purely the creation of the NFL, the Jets should refuse to take the field until the league rips this up and starts all over. Last year, they had six stand-alone games. This year, it’s seven stand-alone games in 11 weeks on top of two quick Sunday-to-Thursday pivots. I understand the monetary value in essentially holding entertaining teams hostage and forking them over to the highest bidders, but this schedule is beyond relentless. It’s a complete joke. I’m not making excuses for the Robert Saleh regime, which must perform under heightened circumstances in order to remain in place beyond 2024, but this team is in a unique disposition.

Consistently successful teams play in prime time frequently, and that distinction is both earned and part of the competitive balance structure. The Kansas City Chiefs are a juggernaut that has not missed the playoffs since 2014. The Bills had, in a way, informally been adopted as America’s new team thanks to a handful of plucky runs to the playoffs (they have not missed the postseason since ’18). The Cowboys have won 12 games in each of the past three seasons. Teams with a robust, storied fan base play in prime time because they draw well. 

The Jets, on the other hand, signed an interesting quarterback, had him get injured in the first game of the season and then had to pinball their way through a similarly unforgiving prime-time schedule last year, the likes of which undoubtedly increased the magnifying glass on the franchise and exacerbated all of the issues that swelled as a result of Rodgers not being active. At best, this schedule is a 500-to-1 bet that these Jets games will still be interesting at the end of the season. At worst, it’s a clear middle finger. It’s important for fans to remember that playing in prime time is only a reward for ownership and fans. Teams have to adjust to a different routine, shorter rest periods, heightened attention and media responsibility and myriad other factors that make the process an outright annoyance. This may sound like an overreaction, but we’re talking about this in the context of an unprecedented money grab in which it will cost the average fan nearly $1,000 to access every game across every streaming platform this season. This is getting out of control and the performative gymnastics required to accommodate every ratings-hungry network is not only creating a wild imbalance in competitiveness but a vacuum of interesting games on hallmark Sunday afternoons.

My old boss, Peter King, used to do a story about the scheduling process each year, and I loved reading it. (Albert Breer has kept that tradition alive in recent years.) There was a mysticism to it all and, at the time Peter did it, a genuine concern about evening out games across the board. It felt Roman and senatorial; free from (too many) ancillary concerns. Now, this feels strip-club-level gross, with a bunch of ham-fisted executives shaking dollar bills in the air and hoping for attention.

Point B: If owner Woody Johnson somehow aggressively pursued this kind of attention, or if he did not adequately protest it, Jets fans should boycott these prime-time games en masse and leave him with an empty stadium to think about. Again, the goal here is to win football games. You win football games by applying a sound, flexible and healthy roster to a schedule that features the same peaks and valleys as any other club. That’s not what has happened here. Johnson cannot confuse good and bad attention in this case. Scheduling Rodgers and Leonard Floyd on opening night alone should paint a clear picture of what the league thinks of Johnson (in addition to, I would argue, all but one of his prime-time games being frontloaded, which carries the inherent suggestion that they will not be good enough to warrant them at the end of the year), and he should respond in kind as a demonstration to his fan base that he understands the absurdity of this process. I understand that protesting creates an inherent doubt in the belief you have in your team, and perhaps there is some kind of internal politicking that can take place, but seeing this as a reward for putting a good team together is akin to the emperor believing his new clothes are something more than a birthday suit. Again, given this schedule, it is, at best, a longshot that the Jets can weather the storm and emerge as an American darling. At worst, and most likely, this schedule ensures that any ensuing wreckage directly caused by the schedule will now be captured weekly in prime time. 

Your counter to this argument will inevitably be that the Jets face a lot of rookie quarterbacks early in the season and will be able to take advantage if their defense is truly as good as it looks, however, I would respond that we don’t know this for certain. Jarrett Stidham, Jacoby Brissett and a Sam Darnold revenge game (with Kevin O’Connell calling the plays) in London looks different. 

Onto the remainder of the list… 

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

I absolutely despise the way the Steelers’ schedule is laid out. Pittsburgh faces no divisional opponents until Nov. 17, and then successively plays the Baltimore Ravens at home, at the Cleveland Browns on Thursday Night Football (short rest), at the Cincinnati Bengals, a second game against the Browns, a one-week break from the division against a very good Philadelphia Eagles team, and then a second Ravens game on the road with short rest on a Saturday. The AFC North is unique in that it's akin to SEC divisional play in college football. There is a season, in theory, but the only thing that really matters is the outcome of the most difficult conference in the NFL. Outside of having the third-hardest strength of schedule (most AFC North teams, by virtue of last season and each team’s successes, wound up with skewed SOS rankings), Pittsburgh basically has to shift gears at a time when injury attrition is at its height and battle through the meat of its schedule with one meaningful game after another. 

