When the NFL announced that they were going to be trying to proceed with the schedule as it normally is this season, it raised some eyebrows, and five weeks into the season it’s creating some problems as well.
Much like in baseball, where they had to make massive changes in the wake of outbreaks on the Marlins and Cardinals, the NFL is dealing with its own issues with the Titans and Patriots. However, unlike baseball, doubleheaders aren’t an option for the NFL and by not having the foresight to schedule in some extra bye weeks to make up for the possibility of teams not being able to play due to internal outbreaks. As such, they’ve already seen the Titans have to miss a week of action due to positive tests, with their game with the Steelers being rescheduled for Week 7 — and Pittsburgh’s game with Baltimore flipped to Week 8 to take advantage of the bye weeks those two had.
However, as the Titans have had more positive tests this week, with the league investigating player-organized workouts when they were supposed to be staying at home, and the Patriots likewise seeing Stephon Gilmore test positive after Cam Newton was forced out of action this weekend — with their game against Kansas City pushed to Monday — the league is scrambling once again to figure out the schedule. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Titans and Bills game scheduled for Sunday is being pushed all the way to Tuesday, which would move the Bills-Chiefs game on Thursday to Sunday of Week 6.
Titans-Bills game scheduled for Sunday is being moved to Tuesday at 6 pm as long as there are no more positive tests with Tennessee, per sources.
Bills-Chiefs game being switched from next Thursday to Sunday but goes back it more positive tests in Tennessee, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 8, 2020
That is all incumbent on the Titans not having more positives, which could cause another postponement and move Bills-Chiefs back to Thursday. As for the Patriots game against the Broncos, there is a report from Mike Klis out of Denver that the league is exploring pushing that game to Monday night once again.
Broncos have been informed their game against New England will be moved from Sunday to Monday night per source. It will be early Monday night game. #9sports
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) October 8, 2020
The Patriots are still not practicing, while they continue to have more tests that have, thus far, come back negative thankfully.
While there were no new positive tests after Thursday morning’s POC testing, the Patriots are taking additional precaution and will continue to prepare with virtual meetings and no practice again on Friday, per a team official.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 8, 2020
Like so many other entities, the league is putting the onus on the players to not contract the virus and pushing the blame to them for it, when they should’ve had a more complete plan in place to handle these situations that were almost inevitable with rosters as big as they are in the NFL and teams traveling from city to city. They did a great job of keeping things under control in training camp, but the ease with which the virus can travel through a locker room once one case pops up requires swift action and the ability to shut things down so you can do enough testing to know you don’t have an outbreak.
The issue with the NFL’s plan is how reactionary it is, with players being able to play so long as they continue testing negative, not accounting for the fact that the incubation period for the virus can be up to six days before it shows up on a test (see: everything happening at the White House). As such, you can have players test negative, play in a game, and then test positive, like Gilmore, and you suddenly put the entire team, plus their opponent, at risk. Had the NFL pushed its season out a bit longer and built in two extra bye weeks to allow for easier rescheduling of games and for teams to shut things down once cases popped up, they likely would’ve been in a better position for a situation such as this.
Instead, they’re scrambling to make things happen and working off of hope that they can get through this without more teams having these same issues. Everyone is hoping that’s the case, but hope isn’t a good enough plan. Someone had to be willing to admit the possibility of this happening and build in some added cushion, because teams ending up with a couple extra weeks off is a better outcome than having to rewrite your schedule each week and try pushing games into the middle of the week.
UPDATE: The NFL made game times official on Thursday night, with the Patriots and Broncos playing at 5 p.m. on Monday and the Bills and Titans scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.