The first three weeks of the NFL season proved to be successful. That was until Week 4 is when the train started to veer off the tracks when it was reported that the Tennessee Titans reported multiple positive tests within their organization between players and staff members which forced the Titans to shut down their facility and their Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers to be moved from Week 4 to Week 7.
The New England Patriots had a positive case in Quarterback Cam Newton ahead of their Week 4 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, a game that eventually was played and won by the Chiefs 26-10. Earlier this week it was reported that Patriots Cornerback and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore had also tested positive for COVID-19. Comes on the heels as the Titians were continuing to have players and staff members test positive.
As a result, it caused the Patriots-Broncos game to be moved from Sunday to Monday and Bills-Titans to be moved from Sunday to Tuesday. From Thursday-Saturday, both the Patriots and Titans have no other positive tests and were able to practice. Patriots able to have a formal practice since October 2nd and the Titans allowed back in their facility for the first time since September 29th, to prepare for the Bills.
On Sunday, there was yet another blow delivered to the NFL as both the Patriots and Titans had additional positives. In result, the Patriots-Broncos Week 5 match-up will now be played Week 6, and now the Broncos schedule must be altered as well. The Broncos-Dolphins Week 6 game is slated to be rescheduled to possibly Week 11, but that remains to be seen.
The NFL has already moved the Chiefs-Bills Thursday Night Football match-up to Sunday October 18th, given the fact that the Bills at TItans game is slated for Tuesday. However, with the Titans new positive today, that game is now in doubt.
If there is any good news to be found is that other than those two reported positives, no other players or staff members have test positive, which does seem to be a good sign. The Titans have had 24 positive cases among their organization since September 29th, compared to the Patriots four. The move is more beneficial for the Patriots as it gives the team the opportunity finally keep the team completely away from the facility. Plus gives guys like Newton and Gilmore a chance to get healthy and test negative. The Titans remains to be seen.
Wheres does the NFL go from here? That is now four postponements in two weeks, affecting multiple teams schedules, not only now but in the long run. Thankfully there are some options that the NFL could do that might be beneficial to completing the season.
Option 1: Add a "Week 18". Now the league can look at this as multitude of ways. They can either move all of the postponed games here at the end of the season in order to get all the games in. Another option is use Week 16 as the week for all make-up games that would need to be played while moving all Week 16 games to Week 17 and Week 17 to that 18th week. Both of these options allow the league to eliminate the Pro Bowl completely and take that bye week out from between the Conference Championship Games and the Super Bowl. That way the Super Bowl gets played on time. Or the NFL would simply move the Super Bowl back one week so you still have the bye between Championship Weekend and the Super Bowl.
Option 2: Shut down the league for two weeks. This is probably the most unconventional option. One that the league most likely will not do, but should be taken into consideration. When the league released the schedule back in May, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the League has a plan if needed to move the Super Bowl back three or four weeks in order for the regular season to be completed. An option the NFL should deeply consider. It would allow for the NFL to readjust the schedule. Plus allows teams like the Titans and Patriots time to disinfect their facilities and players and staff members to come back and test negative. It would also help the other teams who can do their own testing and prevent an outbreak from occurring. This would cause the NFL to push everything back two weeks, but this could prove beneficial.
Option 3: Completely cancel games. This option would almost immediately be tossed directly out the window as players would refuse to give up game checks, especially given the current economic climate the virus has put the country in. However, it might have to become the only logical option at this point given the timeline and how the league does not want to continue to affect schedules and agitate players even more. If the Titans were forced to forfeit Tuesday Night to the Bills, obviously it would go down as a loss for the Tennessee and a win for Buffalo, but Bills players would upset that they lose out on a game check, while Steelers players would upset that they would still have to play Tennessee. This option is a lose-lose for the NFL, the NFL Players Association and the players themselves.
Option One seems like a more logical solution in terms scheduling at this point in time rather sifting through all the schedule and moving games around. The league should keep option two as an option as that might be the only way that other outbreaks occur.
If we learned anything for the MLB with the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals is that no plan is perfect and a breach of protocols was bound to happen. The NFL knew this heading into the season. In a way, the MLB was sort fo the Guinea Pig for the NFL when it comes to travel. Obviously the NFL are having teams travel all over the place compared to baseball where they kept it regionalized.
We saw that with the Cardinals situation, they didn't play a game for 17 days and had 13 doubleheaders from when they got cleared to play, all the way through the end of the season. Currently, the Titans and Patriots are in the same predicament. Only difference is the Patriots have been able to play all the their scheduled games up until this week, compared to the Titans where they are in danger of not playing a game in consecutive weeks. However the 17 days off did give the St. Louis a chance to get their testing in order. The same could be helpful for the Titans and Patriots despite New England's only be a mini and a somewhat contained outbreak.
As everything stands right now, the Patriots vs. Broncos game that was originally scheduled for this Sunday, that got pushed back to Monday Night, will now be played next Sunday. While the Bills vs. Titans game, is still slated to be played on Tuesday baring anymore positive tests from Tennessee.
If all goes well, the NFL maybe able to get out of this, but they must come up with a plan B quickly and execute it to save themselves from yet another week of rescheduling games for multiple teams.