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Did bye week come at a good time for the Bengals?

Is the bye week an advantage or a disadvantage for Cincinnati?

Cincinnati Bengals v Los Angeles Raiders
Boomer Esiason
Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals are one of four teams that had Week 6 off.

The Bills, Bengals, Cowboys and Seahawks all had byes in the sixth week of the NFL season. And there is some evidence to suggest that the bye week has not always been kind to Cincinnati.

The “bye week” actually made its first appearance during the 1960 season. At that time, the NFL consisted of only 13 teams, so one team, out of necessity had a bye week every week. By 1966, the league had expanded to 15 teams, so each team once again had a “bye week.” In 1966 and 1967, the AFL had nine teams, which meant each team had to have a “bye week.”

The Bengals evened those numbers out when they joined the AFL in 1968, and there would be no need for a “bye week” until the NFL re-introduced the concept prior to the 1990 season and extended the 16-game regular season to 17 weeks. The league has featured a "bye week" every year since then.

In 1993, the NFL actually experimented with stretching the regular season to 18 weeks and giving each team two bye weeks, but that idea only lasted for one year.

Generally speaking, bye weeks begin during Week 5 and run through Week 11 of the NFL season. But when the Cleveland Browns re-joined the league in 1999, the number of teams in the NFL rose to 31, and at least one team was on a bye every week during the regular season. This went on until 2001, when the expansion Houston Texans brought the number of teams to 32.

How does the NFL determine which teams get a bye, and when? Apparently, there are not many guidelines in that area. Mostly, it is a matter of chance. But the league does have some situations it tries to avoid.

For example, the NFL tries to limit the number of times a team that played the week before has to face a team that is well-rested coming off its bye week, since the additional rest might be seen as a competitive advantage to the team with the bye.

The Bengals’ first-ever bye week took place in Week 4 of the 1990 season. Cincinnati, led by Boomer Esiason, was off to a 3-0 start after dismantling the New England Patriots by a score of 41-7. In their first game back from the break, the Bengals were demolished by Seattle, 31-16, and went on to lose seven of their next 11 games. Cincinnati did make the playoffs that year with victories in its last two games and beat the Houston Oilers 41-14 in the Wild Card round. The Bengals have not won a playoff game since.

Since the 1990 season, Cincinnati is 7-20-1 in games following its bye. That might seem to indicate that the Bengals are historically bad after a bye week. But before you attempt to attach any kind of significance to that record, you have to remember just how terrible Cincinnati really was between 1991 and 2002. During that span, the Bengals went a combined 55-137.

But when the Marvin Lewis era began in 2003, things began to change for the better. Cincinnati is 118-105-3 under Lewis, including 5-8-1 after the bye week. Since the Andy Dalton and A.J. Green showed up in 2011, the Bengals are 3-3 after the bye. How does that stack up with the rest of the AFC North Division?

Records after the bye week since 2011:

  • Baltimore 5-2-0
  • Cincinnati 3-3-0
  • Pittsburgh 3-3-0
  • Cleveland 1-5-0

Records after the bye week since 2003:

  • Baltimore 12-4-0
  • Pittsburgh 13-6-0
  • Cincinnati 5-8-1
  • Cleveland 5-9-0

The Bengals perform marginally better before the bye week than they do after. Cincinnati is 49-43-1 before the bye during the Marvin Lewis era, for a winning percentage of 52.7%. After the bye, the winning percentage dips to 48.4% with a record of 61-63-2.

Since 2011, Cincinnati is 26-14-1 before the bye (a winning percentage of 63.4%) and 32-22-1 after the bye (a winning percentage of 58.2%). But, as we all know, numbers can be deceiving.

In 2012, when the Bengals’ bye week fell after the seventh game of the season, Cincinnati actually had a much better record after the break than before. The Bengals started the year at 3-4, but came back and won seven of nine games after the bye. In 2013, Cincinnati started the season at 7-4 and put up a 4-1 mark after the bye.

In fact, the only time that the Bengals have posted a losing record after the bye week was last year, when Cincinnati was 3-5 after the break and 3-4-1 before.

There does seem to be some significance in when the bye week occurs, especially since Dalton and Green came to town. Since 2011, the Bengals are 14-8 when the bye week occurs at the seventh week of the season or beyond, and are 18-14-1 when it occurs before the seventh week.

And the timing of the bye week also seems to have some significance when it comes to playoff victories. Teams that win at least one game in the playoffs tend to have later bye weeks than the teams they beat. But that is not always the case. In 2008, the Ravens made the AFC Championship game despite having a Week 2 bye. In 2014, Seattle won Super Bowl despite having a bye after the third week.

Meanwhile, the New England Patriots, who won the Super Bowl in 2015, had a bye after the ninth week of the season and the 2016 Super Bowl winner Denver Broncos had their bye after the sixth week. The Patriots again won the 2017 Super Bowl after and eighth-week bye.

This marks the third time during the Lewis era that the Bengals have had a bye in the sixth week of the season. In 2003, Cincinnati beat the Ravens 34-26 in the first week back, and in 2010 the Bengals lost to Atlanta by a 32-29 score in their return from the break. The Bengals’ overall mark following a sixth-week bye is 11-9.

Before 2003, Cincinnati had a bye during the sixth week of the season on three different occasions: In 1991, 1992 and 1994. Each time, the Bengals lost the game following their return from the bye. Their overall record during those three years? 11-37-0.

Here is a list of the results of Bengals’ games played immediately following a bye week since the 2003 season:

  • 2016 – Giants 21, Bengals 20 (bye week – Week 9)
  • 2015 – Bengals 16, Steelers 10 (bye week – Week 7)
  • 2014 – Patriots 43, Bengals 17 (Bengals 3-0 entering bye week)
  • 2013 – Bengals 17, Chargers 10 (bye week – Week 12)
  • 2012 – Broncos 31, Bengals 23 (bye week – Week 8)
  • 2011 – Bengals 34, Seahawks 12 (bye week – Week 7)
  • 2010 – Falcons 39, Bengals 32 (bye week – Week 6)
  • 2009 – Bengals 17, Ravens 7 (bye week – Week 8)
  • 2008 – Bengals 13, Eagles 13 (bye week – Week 10)
  • 2007 – Chiefs 27, Bengals 20 (bye week – Week 5)
  • 2006 – Buccaneers 14, Bengals 13 (bye week – Week 5)
  • 2005 – Colts 45, Bengals 37 (bye week – Week 10)
  • 2004 – Browns 34, Bengals 17 (bye week – Week 5)
  • 2003 – Bengals 34, Ravens 26 (bye week – Week 6)

So what does all of this mean? In all likelihood, nothing at all. Some will argue that a bye week can stop a team’s momentum, especially when it is in the midst of a pretty significant winning streak.

But it is more likely that the key to victory is not so much momentum as it is confidence. If a team and its players are confident in their abilities before the break, that confidence will more than likely carry over to after the break. And if a team plays with confidence, the chances are that victories will follow, regardless of when the bye week occurs.


Do you think the timing of the bye week matters?

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