The Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t planning on this past week being their bye—obviously, because it was supposed to be in week eight. Circumstances outside of their control, however, intervened, and after there was a serious Covid-19 outbreak within the Tennessee Titans organization—their scheduled opponent—it became obvious that the game had to be postponed.
The NFL was fortunate that there was a relatively simple scenario that would allow them to accommodate the change. The Steelers had a week eight bye, while the Titans had a week seven bye. The Baltimore Ravens had a week eight bye, which was moved up to week seven to allow the Steelers to face the Titans during their week seven bye, and then to play the Ravens the following week.
While this was a frustrating scenario for the team, and the front office, according to Jeremy Fowler, it was preferable in their eyes to a possible alternative involving the league adding an 18th week at the end of the regular season to allow for postponed games to be made up then without the previously-established schedule being further altered.
“As the Steelers settle into their de facto bye week”, the ESPN reporter wrote yesterday, “they are ready to make the adjustment for a slate of 13 straight games. Many with the team, though not thrilled with the result, prefer the current setup of playing Tennessee and Baltimore midseason than having to play Tennessee in a Week 18, tack-on game with playoff implications”.
The end bit there is interesting, actually, and something I hadn’t considered before. In a hypothetical scenario in which the league has to postpone a game after team had already had their bye weeks, for example, and they insist on making the game up, it would necessarily have to come after the ‘regular season’ was over.
That potentially means that some teams could finish their regular season not even knowing if they will be making the playoffs until a week later. It would also, of course, mean that any team who has to play in an 18th week would be one week less-rested for the postseason than they would otherwise be—and vice versa, every team that qualifies for the postseason would have an additional week of rest.
The league really has to look long and hard at this situation if they are dead set on playing every single game without canceling games or shortening the season, because there are no double-headers, series, or multiple games against opponents that can be made up, like in the MLB.
In baseball, if you are scheduled to play a team with a Covid-19 outbreak, you can make up those games with doubleheaders the next time you face that team. The Steelers only play the Titans once. You have to pull that game back out from somewhere else that hadn’t previously existed.
It’s for this reason that I’m increasingly questioning whether or not all 32 teams will actually play 16 games this year.