The NFL Can Only Blame Themselves For Committing to This 17-Week Schedule
Adam Schefter appeared on Get Up this morning and told Mike Greenberg that the NFL was considering the possibility of deciding playoff seeding by win percentage. This means the league is thinking about just scrapping games postponed by coronavirus.
As of right now, the Tennessee Titans have missed one game and are on the verge of missing a second. They have a 3-0 record, so if they keep missing games - and are not found to be in violation of any of the NFL's new COVID-19 protocols - they could end up the top seed in the AFC with a perfect winning percentage. Sounds a little early to think about it, but until they go multiple days with Good News, you might as well start thinking about it.
In July, I suggested the Miami Marlins sit out the rest of the MLB regular season and coast into the playoffs at 2-1. The Marlins were able to complete a 60-game schedule and made the playoffs, so it's not like an undeserving team would have snuck into the postseason. The Titans are coming off a playoff appearance and combined with a good start on the field, they would probably earn a spot in the NFL Playoffs under normal circumstances. So maybe it's time for the Titans to all head home, quarantine for a month and let this thing run its course and return healthy in January.
Of course, this would only be realistic if no other NFL team has a full-fledged outbreak that causes them to miss / cancel / postpone / forfeit games. If other teams share the fate of the White House, then eventually, the NFL is going to start missing primetime games.
The NFL has told us that they have contingency plans, but it doesn't sound like they have prioritized those plans. They said they could move the Super Bowl all the way back to March, but as it is clear the Titans will need at least one extra week, they don't seem like they want to move anything. Hence the win percentage idea. If more teams start missing games, then eventually, the league is going to lose a primetime game, which would affect the bottom line and top dollar. That's what will determine if those extra weeks materialize and the playoffs are pushed back.
So the question becomes, how many teams are going to have to need extra weeks before they actually create Week 18 and move the playoffs back? What if the Pittsburgh Steelers have another team cancel on them because of an innocent, protocol-friendly brush with COVID? Do they deserve to miss the playoffs because they missed out on multiple games?
It sounds like the league could use a points system this year. You get a point if you field a healthy, COVID-free team. You get another point if you win. If you cannot field a safe team, you get zero points. If you have to forfeit a game because you had COVID-positive players and did not follow proper protocols, you lose a point. You could maybe earn an extra point if you agree to play on a non-traditional football night like Tuesday, allowing the NFL to earn more ad money.
It actually seems crazy that the league tried to just release a regular schedule like this was a standard year. They had a chance to add extra primetime games and extra Sundays and make up some of this money, while giving players more rest with extra bye weeks. They could have tried some stuff. They could have kept Monday Night Football double-headers and added another game on Thursday and put one on Saturday. Then when a game is lost, there's still product to sell.
Instead they thought they were bigger than a pandemic and now there is no telling what is going to happen over the next few weeks because teams are starting to deal with this. There is nothing normal about this and now the NFL looks caught off-guard and completely unprepared.
It hasn't gotten to the point of no return for the league yet, but it sure looks like its headed that way. They had MONTHS to figure this out and make it work and they did nothing much beyond cancel preseason games. They got to watch what worked and didn't work with the three other major American sports, as well as across the world and they just rolled out their traditional 17 week schedule. Well, that's not going to happen. So what now?