As we’ve seen through the first handful of weeks of the 2020 season, handling COVID-19 outbreaks can be a logistical nightmare. Just this past week, one team forced the NFL to radically change up their schedule, switching up games and bye weeks for a handful of franchises.
The league obviously hopes to avoid that kind of chaos later in the season when it’s less easy to change things on the fly, and it appears they could look to the NBA for inspiration. The NFL is considering a playoff bubble, where playoff games would be played at predetermined neutral sites, sources told Lindsay Jones and Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic.
Los Angeles and Dallas are apparently two potential destinations, the sources indicated. One scenario apparently on the table is playing wild card games like normal, then moving into the bubble for the divisional and conference championship rounds, then moving on to Tampa Bay to play the Super Bowl as planned.
Don’t expect them to go full-blown bubble, as the sources said that the league isn’t giving any consideration to altering course and moving into an in-season bubble with all 32 teams. It’s an interesting proposition, and one that would make a lot of sense. If something like the Titans’ situation happened in the playoffs, with dozens of COVID-19 cases, it’s hard to imagine a sensible way to work around it.
Jones and Kaplan also make it seem like a Week 18 is inevitable at this point, with some games being pushed into early January. Once teams have already had their bye weeks it will be nearly impossible to move things around like they did this past week, and one source said it’s a matter of when, not if, there becomes a Week 18. Another source said they’ll likely only play Week 18 games that have playoff implications, so some teams could wind up playing only 15 regular season games.