Amid continued positive novel coronavirus tests involving numerous teams, the NFL has been forced to tinker with its regular season schedule in an unprecedented way. For instance, the New England Patriots’ Week 5 game against the Denver Broncos — which already had been pushed back once — now will be played the Sunday of Week 6, with Week 5 counting as the bye week for both teams. This created a domino effect involving six other teams along with New England and Denver.
According to The Post’s Mark Maske, league officials have discussed a different tactic: adding a Week 18 to the season to handle any glut of makeup games. But until it has no other choice, the NFL will continue to reschedule games within the regular season’s 17-week time frame, even though lengthening the season would not be a difficult task, at least on paper. Fans wouldn’t be too inconvenienced, considering few if any are allowed into stadiums this year, and it’s not as though those stadiums are in high demand for other uses, considering the pandemic’s impact on large public gatherings.
Peter King suggested last week that the NFL is trying to avoid adding an extra week to the season in the name of competitive fairness for teams that will earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. (With playoff expansion beginning this year, only the No. 1 seed in each conference earns a postseason bye.)
“If the NFL chooses to add a Week 18 — and I think they really do not want to do that — but if they choose to do a Week 18, how much does that impact the number one seed in the NFC and the number one seed in the AFC?” King said during a discussion with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. “And I ask the question because the number one seeds, you work all year, you work your rear end off to be the number one seed. Can you imagine if your reward is, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re off for three weeks.’ ”
Florio passed along an idea from sports-talk host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo that potentially would stave off that risk: If the NFL decides it needs an extra week to make up games, it should take place on the weekend now reserved for Week 17 (all of those games are scheduled for Jan. 3). Then all teams play their scheduled season finales in Week 18. This would eliminate the chance of teams having a long layoff between the regular season and playoffs.
King said the idea has “merit” but could still be a little odd, especially if only a few teams need to make up games.
“You wake up on Sunday morning, January 3rd, and what should be a really big day of football, you’re reaching a crescendo, and it’s a lead balloon,” King said. “You got three games and who knows? What if a couple of these games are Jets-Dolphins, you know, or games that have literally no meaning whatsoever? … It’s certainly not ideal.”
But adding to the regular season might become a necessity should people associated with teams continue to test positive for the coronavirus. At some point, each team already will have used up its bye week. What happens if a team has an outbreak but has no open dates left on its schedule? Would the league make it forfeit or cancel its games?
There is precedent for such a move. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the games originally scheduled for Sept. 16 and 17 were postponed until Jan. 6 and 7, and each round of the playoffs (including the Super Bowl) was moved back one week.
“Week 18 has to come into play soon,” MMQB’s Albert Breer wrote Monday. “A week from now, 10 of the NFL’s 32 teams will have expended their bye weeks. So I understand trying to hold off as long as you can to try and preserve the calendar (and, let’s be honest, the sanctity of the TV schedule), but it sure feels like the dam’s breaking soon on that one.”