If there is any team in the NFL that would be unable to forget the fact that the NFL has been conducting the 2020 season during a viral pandemic, it may well have to be the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have had two different games postponed multiple times by at least six days or more.
In the process of those postponements, they were forced to take unscheduled and unplanned breaks that they were planning on having at different stages of the season. They were deep into preparations for the Tennessee Titans heading into week four before that one was postponed to another week, and suddenly week four was made their bye, after days of practicing.
More recently, the Steelers were scheduled to play against the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving, and they were counting on having 10 days to prepare for the game after that. Instead, it was postponed three times until it was finally played the following Wednesday, leaving them with just five days to prepare for the following game. They have lost both games played since then.
Because of the number of infections that the league has experienced since the season began, the NFL and the NFLPA had serious discussions about the consideration of a postseason bubble format. While the notion of a league-wide bubble in the style of the NBA was quickly rejected, there were discussions about playoff teams utilizing local ‘bubbles’ to house their teams.
Yesterday, the league and players union jointly announced that they will be prohibiting mandatory postseason bubbles for teams—however, if select teams were to choose to house their players in a hotel on a voluntary basis, they would be free to do so.
Ultimately, they decided that the rate of infection that they have experienced during the season and the repeatedly more stringent measures they have taken in an attempt to battle the coronavirus suggest that it is no safer for NFL teams to house themselves in a proverbial bubble rather than operating as normal.
While operating in a bubble gives you more control over the personnel to whom you are exposed, it does little to nothing that ordinary circumstances do in preventing an outbreak from occurring should the virus breach your facility. The league is primarily interested in eliminating outbreaks, rather than cases.
“This decision is based upon an analysis of the frequency of positive cases in the league compared to the risk of significant spread among players and staff gathered for an extensive period of time at one hotel”, a memo announcing the decision read.
The question is, will any team that makes the playoffs actually use a bubble approach? There are some teams who have offered voluntary housing within hotels to their players.