The NFL’s recently released schedule for the 2011 regular season contains an interesting feature that suggests the league has a backup plan in place to allow for a full season even if the lockout causes up to three weeks of missed games: Every team plays an opponent in Week Three that has the same bye week later in the season.
As Adam Schefter of ESPN pointed out, all Week Three opponents having the same bye week, and there’s also a week off between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, and the NFL has booked hotels in Indianapolis for two weeks in February. That means that the NFL could lose the first three weeks of the season and still have time to make up those games.
As a practical matter, if the lockout extends into September, the season could be played in full as long as it could start by Week Four. If that happened, the league would presumably start the season on October 2 with the Week Four schedule as currently constituted, then play each team’s schedule as usual, with every Week Three game during each team’s bye week. Weeks One and Two would then be played after Week Seventeen.
The wild card playoff games would then be played January 21-22 (the weekend currently slated to have the conference championships), the divisional round games would be played January 28-29 (currently slated to be the bye week before the Super Bowl), the conference championship games would be played on February 5 (currently slated to be Super Bowl Sunday), and the Super Bowl would be pushed back a week to February 12.
We’re hoping the labor situation gets resolved much, much sooner than that. But even if the lockout is still going in September, there’s hope for a 16-game regular season that wouldn’t start until October.