The NFL miraculously made it through the first 3 weeks of their schedule while the rest of the country was dealing with a pandemic, but the luck ran out these past few days as positive Covid-19 tests came rolling in. The week 4 bout between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans had to be rescheduled due to positive tests withing the Tennessee organization. Just as well, as of this morning, Patriots QB Cam Newton also received a positive test result that led to the postponement of his team’s matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. It is naïve to believe that this will be the last postponement of a game this year, so what is the NFL’s plan to be sure the season can be completed? We have yet to hear of a backup plan that organizations and fans can rely on, and there simply is not enough room in the schedule to simply shuffle games around due to positive tests. The idea of a “Week 15 B”, is an idea that has not been talked about. Let’s take a look at why this buffer week would be beneficial, and whether it can realistically happen.
What would a “Week 15 B” look like?
The buffer week would come after the 15th week of the NFL season, and it will serve as an additional bye week for all 32 organizations. However, if a game has to be rescheduled, the two teams would be able to fit the matchup in before their respective week 16 matchups. We would be unsure if any games would be played this week or if 16 games would be played, however, this buffer week would provide plenty of flexibility for the NFL to fit in games without taking away “bye weeks” For example, if this plan were put into action, the PIT@TEN matchup would simply be moved to week 15 B, and both teams would still keep their original byes. Under this format, each team would get their original byes, plus a break after week 15 or the week of a postponed game.
Why after week 15?
I chose week 15 as the ideal time for a buffer week because it would prevent any teams from having two bye weeks in a row in both the regular season and the postseason. The final regular season bye week comes in week 13, as the Panthers and Buccaneers are off then. A buffer after week 15 would prevent two vacant weeks in succession for those teams, while also giving a fair amount of time between breaks for all teams. We have seen ideas of implementing a “Week 18”, however, this would not work for a couple of reasons. The first being that some teams who qualify for the playoffs would have to play in this 18th week while their upcoming opponent in the postseason may not have to. For example, it would not be fair to spot the 7th seed a bye week while the 2nd seed would potentially have to play a rescheduled matchup. Just as well, the 1st overall seed in each conference would be at risk of not playing a football game for 3 weeks. If a team finishes their season as the 1st seed after week 17 without needing makeups, they would have to sit out week 18 and the wild card round. This would serve as a punishment for having the top record in the conference and said team would be at a higher risk of injury.
What about the availability of stadiums?
A potential threat to this plan would be that the team’s stadiums may be booked for this weekend and pushing weeks 16 and 17 would present the same problem. While this may be true, the games do not have to be held on Sunday like they normally would be. They would have Friday, Saturday, and Monday to utilize to make sure the games can be completed. The NFL surely would have to make this decision soon if this were a reality, but if it were put into effect today, ample time would be provided to make arrangements. With fans already not permitted in about half of the NFL’s venues, fans in attendance should not be a major issue.
Why not make teams forfeit?
While this would undoubtedly make this season a lot smoother, we should not be punishing teams for testing positive for Covid-19. Teams are traveling to different cities week in and week out providing us entertainment. They go from home to airports, they ride busses and stay in hotels, and they practice and play against teams from all over the country. With Covid-19 being so contagious, one can wear a mask and be perfectly responsible and still contract the virus. Once one player or personnel member has it, it can be spread rapidly, as we saw in Tennessee. While it is entirely possible that one or two Titans could have been irresponsible, it is likely that someone accidentally came into contact with the virus innocently. Furthermore, making teams forfeit would taint the season so teams undeserving of the playoffs may slip into the postseason. As long as it is possible, we should make the effort to accommodate all teams and make sure the games are played. While they are entertainers, they are also humans too. We are all struggling during these times and enforcing petty forfeits will not change the fact that this is one of the more contagious viruses we have seen in a long time.
Of course, this idea of a “Week 15 B” is a longshot, but it would provide the NFL and its organizations with plenty of flexibility to make sure we can finish the season to completion. This concept would prevent teams from having too much time off but would install a
proper amount of rest and recovery time as well. The Super Bowl venue, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, is already booked for 2 weeks as a precaution. Pushing the regular season and postseason back one week will not affect any postseason scheduling, so it is comprehensible for something like this to be implemented. Is it perfect? No. Is it ideal? Certainly not. But in a year in which everything has been altered so much, an adjustment like this may save football for all of us. And for all of you fantasy football lovers out there, a buffer week would provide a week for your players to heal before the fantasy playoffs!