There may be no there there in Oakland, as Gertrude Stein once famously wrote, but in any given NFL season, there’s a good bet there will be Jets there.
“Why are we making another trip out to Oakland?” our good friend Ira asked in a Radar comment this week. “I know the league has a schedule formula. Correct me if I am wrong, the last time we played the AFC West back in ’08, KC and Den came here and we went to Oak and SD. This year SD and KC are coming here and we are going to Oak and Den. Shouldn’t we be going to KC and Oak coming here?”
Ira isn’t the first to ask “What’s up with that?” But it is an interesting new wrinkle to the NFL’s new schedule format that I think is worth diving into today before EA and I hit the draft hard beginning next week.
The short answer is that no, there is no NFL conspiracy to send the Jets to Oakland every year, although it might seem that way. Here are the stats: In 2011, the Jets will be playing the Raiders for the 16th time in the last 19 seasons, with 11 of those coming on the road, and it will also be the 12th time since the 1999 trip out to Oaktown that the two old AFL rivals will have met, and 10 of those games amazingly will have been played in the Black Hole.
So if not conspiracy, what, then? There are three parts to that answer. Let’s start with that ’99 game at the then-named Network Associates Coliseum.
From 1987-2001, the NFL’s scheduling system began to be based on a common-opponent theme. For the AFC East teams in that span, it meant that each year they had eight games against their four division brethren, four games vs. the same NFC division, and two games against teams from the AFC Central and two against the AFC West.
Those four intraconference games were based on where all the teams finished in the standings the year before. And where those games were played was based on a rotating formula geared not toward specific teams but rather toward specific divisions.
So the Jets’ and Raiders’ three regular-season games in 1999-2000-2001 were all based on where they finished in their divisions the previous year, and the rotation called for all three games to be played at the AFC West team, in this case Oakland.
Then of course in ’01 and ’02 were the two playoff games. The Jets, seeded lower, played at the Raiders, both years.
In 2002 the new division alignments brought with them a new scheduling format, more common-opponent- and less standings-oriented. Every three years the AFCE teams play the teams in the other three AFC divisions. In ’02 and ’08, it was East vs. West and the rotation sent the Jets to Oakland, while in ’05 it brought the Raiders to North Jersey.
To Ira’s question, then, why aren’t the Jets hosting the Raiders in ’11? The culprit: alphabetization.
To make sure that every AFC team plays every other non-division AFC team once home and once away every six years, the NFL’s schedulemakers divided each division into two groups alphabetically by city/region name. In the East. Buffalo and Miami were paired and the Jets and Patriots were paired. In the West, it was Denver/Kansas City and Oakland/San Diego.
In 2002 and ’08, NYJ/NE played at OAK/SD and home vs. DEN/KC. In ’05, NYJ/NE played at DEN/KC and home vs. OAK/SD.
But the NFL realized this created a 3,000-mile-wide unlevel playing field every six years. Since the AFC West’s two true West Coast teams are Oakland and San Diego, the Jets and Patriots would always have two West Coast trips in those years, while the Bills and Dolphins would have none.
Then came ’08 and the perfect schedule storm: Since the NFC West’s pairings were Arizona/St. Louis and San Francisco/Seattle, the Jets and Patriots lost the continental lottery and got four West Coast trips that year. We and many others said at the time that that just was not fair scheduling.
The league realized that as well, and in 2010 it tweaked its Western pairings. Now the AFC West’s twins are Denver/Oakland and Kansas City/San Diego (and the NFC West’s are Arizona/San Francisco and St. Louis/Seattle). Never again will an East team have two West Coast trips against one division (and vice versa) in a given year.
This NFL tweak affects the Jets in 2011. The league could have given NYJ/NE two away games at DEN/OAK or two away at KC/SD. It chose DEN/OAK. Hello, Oakland, my old friend. But at least the Raiders and their fans seem to have mellowed somewhat, the Black Hole isn’t quite the formidable singularity it used to be (as the Jets’ 38-0 triumph in ’09 would suggest), and Rex Ryan and company seem to have a really good West Coast travel plan figured out.
Also, I don’t know this for a fact because the NFL’s scheduled opponents haven’t been spit out for 2012 and beyond, but I will wager a guess that Jets-Raiders in ’14 will be at New Meadowlands Stadium, as will games in ’12 and ’13 if the Jets and Raiders happen to finish in the same spots in their respective standings.
Tags: AFC East, AFC West, NFL schedule format, Oakland Raiders, Rex Ryan
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