Eleven AFC teams have had their schedules affected by coronavirus outbreaks. Three games have moved to different weeks. Other games have moved to different days in the same week, including Tuesday night’s Titans-Bills contest.
The NFL, though, is nearing a dead end in the amount of shuffling it can do. A Week 18 is looming with any more COVID-19 postponements.
“I think if there was one consist theme to our season it is flexibility and adapting,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday. “It went all the way back to the start of our league year. . . . Flexibility is going to be critical. We evaluate, obviously, many different areas that we think will be at least helpful. Fortunately, we haven’t had to use many of the things that we have discussed and thought about. But we will have flexibility to be able to complete our season with the Super Bowl. That’s the goal. We are all focused on that. But to do it safely, and that’s a critical component. We want to make sure that every decision we’re making is made for safety.”
Six teams have had their bye week already. Four teams have it this week.
That makes flexibility more difficult if/when the next outbreak occurs.
“The focus has been on playing the 250-plus games in the 17-week window schedule,” Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, said. “We’ve been consistent with that. But we lose that flexibility as the weeks go on and we have to adjust, and that’s what we have to avoid is, as the season progresses, the byes become less and less. The commissioner did reference [the 18th week] in his opening remarks, but the focus is playing the 256 games in the 17-week window, knowing that potentially, if the season continues to progress and things happen, the 18th week potentially could be an option there for him.”
The NFL’s chief medical officer did allow that “all options are on the table” when asked about “trigger points” that would prompt a suspension of the season. But Dr. Allen Sills downplayed the possibility of Goodell pressing the pause button.
“At this point we’re really focusing on compliance with our protocols,” Sills said.