Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said the league might pause its regular-season games because of the spread of COVID-19. The disease is rushing from player to player and team to team so quickly that games already are being pushed back on the calendar. As these delays pile up, it begs the question of what happens if game after game is suspended. Teams could start to have radically different records based on something other than wins and losses, because some teams have been unable to take the field on schedule. The Super Bowl is scheduled for February 7, 2021.
NFL teams are expected to play a total of 256 regular-season games across 17 weeks. Each team plays 16 times and gets a bye week (i.e., a week off). Wild card games are slated for January 9 and 10, the divisional round is set for January 16 and 17, and the conference championships are set for January 24.
As mentioned, games already are starting to be pushed back. One between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs was postponed. More Patriots have tested positive, so will the team play this upcoming weekend? Several members of the Tennessee Titans have tested positive since their last game. The Patriots play the Denver Broncos next, maybe. The Titans have a bye week, but will some players or coaches be ill in what is less than 10 days now?
Two members of the Las Vegas Raiders have tested positive. Now, whether the team can practice is an issue. This problem almost certainly will happen elsewhere.
The NFL is not the only organization in pro football questioning the delays. The National Football Player’s Association has voiced concerns about both player health and the schedule. The Washington Post quoted Thom Mayer, the association’s medical director: “The virus is still very much a threat not only to our season but to the safety of everyone in our community.”
The NFL can handle the delay of a few games. Some teams that were not scheduled to play two days in a week may have to. Teams occasionally have to play a Sunday game followed by one on Thursday, so there is precedent. Yet, what about teams that may be off the field for two weeks or three? The virus can move through a team and its coaches over many consecutive days. If the infection rate is overwhelming, a team may be on the sidelines for weeks or may have to field a team without its best players. Do teams ask for delays if their star players cannot participate?
The NFL can adjust its schedule to keep the Super Bowl date, at least for now. One the other hand, if the number of players and coaches who are infected skyrockets, it is harder to see how that happens. Just look at the White House to see how many essential people can be put out of commission at one time.