As Postseason Approaches, NFL Must Develop a Better Plan for COVID-19

Week 13 in the National Football League (NFL) went on as usual in the incomprehensible year that is 2020. The Los Angeles Rams edged the Arizona Cardinals in an enticing NFC West matchup. The New York Giants upset the Seattle Seahawks to gain control of the lowly NFC East lead, quietly mounting their fifth win in their last seven. The New York Jets basically won a game, but remembered that they wanted Trevor Lawrence in next year’s draft and left their corners out to dry on a Derek Carr desperation heave, resulting in another loss. By 2020 standards, things were pretty normal, but what happened this Sunday cannot let us forget the absolute catastrophe that was Week 12.

Over the span of a few days, the NFL completely lost its grip on containing COVID-19.  The team hit the most hard was undoubtedly the Baltimore Ravens, who had seventeen players placed on their COVID-19 list and had to elevate ten players off the practice squad.  Just in time for their most important game of the season against their undefeated division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens were without the services of a plethora of key players, including last season’s league MVP Lamar Jackson and their top two running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins. Furthermore, the game, which was originally scheduled to be played in primetime on Thanksgiving, had to be rescheduled three times until it was finally played the following Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. The Steelers inevitably won the contest, and their Head Coach Mike Tomlin remarked after the game that “it was really junior varsity, to be quite honest with you.” A similar situation occurred with the Denver Broncos, when all four quarterbacks on their roster failed to comply with COVID-19 protocols and were deemed close contacts before a showdown with the NFC leading New Orleans Saints. The Broncos officially started running back Phillip Lindsay at quarterback, and practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton took most of the snaps, throwing more interceptions than completions in the process.

With virus cases surging across the country, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to seriously acknowledge that a situation similar to the one which occurred in Week 12 can easily take place in the remaining weeks of the season. And worse, it could seriously put the playoffs in jeopardy.

Imagine this: Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are set to defend their Super Bowl crown against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The anticipation has been building: will Mahomes and the Chiefs repeat? Will Rodgers get his second ring and bring another Lombardi Trophy back to Lambeau? Millions of fans all around the world cannot wait for kickoff. Then, disaster strikes: What if Rogers or Mahomes can’t play? What if one of the team’s rosters is completely decimated? What would the league do?

This is just one of the countless ways the NFL postseason could be seriously impacted if the league doesn’t change its current proceedings with the virus. More than just an inconvenience that can be solved simply by pushing certain games back, a coronavirus outbreak amongst teams in the playoffs would be a threat to the integrity of the game. It could certainly give teams unfair advantages over each other, whether that be through personnel or through having more time to prepare for the next round’s matchup. Additionally, major delays during the playoffs could completely stunt the momentum that makes those weeks in January so entertaining.  

Goodell has recently stated that he believes the current NFL safety protocols are working, and that having a postseason bubble–a strategy that worked very well for the NBA and NHL–is something that the league is not really considering at the moment. Yes, it is arguably easier for sports like basketball and hockey, which have significantly fewer players and staff per team, to maintain a bubble in a certain enclosed location. But the bottom line is that the NFL needs a more comprehensive plan as the postseason approaches, and they need it badly. It would be an absolute shame to almost get through this remarkable 2020 season, only for it to end with an asterisk that would forever be attached.