What Happens to Super Bowl If NFL Teams Cannot Play All Their Games?

The NFL schedule lasts 17 weeks, which is followed by a Wild Card Round, a Divisional Round, a Conference Round and the Super Bowl. Each team plays regular 16 games and has a bye week. The Tennessee Titans announced several of its players and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Its last opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, has suspended in-person activity. This raises the specter that one or both of these teams could miss a game.

Over the course of the season, more teams may run into the same hurdle. The NFL may face the issue that some teams have played fewer games than others have by the end of the season. That would upend all of the rounds of the playoffs.

The NFL could turn to several solutions. The most likely is that teams that have lost a game to COVID-19 could play more than once a week to catch up. However, football is such a violent and draining sport for players that teams that play more often than one game a week would be put at a disadvantage, compared to those with a regular-season of one game a week plus their bye week. Moreover, what happens if a team loses some of its players to infection? Is that situation treated the same as injuries?

Professional sports beyond the NFL face a similar problem. Major League Baseball had to change its season and then navigate several outbreaks among its teams. The struggle with a shortened schedule begged the question of whether the winner of the 2020 World Series is reasonably comparable to the winners of the World Series of the past. Do fewer games make the eventual world champions less worthy?

It is still early in the NFL season. That gives the league time to make adjustments. Those adjustments may work, if the spread of COVID-19 among players and teams does not worsen. Experts say that COVID-19 will spread more aggressively as the weather gets colder. And the NFL is a cold-weather sport.