Sleep specialist forecasts Bills victory after looking at Jags' London travel plans
LONDON – Well, this is a rare kind of bulletin board material.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have made a crucial mistake in their London game against the Buffalo Bills even before getting on the plane, says a sleep specialist who has worked with professional sports teams for several years.
"Jacksonville is going to lose this game," says W. Christopher Winter, who just completed his seventh training camp working with the Oklahoma City Thunder. "My guess is: pretty badly."
His reasoning: the Jags decided this year to arrive in the United Kingdom on Friday morning, two days before kicking off against the Bills. Buffalo landed here Monday, giving the team nearly a full week to get acclimated to the five-hour time change.
"They'll have a lead of four days?" Winter says. "Bet the farm on Buffalo. That's absurd. Why did [the Jaguars] do that?"
In fairness to Gus Bradley's team, going early in the week to the U.K. hasn't worked. The last two years, the Jags lost by a total of 73-27 to the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. This year, perhaps, they can prepare at home and treat it like a more typical road trip.
"I think that's probably better," Jags offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski said this week. "I've done the whole week there and it's easier to adjust, but it's nice to be familiar as long as you can be on familiar ground before you go."
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Part of the challenge this year, though, is the time of the game. It starts Sunday at 9:30 a.m. ET and that's hardly an optimum start for performance. Winter says athleticism is at its peak in the late afternoon, and by Sunday the Bills will be honed for that time frame while he expects the Jags to be "sloppy."
"You would want to travel east as quickly as possible," he says. "The later you travel, the more it feels like the game is going to happen and it is going to feel like a very early game for them."
There is some evidence for this. West Coast teams that have traveled east for early kickoffs have generally done worse with every incremental time zone. One study found Pacific time zone teams won against the point spread nearly 70 percent of the time when traveling one time zone and only 43.6 percent of the time when they traveled three. By leaving later in the week, the Jags have put themselves into the category of the Pacific team traveling five time zones east.
The Jags have some advantages against jet lag, including fully reclining first-class seats on the plane. Running back Toby Gerhart went to London with the Minnesota Vikings in 2013 and he felt little in the way of fatigue. (The Vikings beat the Pittsburgh Steelers here that year.)
"I didn't think it was too bad," he says. "I slept the entire flight. I felt like I got a good night's sleep and I woke up and it was the next morning."
The problem is that the body doesn't register it as the next morning, especially considering a seven- or eight-hour flight doesn't usually allow for deep sleep. That's even more so for larger players.
"On the plane it's never great, being a big man," says offensive lineman Luke Joeckel. The onboard staff made it comfortable for him last year, even though he was "hanging a little bit" off the end of the bed. Joeckel said he felt rested for the game, but that was with the better part of a week to prepare for a late-afternoon game.
Winter says there are ways to trick the body into adjusting, like moving the schedule toward London time for meals and even workouts before the trip. He's even advised coaches to hold "Guitar Hero" or Wiffle ball tournaments at 10 or 11 at night to get players used to being alert for West Coast games. Another idea is to refrain from computer or phone use at different hours, as the lighting from the screen mimics sunlight and causes the brain to think it's the middle of the day. If the Jags use their phones only during London daylight hours, they will start to adjust sooner.
"If you have a team that really pays attention, you can really create an advantage for those players," Winter says. "You can work with light exposure, meal timing, exercise timing and sleep schedule. It's fixing circadian delay, trying to manipulate four variables as early as you can."
The Jags will have to manipulate their internal clocks quickly, as they'll only have two nights' sleep in London before the game. The Bills will have six.
"Their athletes will feel like it's 3 p.m.," Winter says. "That game is going to fall right in their wheelhouse."
In other words, don't sleep on the Bills.