NFL finds a way to play through pandemic, but is it hurting the game?

Miami Dolphins v New Orleans Saints
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The NFL likes to harp from time to time about its desire to protect and preserve the integrity of the game. Meanwhile, the ongoing pandemic is undermining the integrity of the game.

It’s a problem that continues to hide in plain sight for the NFL, which has opted for the “bad pizza is better than no pizza” approach to getting the games in. Especially since the NFL still gets paid full price for bad pizza.

But the pizza has been pretty bad lately, no worse than it was last night in New Orleans as the Saints, with more than 20 players on COVID reserve, were overpowered by the Dolphins. That said, what could the NFL have done? Postponing the game by a day wouldn’t have done much, and postponing it by two days would have dramatically reduced the ability of both teams to prepare for their Week 17 games.

The only viable alternative would be to cancel certain games, and then to determine playoff spots based on winning percentages. While far from ideal, that would be better than having contenders like the Saints add an L under circumstances where there’s no way in hell they would have won.

The Omicron variant has thrown an unexpected late-season wrench into the NFL’s gears, and the league and the union made a joint decision 10 days ago to tweak protocols with a goal toward getting the games played. But some of the games aren’t great. And some of the teams don’t really have a fair chance to win.

It’s one thing for these issues to mar the musical chairs in advance of the postseason. Once the playoffs begin, the possibility that one or more teams could be down by 10 or 15 or 20 or more players would invite the application of an asterisk to the entire season.

Still, the teams are fully aware of the situation. The ability of the contenders to keep COVID out of their buildings, and to ensure that players don’t put themselves in position to catch it away from work, will be a potentially major factor in determining which teams get to the Super Bowl. Whether it’s by keeping quarterbacks separate or persuading players to go straight home and remain in a hermetically-sealed room or nudging them to stay at a hotel for the balance of the postseason, the teams that navigate this issue will have a huge advantage — especially if facing a team that is dealing with an outbreak.

26 responses to “NFL finds a way to play through pandemic, but is it hurting the game?

  1. If you’re fully vaccinated then you shouldn’t need to be tested. Anyone who gets it will likely be unaware they have it because the vaccine wallops the symptoms, and they can continue to play. If you’re not vaccinated you’re the one at risk so you should be tested regularly and pulled out if you test positive.

  2. It’s not NFL that’s the problem, I don’t think. They just voted to extend both the season and the post season by a game, right? So keeping people playing, keeping fans talking about the NFL for another month or two with makeup games probably doesn’t hurt their feelings or pocketbooks at all if not getting them fatter outright.

    But how does this impact network contracts, not just with the NFL but the stuff they’re supposed to televise AFTER the NFL is over if it were to continue? I think that’s the real issue here, I believe.

  3. The vaccine isn’t stopping spread and no one has gotten severely ill. Everyone should be allowed to play unless you are both symptomatic AND have a positive test.

  4. The denial people are in when it comes to the NFL specifically screwing the Saints is honestly cute

  5. Article about COVID impacting the NFL, comments full of people getting upvoted giving their best impression of epidemiologists. LOL!

  6. Contact tracing and surveillance testing was pointless a year ago and even more pointless now. At this point, we need to realize that we cannot stop this thing. The only people who should be quarantined are the sick and the vulnerable. Stop all testing absent significant disease. Focus on treatment and vaccines. This is what we need to do as a country, not just in the NFL.

  7. The NFL rules regarding covid are bad. The NFL rescheduling some games made it absolutely unfair.

    At this point because of how the NFL handled it whoever wins this season gets an asterisk as it wasn’t a true season and one were some teams were handed an unfair advantage.

  8. Some of these games are like pre season games. The Saints had QB 1 and 2 out along with three starting OL and many others. The game was embarrassing for NFL because it was. It competitive. The media says the Chargers lost to Texans was unexpected?? Seriously. They had lost WR 2 Williams and WR 4 Guyton there only deep threat. Also lost numerous starters along Defense. Game was a joke as they fielded a seating corner cut from 49ers practice squad. Texans also down a ton of players but really only Cooks was significant. Chargers were a low end college team at best. Covid protocols are diminishing product on the field all over the league. The playoffs will come down to which teams don’t get Covid outbreak. What a joke

  9. NFL NOT Consistent In Re-Scheduling Games when teams have 20+ COVID Cases. Saints got screwed period. Browns get a pass vs Raiders, playing favorites once again to try and despise certain NFL teams.

  10. $110B/10y TV contracts enable NFL to hand over $330m/yr to each team. Despite that, only 6 teams show positive operational income last year. So fulfilling TV contractual requirement, meaning play all the games, is the number 1 priority.

  11. Last night was a perfect example of how the NFL’s handling of COVID is hurting the game. The Saints were totally depleted and were forced to play against a healthy Dolphins team. It was unfair and yet another horrible game to watch. Why do certain teams get to postpone and others in the same predicament do not?

  12. Hurting the game? Absolutely not.

    Combined with the crappy officiating management of these games is the icing on the cake. Pysch!

  13. Canceling games and using win percentage to fill things in is not better than playing the games.

  14. I wonder at what point electing to forfeit a game is more attractive than playing seriously undermanned.

    I know there are repercussions to teams that forfeit, but are you better forfeiting a sure loss and having a chance to win the next week, or throwing out a fourth string quarterback to get sacked eight times and running the risk of top tier players getting injured for the rest of the season?

  15. Seems obvious that they should have readopted last year’s rules of masking up at the facilities at all times once this late season surge started. You have half of teams getting knocked out, so how much work is getting done during the week?

  16. Interesting how the article takes the Saints side. They were undermanned because of Covid so the game should be cancelled. Well what about Miami? they needed a win to keep pace to try to get a playoff spot. Cancelling the game most likely would have knocked them out of the playoff run.

  17. On the one hand I think we just need to learn to live with this and let asymptomatic players play to protect the integrity of the game, but on the other hand, some teams have obviously followed the protocols more carefully and are being rewarded for that care, while others teams aren’t and are justifiably paying the price for carelessness. It’s easy to see which teams are the most careless.

  18. The NFL doesn’t know the meaning of the word, “integrity.” It never has and never will.

  19. If you’re a Saints fan, with our team being forced to play with 21 players out while other three other teams had games postponed, well then, yes, it is affecting the game.

    Well, that and Goodell’s hatred of Sean Payton.

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