When the NFL released its regular-season schedule in May, much time was spent analyzing the configuration of games to determine whether entire weeks could be postponed. Another possibility exists when it comes to pressing pause on playing in 2020: Postponing individual games.
Week Two, for example, consists entirely of games between teams who have their byes at the same time. The entirety of Week Two could be postponed, then, to those various bye weeks. Likewise, Week Three and Week Four consist of no divisional games; they can be canceled completely, or bumped to the back end of the regular season.
But it doesn’t have to be every game in a given week that gets postponed. Fewer than all of the Week Two games could be bumped to the corresponding bye weeks, if specific teams have a sufficiently large outbreak after Week One. And if outbreaks happen in later weeks of the season, individual games could, in theory, be moved to a Week 18 or Week 19.
Peter King suggests in his new Football Morning in America column that Commissioner Roger Goodell “should have the discretion” (and hints that he perhaps will have the power) to postpone a game in which, for example, all of a team’s starting offensive line has tested positive for COVID-19.
It’s a tricky issue, one that without clear standards can easily create disagreements that one team was permitted to avoid playing with less than a full deck while others got thrown to the wolves. The better approach would be, frankly, to get the games in unless a given team simply does not have 46 healthy players who can dress on Sunday.
If a team’s starting offensive line has landed on the COVID-19 list, the team will have to decide whether it trusts the second-stringers to protect the starting quarterback. If it doesn’t, the team may have to throw the backup quarterback into the fray. Regardless, the team shouldn’t get a pass simply because it doesn’t have a group of starting-caliber talent available.
Pro football is and always has been a next-man-up proposition. Teams routinely lose multiple starters to injury, but there’s never been a suggestion that a team is too injured to be expected to put 46 players in uniform and play. This year, the ability to promote up to 16 players from the practice squad as little as 90 minutes before kickoff along with an unprecedented ability to put any and all players on short-term IR (for as little as three weeks, for any injury) should make it easier than ever to have a team of players ready to go.
The fact that it may not be the team’s best players shouldn’t matter. Once individual games start to be postponed, the Commissioner will be stumbling down a slippery slope that could potentially result in some teams playing 16 games in 2020, and some teams playing fewer than that. In a season that will consist of unprecedented turmoil and inconsistency, the possibility that win-loss percentages based on fewer than 16 games may determine playoff berths and seeding should be avoided, at all costs.