As the NFL prepares to unveil a 256-game regular-season schedule, the possibility of losing one or more weeks hovers over the sport and everyone connected to it. The schedule surely will include clues regarding the plans that the league may have for a more limited season.
No matter what happens, competitive advantages and disadvantages will arise. If, as some believe, the first four weeks will include interconference games only, that will help some teams and hurt others if those games are canceled. The teams of the AFC East would avoid running the gauntlet of the NFC West, while the teams of the AFC North wouldn’t face the four teams from the NFC East, currently the weakest division in the conference. If those four games were wiped off the schedule, the AFC East teams would likely benefit from that in the competition for wild-card berths and overall playoff positioning.
Other potential inequities arise from the possibility of playing some games in empty stadiums and some in stadiums with fans. Home-field advantages would disappear for some teams, but not for others. That definitely would impact the usual competitive balance.
And none of these things ultimately matter. Beyond the fact that there currently are far bigger issues about which to be concerned, the NFL twice before in the Super Bowl era has endured very unusual circumstances. In 1982, a strike reduced the regular season to nine games. In 1987, another strike wiped out one week of the season and resulted in multiple weeks of replacement players of widely varying levels of capability.
In both years, Washington won the Super Bowl. And no one has ever suggested than an asterisk should be applied to those trophies.
The same thing will happen this year. No matter how many games are played, no matter the playoff format (in 1982, the league expanded the postseason to eight teams conference, seeded without regard to division), there will be a playoff field (hopefully) that produces two Super Bowl teams, and there will be a Super Bowl champion. That team will receive the newest Lombardi Trophy, no different than every other Lombardi Trophy that ever has been awarded.