Pittsburgh also has the sneaky game at the Denver Broncos in Week 2, which sends them from Pennsylvania (practice) to a domed stadium in Atlanta (Week 1) to the most adverse altitude in the sport. The Broncos are 20–3 in home openers over the past 23 seasons for a reason. 

The end of Pittsburgh’s schedule is also ominous. The Steelers play Baltimore, having had just six days rest, which then bleeds into a game on against the Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas on four days of rest. So, that’s a massive chunk of recovery sapped out of the schedule for a team that relies heavily on some veteran defensive players who have struggled to stay healthy. Ravens-Chiefs-Bengals to end the season, completing a stretch of six divisional games in eight weeks, feels ridiculous.

Oddly, the Bears also have the same wildly backloaded divisional schedule. 

3. San Francisco 49ers 

The 49ers will play against the most teams coming off bye weeks (four), with the Colts second (three). We should talk more about net rest differential because it does matter, especially over the course of a long and arduous season. The 49ers are particularly interesting in that they are playing the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks—all potential playoff teams—after those teams have their bye weeks (Andy Reid is, famously, 28–3 when coming off a bye week, though he is markedly worse when both teams have had a bye week simultaneously heading into that game). It’s funny that we seem to forget the strange 49ers losing streak that occurred last season leading into their bye week. The Kansas City and Dallas games this year immediately precede the 49ers’ Week 9 bye. The 49ers are also one of 13 teams that will play multiple games on four days rest this year.

4.  Kansas City Chiefs

Beginning with the Las Vegas Raiders on Black Friday, the Chiefs will have an end-of-season stretch that includes a Sunday Night Football game against the division-rival Los Angeles Chargers, a winter road game at the Cleveland Browns, six days of rest before facing the Houston Texans and then four days of rest before facing the Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas (which, I’ll remind you, is a Wednesday). I’ve seen some Chiefs fans arguing for a San Antonio Spurs–like load management system, and I’m here for it. Quite honestly, the only tool that these teams have for slapping back at the puppeteering networks and schedule makers is to sit big stars in big games and make the window completely irrelevant. If the Chiefs have clinched a playoff spot before Christmas, Travis Kelce should be on a plane to Antigua to rest on the beach alongside Patrick Mahomes. 

I brought up load management issues during a recent column about a possible 18-game regular season, but the truth is, we should have these discussions now that the 17-game seasons are being stacked like the final levels of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! Bill Belichick was always artful in how he would play a season in parts, and if I were Andy Reid I would seriously consider an innovative approach should Kansas City have some cushioning in the win column. 

5. Arizona Cardinals 

The Cardinals rank 24th in strength of schedule, which is a poor metric given how many teams’ fortunes can change from week to week. However, it is the way the schedule is stacked that would give me pause if I were Jonathan Gannon, no matter how hard Arizona played last year. Four of the Cardinals’ first five opponents, and six of their first eight, are playoff teams from a year ago, and I would argue that they are playoff teams that are still ascending. A cross-country trip to play the Buffalo Bills in their home opener (before noon on the Cardinals’ body clocks) sounds like a bit of a nightmare, and it’s followed by games against the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions. Two weeks later? It’s the conference champion San Francisco 49ers. The team also ends the season with the Rams and 49ers, and gets the Seattle Seahawks twice in a span of three weeks, which can either be good or bad. If Mike Macdonald ends up being an elite game planner as a head coach, it could be a disadvantage. In general I was unhappy at the divisional game spread this year, as I mention in the Steelers section above. I get that it’s good to have meaningful games at the end of the season, but compressing them too close together disallows time for teams to grow and for game plans to diversify and become more interesting to watch.


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Conor Orr

CONOR ORR

Conor Orr is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, where he covers the NFL. He is also the co-host of the MMQB Podcast. Conor has been covering the NFL for more than a decade. His award-winning work has also appeared in The Newark Star-Ledger, NFL.com and NFL Network. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children and a loving terrier named Ernie.