Such was the impetus for the Eagles’ 2019 proposal to stop automatically giving the Cowboys home games on Thanksgiving every year. BGN previously explained why this is an issue:
Since Thursday Night Football began in 2006, the Cowboys have played just two Thursday road games … and neither were on short rest because they previously played on Thanksgiving the week before.
By comparison, the Eagles have played FIVE Thursday night away games on short rest in that same span. Zero versus five. Not exactly even! [MAY 2020 UPDATE: Following the 2019 season, the count is now zero versus six.]
It’s completely understandable that the Eagles wouldn’t want an NFC East division rival (the Cowboys) and an NFC conference opponent (the Lions) to have an unnecessarily unfair advantage over them. What’s so hard about Dallas and Detroit rotating home and away each season? It’d be cool to allow other cities to host Thanksgiving games more often, too.
This advantage might not seem like the biggest deal but often times a single game can swing an entire season. The NFL should strive to foster a level playing field as much as possible and yet that’s clearly not what’s happening here.
Unfortunately, the Eagles withdrew last year’s proposal due to a lack of support.
But maybe other teams should be willing to revisit this topic after looking at this Sharp Football Analysis study that shows the lopsided rest advantages in the league:
As Warren Sharp notes, the inequality gap in the NFC East is especially egregious.
The Giants were -12 in games with a rest advantage. The Eagles have the second-worst ranking with a -11 net, and have played 44 opponents the last decade who had over a week to prepare. It was the most of any team in the NFL (avg of 29).
The inequality is glaring when considering these two teams play in the same division as the Dallas Cowboys, who have one of the strongest edges:
The Cowboys had more rest in a net of +10 games (#2 best) and played 9 short rest road games (#2 best).
The Giants had more rest in a net of -12 games (#1 worst) and played 20 short rest road games (#1 worst).
The Eagles had more rest in a net of -11 games (#2 worst) and played 19 short rest road games (#2 worst)
While a team like the Cowboys clearly will play at home on Thursdays each year due to Thanksgiving, the NFL didn’t make any efforts to send them on the road for Monday night games (6 home, 4 road) like they did for a team like the Lions (4 home, 7 road).
Obviously, rest advantages aren’t everything when it comes to winning football games. It’s not like teams at the top of the table such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had a lot of success in the last 10 years. The Eagles won a Super Bowl while being disadvantaged while the Cowboys haven’t even made it the past the Divisional Round since January 1996.
But that kind of results-over-process-oriented thinking shouldn’t prevent the NFL from trying to fix their inequality issue. Who’s to say the Eagles couldn’t have been even more successful if they weren’t at a significant disadvantage while a division rival was receiving one of the strongest benefits of unfair scheduling? And, as BGN’s John Stolnis astutely noted, what if the Eagles’ relative lack of rest has contributed to their injury issues?
There’s no good reason why the league can’t make a better effort to maintain competitive balance when it comes to rest advantage. Jeffrey Lurie should be applying pressure to make sure this doesn’t happen again over the next decade.