The NFL—and subsequently Jacksonville Jaguars—have been pushing the upcoming 2021 schedule as the biggest season ever. A 17th game has been added for everyone, stretching the season to 18 weeks, the International Series in London has been reestablished after a year off from COVID and it’s presumed fans will be allowed back in the stands.
For the Jaguars in particular, trips to the West Coast, up the Eastern Seaboard and across the pond make for a 2021 season that already seems—well—tiring.
This will be the case for many teams, however. The key will be managing it all, of course, but a favorable draw relative to opponents can also help. So how does the Jaguars travel compare to the rest of the league, and more importantly, their opponents?
Brian Burke of ESPN has put together a scatter graph highlighting the differentials in net travel and net rest difference. The Jaguars are the closest to dead center of all 32 teams. Of course that means nothing without first understanding what each axis represents.
Let’s start with “net travel.” This is essentially the differential in what one team is traveling relative to their visiting opponents. For example, the Jags' net travel in this situation is measured by calculating the entire travel Jacksonville must do for the season, minus what their opponents must travel to play them (in Jacksonville and one game in London).
The Jaguars will travel 13,284 miles during the 2021 regular season, including eight away games and one home game at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The team’s trip to London is the longest of the season (4,250 miles), followed by Seattle (2,443) and Los Angeles (2,153).
On Burke’s chart, the Jaguars are on the line for net travel miles. Because despite the sheer number of miles the club will travel, they welcome teams after long trips as well. For example, the London trip features two Florida teams (the Jaguars face the Miami Dolphins) so the net travel balances out. And despite the Jags traveling to Los Angeles and Seattle, they will also welcome the San Francisco 49ers, the Arizona Cardinals and the Denver Bronco’s.
The 49ers, who travel to Jacksonville in November, have the largest net travel differential of any team. In total (not net), San Francisco will travel over 28,000 miles round trip. The Las Vegas Raiders have the most beneficial net travel total.
The perpendicular axis is “net rest difference” which Burke explains as “the sum of the difference in days between games. So if a team came off Monday Night Football to play a team that played last Thursday, that would be a -4 for that team that week.”
The Jaguars continue their 13 year streak of no Sunday Night Football games and 10 year streak of no Monday Night Football games into this year. The silver lining being though that there will be few short turnarounds for the team with a Thursday night game and a bye week following the London trip.
The Carolina Panthers are in the most beneficial spot in terms of net rest difference, while the New England Patriots are at the bottom. The Pats will face three teams coming off of their bye week. The Jaguars won’t be one of them though, as Jacksonville will head to Boston on January 2 after a December 26 meeting with the New York Jets. The Pats will spend the 26th playing the Buffalo Bills in Boston.
The Jaguars don’t play the Chicago Bears this season but the Bears are seemingly in the worst position overall; while not in the worst spot for net travel miles or net rest difference, the Bears are in the lowest spot for the average between the two.
And which team is in the best position? It’s a tie between two clubs. The Philadelphia Eagles (who the Jaguars don’t face in 2021) and the Cincinnati Bengals. As of now, the Bengals are the only primetime game on the schedule for the Jaguars, as the two will face each other on Thursday Night Football in Week 4 (September 30).
The Jaguars have one of the more favorable schedules through the first four weeks, before diving into a wood chipper beginning Week 9. In a way, the season balances itself out in that way. The same could be said for the net travel miles and rest difference data that puts the Jaguars firmly in the middle of the pack. In the end though, the only thing that will truly matter is how the Jacksonville Jaguars handle it all on the field.