Hope for the best, plan for the worst has been the running theme for sports leagues trying to hold a season in the midst of a global pandemic in the year 2020. The NFL is no different. With no bubble environment, the league is left to hope that a coronavirus outbreak won't completely derail the season, but forced to prepare any and all contingencies in the case that it does.
Those contingencies are being tested for the first time this year. Three players and five staff members of the Tennessee Titans tested positive for COVID-19 after Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Both teams subsequently shut down their facilities. As of right now, all is well in Minnesota, with no positives. But matters are different in Tennessee after an additional player tested positive.
As such, the NFL has postponed the Titans' next game, which was supposed to be a 1 p.m. ET matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, as ESPN's Diana Russini was first to report.
This is obviously the correct decision. Putting aside issues like competitive balance (since the Titans can't practice until Saturday at the earliest if all goes well), it's the safe decision. It can take up to several days for an individual to test positive. Rushing into a game on Sunday would be bad for all sorts of reasons.
The safest decision would be to reschedule the game entirely to a different week and give the Steelers and Titans a bye this week. Neither team would be particularly happy about that, but it's impossible to argue it's not the most cautious call. However, the NFL will leave that as the absolutely last option because the schedule is a very delicate thing to balance and switching up bye weeks would throw it off.
So, let us assume that everything goes to plan otherwise the rest of the week. Nobody on the Titans tests positive and there are no false negatives, allowing the NFL to hold the game. In that scenario, Tuesday makes the most sense as the night to hold a game. It's already being considered, as the NFL announced in a statement today.
Head coach Mike Vrabel is having his team virtually prepare as if the game will be as early as Monday.
A Monday night double-header would prevent Pittsburgh and Tennessee from having to prepare on a short week for Week 5, but MNF double-headers aren't great for fans or for ratings. More importantly, Tuesday would mark a full week from the first known positive test. If the NFL isn't going to move the game from this week outright, giving it as much time as possible from the initial positive will provide a greater sense of confidence that they aren't making a horrible error by pushing through this. Which they definitely still might be.
This would only give the Titans and Steelers Wednesday to Saturday to prepare for their next games, both of which are slated to take place next Sunday at 1 p.m. Neither the teams nor the players would be pleased about that. But such are the sacrifices that must be made this year. Nothing is going according to plan. Nobody is happy about the concessions we've had to make. They'll figure out a way to deal with it.
Again: the safe, smart decision would be to fiddle with the schedule and give both teams the week off to be completely certain this won't result in a COVID outbreak on two teams that could threaten the season. But it doesn't seem like the league will do that in anything other than a worst-case scenario. Tuesday is the next best possible option. If the game must go on, it should be held then.