The NFL seems hellbent on barreling through this season with as much grace as a rhinoceros in an antique shop. The latest example comes with their pending decision to proceed with Week 5 games featuring teams that have at least one new COVID-positive test (Patriots-Broncos, Raiders-Chiefs) and the idea the Titans might have to forfeit their critical game against the Bills because the former hasn't been able to get their COVID outbreak under control.
Well, that makes as much sense as eating a poop-flavored lollipop.
Last week, the NFL said it would reschedule the Titans game against the Steelers because the Titans had double-digit players and staff test positive for COVID. Now, a week later, and they have to forfeit a game that could help the 4-0 Bills secure home-field advantage during the playoffs and keep the 3-0 Titans out of it altogether? That doesn't exactly uphold the integrity of the game the NFL is always so quick to point out when dolling out their own punishments.
There are reports out today the reason for a potential forfeiture is the Titans broke league protocol several times. According to Jason La Canfora, that includes how they integrated Greg Mabin to the team. He was signed to the team's practice squad last Thursday and tested positive for COVID two days later. There's also a report players got together while they were supposed to be quarantining.
While these breaches seemingly deserve some monetary punishment, the league didn't err on the side of caution this past week either and put other teams/players at risk in the name of playing games the week they were scheduled.
After Cam Newton tested positive for COVID on Saturday, the NFL postponed the Patriots-Chiefs game to Monday. Today, less than 36 hours after the game, Patriots star cornerback Stephon Gilmore tested positive for COVID. There's a photo of him hugging Patrick Mahomes after the game. The Patriots' game against the Broncos is still on for Week 5, according to the latest reports, and so is the Chiefs' game against the Raiders, who, reminder, had a player test positive today.
That makes no sense, especially when there are alternative solutions.
Adam Schefter reported in May that the NFL could push the Super Bowl back to March if need be. Presumably that means the NFL could extend the regular season from 17 weeks to 18 or 19 or maybe even 20 weeks. That would give teams that have outbreaks time to quarantine, identify, and separate who has contracted it and who has not and safely return to the field. It would also allow the NFL an easier path towards rescheduling games.
I'm not sure why the NFL is in such a hurry to get this season done in the regularly-scheduled timetable, but putting people who have COVID in the same areas as those who don't is how outbreaks get worse, not better. At this point, the NFL needs to act with the health and safety of the players first, the integrity of the game second and the for the good of scheduling 50th. That's how they'll get through this season. Not by bulldozing a straight path through a field of nuclear landmines.
The NFL had over six months to prepare for this exact scenario. They clearly have contingency plans that include adding an additional week or three to the season, but have yet to exercise it. Why, we do not know, but at this point, the only path forward that will not put human life in jeopardy (most important) and a giant asterisk on this season (secondary) is to let all teams play the same amount of games without forfeits.