Throughout the 2020 NFL season, the league has had to deal with a laundry list of positive COVID-19 tests across numerous teams, leading to all sorts of impacts to the regular season schedule.
Ever since the Week 4 game between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers was postponed to a later date due to an outbreak in the Titans organization, teams like the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and more have had their schedule changed, either from their own test results or another team’s.
The Patriots had their game against the Chiefs pushed back one day due to Cam Newton’s positive COVID-19 test, and their game against the Broncos (initially) postponed for a week due to more positives in the organization.
The Titans had their game against the Bills pushed back to a Tuesday night due to the extended outbreak in Tennessee, and the Bills subsequently had their game against the Chiefs pushed back from a Thursday night to a Monday night as a result.
Throughout it all, fans began to question why the league wouldn’t simply add on an extra week to the 2020 regular season, allowing for a natural bucket to throw any postponed games into at the end of the year.
The push for a “Week 18” intensified ahead of Week 6 of the 2020 season, as the Patriots had at least one more positive COVID-19 test pop up on the Friday before their already-rescheduled game against the Broncos.
Given the fact that the two teams’ game was already postponed a week prior, ESPN’s Adam Schefter took to Twitter to say how difficult the following few days would be for the NFL as the league looked for solutions.
“If the game could not be played Sunday, the NFL would be presented with its toughest scheduling challenge to date,” Schefter wrote. “Both teams, the Patriots and Broncos, had their byes last weekend and bye flexibility is gone.”
Bye flexibility has been the equivalent of duct tape on the massive water leak for the NFL throughout the first quarter of the 2020 regular season schedule, allowing them the opportunity to push games back and simply create impromptu bye weeks for impacted teams as a result.
It was a similar solution for the postponed Titans-Steelers game, which had a natural solution of moving the Ravens’ bye week up one week, allowing the two teams to play that Sunday, and moving the Steelers’ game against the Ravens up to the Steelers’ original bye week.
While it was the right move at the time, the plan didn’t factor in what would happen if this happened to more teams down the line without such an easy fix, or if it happened to either the Steelers or Titans once again down the line.
That same issue arose with the revived Patriots-Broncos dilemma, with the league forced to make a decision: Play the game as normal on Sunday, October 18, push the game back a few days for another Tuesday night game, or push the game back to a potential “Week 18.”
While many would agree that the “Week 18” solution seems like the easiest play and the most appealing of the bunch, even that has its flaws.
As former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham wrote on Twitter, even that idea would require no more outbreaks inside any of the teams that have a single game pushed back to Week 18.
“The idea of a Week 18 is just a bad bandaid,” Chatham wrote. “You can schedule it for Week 18 or whatever, but then you need not a single interruption w/ either of these 2 franchises for the next 12 weeks. Which would be a ludicrous bet.”
Unfortunately for the NFL, Chatham is spot-on. Even if the Patriots-Broncos game in Week 6 goes on as scheduled, trying to ensure that two more of the team’s remaining 11 games after that wouldn’t be impacted seems impossible, given what has transpired through just four games on either side.
Then, if it does get postponed, trying to guarantee that any single Patriots, Broncos, Steelers or Titans game doesn’t get disrupted from Weeks 7-17 or Weeks 7-18 is yet another losing battle.
A “Week 18” does seem inevitable for at least some sort of additional flexibility on the NFL’s end. But, don’t expect it to be the catch-all solution that many believe it to be, if and when it’s made official.