NFL London Games: How Do Teams Perform After With No Bye Week?
Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images. Pictured: New Orleans Saints.
An odd thing will happen four times over the next two weeks. Something that’s rarely happened in NFL history: Teams will suit up after playing in London without the buffer of a bye week.
We entered the 2022 season with 30 London games in the books since the NFL International Series began in 2007. That’s 60 teams who have played in London, and 55 (92%!) had a bye week after returning.
Since London games are typically early in the season and teams tend to prefer a late bye, the NFL has given teams the option of declining a post-London week off. With the jet lag, brutal travel schedule and time zone switch, only five teams have opted out.
Until this year.
I wondered about the effects of these teams returning from London. Would they be sluggish or slow? Is this a spot to fade? Are there any trends?
Five games isn’t much of a sample, but let’s look at each post-London game and see if we can spot any trends.
The Colts lost as slight London favorites to the Jaguars, but returned home as an even bigger favorite against a bad Bears team quarterbacked by Brian Hoyer.
It was back and forth all game. The Colts led 16-13 at half and were up six heading into the fourth quarter when Chicago scored 10 unanswered points to take the lead, 23-19.
Indianapolis responded with a TD drive, recovered a fumble on the next play and added a field goal to pad the lead. Hoyer drove the Bears inside the 30, but came up short in the final minute.
The Colts won 29-23 and covered as favorites. Chicago, however, was the better team with 126 more yards on the day.
The game went over 47.5 and both teams went over their respective team total. The four-point-underdog Bears had every chance to win late.
October 1, 2017: Jaguars (-4) at Jets
Lifted by four TDs from Blake Bortles, the Jaguars demolished the Ravens 44-7 as slight underdogs in London. The NFL hates the Jags so much that they had to play on the road in New York the following week.
Another back-and-forth game here, with the contest tied at 10 at the half. The underdog Jets scored 10 in the third to take a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Jaguars scored a fumble-six and hit a field goal in the final minute to force overtime. Six ugly possessions later, the Jets walked it off with a game-winning FG, 23-20.
The Jets won and covered as underdogs and deserved it. New York ran for 256 yards and finished with 160 more yards than Jacksonville. The game went over 38.5 and the Jets covered their team total; the Jags did not.
October 1, 2017: Ravens (+3.5) vs Steelers
The Ravens were blown out as London favorites in the aforementioned Jaguars game, 44-7. Down 37-0 after three quarters, the immortal Joe Flacco was benched for Ryan Mallett. Justifiably so, somehow going 8-for-18 for just 28 yards.
Baltimore returned home as underdogs to the rival Steelers and never really showed up.
Pittsburgh led 19-0 at the half. Baltimore got a quick field goal in the third quarter thanks to an interception and short field, and then used a broken 50-yard run to set up a TD and cut it to 19-9 before a late Steelers TD put the game away at 26-9.
The Ravens were dominated and failed to cover in a rivalry game that’s usually closely contested. They turned the ball over five times (twice on downs), barely had the ball and were outgained by almost 100 yards.
The game went under 42 and Baltimore went way under while Pittsburgh covered its team total.
October 8, 2017: Dolphins (PK) vs Titans
The underdog Dolphins were shut out 20-0 in London by the Saints before facing the Titans. Adam Gase’s team compiled only 186 yards overseas and Miami returned home a pick’em against a Titans team coming off a 43-point loss in which they were held to 195 yards.
The battle between Jay Cutler and Matt Cassel was everything it was expected to be. Miami led 10-3 at the half thanks to a fumble-six, but the Titans tied it up in the third. Cutler threw the game-winning TD late as Miami won 16-10 and covered.
The game went way under 41.5, with both teams going under their team total in an awful show of football.
Both teams finished below 200 yards for a second straight week in a sloppy game featuring four turnovers and a combined 7-for-28 conversion rate on third down.
October 24, 2021: Dolphins (+2) vs Falcons
In London again, the Dolphins played the Jaguars even but lost 23-20 on a walk-off field goal. Miami returned home as two-point dogs to the Falcons.
The Dolphins scored an early TD but trailed 13-7 at the half. Atlanta pushed the lead to 27-14 in the fourth quarter before Miami struck back.
The Dolphins scored a TD to cut the lead in half, then recovered a Matt Ryan fumble in Atlanta territory and took the lead soon after on a short-field TD, 28-27. But two big Kyle Pitts plays later, the Falcons were already in field goal range and walked off the poor Dolphins a second straight week, 30-28.
Miami pushed but lost, though the Dolphins played Atlanta mostly even on the day. The game went over 47.5, and both teams went over their team total.
So what have we learned? Admittedly not a ton on an annoyingly small sample:
- Post-London teams without a bye went 2-2-1 ATS and 2-3 SU
- Favorites went 1-1 both ATS and SU
- Underdogs went 0-1-1 ATS and lost both games
- Three overs and two unders
All of that is mostly just noise and won’t tell us much unless these next four games push any of the trends strongly in one direction.
But there’s one that does point to something I think we’re seeing in these games, and it’s hidden in those team totals:
- Post-London team totals are 3-2 to the under
- Opponent team totals are 4-1 to the over
We’re drawing from a small sample, but these trends fit what intuitively makes sense. These post-London teams aren’t scoring as much as expected, and the defenses are giving up a lot more points than anticipated. That’s the sort of thing a team does when it’s tired, jet-lagged and under-prepared, and it’s what we’re seeing.
Of the five post-London teams, three were thoroughly outplayed the following week by the numbers, and only one played relatively well.
Two of the five won, but both of them needed fumble luck for the winning score and could have lost. None of the five ever led comfortably, and each was in position to lose late.
Here are the upcoming games for post-London teams without a bye:
- Vikings -7 vs Bears (+250)
- Saints -5.5 vs Seahawks (+195)
- Packers -9.5 vs Jets (in two weeks, lookahead line)
- Giants +3.5 vs Ravens (in two weeks, lookahead line)
History tells us to be extremely careful backing big favorites coming off short rest and a fast international turnaround.
Instead, we should look at these underdog team total overs and consider the long-shot moneylines, expecting these dogs to be in the game late with a chance to beat a weary opponent.