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How the NFL plans to adapt in case Covid-19 impacts the 2020 regular season

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Related: Patriots schedule: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

New England Patriots Practice Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The NFL released its 2020 schedule on Thursday, and is planning to open the regular season with a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans on September 10, but the outlook is very much in question due to the current Coronavirus pandemic: there is a chance that the league will not be able to start on time or take place in its scheduled form unless the national health crisis starts to develop in a more encouraging fashion.

The NFL’s schedule makers, however, have planned for the possibility of Covid-19 impacting the season. The key to those scenarios, according to a report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, is Super Bowl 55: currently scheduled for February 7 in Tampa, the game could potentially be pushed back “by weeks or even a couple of months” in order to allow the regular season to take place in as normal a fashion as is possible under the current set of circumstances.

The idea behind this hypothetical is that the league would gain flexibility in case a start on September 10 is not possible for one reason or another. If that were the case, games could potentially be rescheduled and the playoffs moved back to accommodate the changes:

[T]he NFL simply could push the Super Bowl back four weeks. It then could take regular-season Weeks 1 through 4 and turn them into, essentially, regular-season Weeks 18, 19, 20 and 21. [...] Week 5 could serve as the NFL’s opening week, with the first four weeks being tacked on to the back end of the schedule, giving the league the 16-game regular season it desires.

Under this scenario, the league would be able to run a 16-game schedule — albeit one that extended well into January 2021 — while not losing any regular season games even if as much as four weeks needed to be rescheduled. If this option became a reality, and Weeks 1 through 4 were indeed moved back, the beginning and end of the New England Patriots’ regular season schedule would look as follows:

  • Week 5*: vs. Denver Broncos — 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 11
  • Weeks 6-16
  • Week 17: vs. New York Jets — 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Jan. 3
  • Week 1: vs. Miami Dolphins1 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 13 possibly Jan. 10
  • Week 2: at Seattle Seahawks8:20 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 20 possibly Jan. 17
  • Week 3: vs. Las Vegas Raiders1 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 27 possibly Jan. 24
  • Week 4: at Kansas City Chiefs — 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 4 possibly Jan. 31

*Week 5 would serve as the opening week under this hypothetical new system

Of course, given the uncertain nature of the pandemic, there is a chance that the NFL will not be able to run a 16-game regular season. If that scenario were to take place, the league also would come prepared and potentially eliminate Weeks 3 and 4 in order to reduce the season to 14 games:

[I]f a 16-game season cannot be realized, the NFL might look at a 14-game season, in which the first two weeks of the regular season would become the final two weeks of the regular season and Weeks 3 and 4 would be dropped. There are no divisional games scheduled in Weeks 3 or 4, which happened in Weeks 2 and 4 of the 2011 lockout season and is another built-in clue that the league is prepared if it has to delay the season.

If that case became reality, the Patriots’ home game versus the Raiders and the contest in Kansas City would be eliminated from the schedule. Opening week would again take place in mid-October with a game on the road in Denver. This is just another hypothetical scenario, of course, but it shows that the league’s schedule makers did prepare for the possibility of Covid-19 having an impact on the season.

For the time being, however, the goal is a 16-game season with the Super Bowl as scheduled. In order to make that happen, other potential tools include shortening the preseason to three games — something that will happen as early as next year anyway and is a real possibility for 2020 as well — or cancelling the Pro Bowl to reduce the gap between the championship round and the Super Bowl to one week.

Either way, things remain fluid.