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What you need to know about NFL games being moved by coronavirus

Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel watches from the sideline.
Positive COVID-19 tests for the Tennessee Titans, coached by Mike Vrabel, above, has their game with Buffalo on the move. If played Tuesday, it also would affect the Week 6 schedule.
(Wade Payne / Associated Press)

The NFL season is gradually morphing into a Rubik’s Cube as the league moves games around after a rash of positive COVID-19 tests.

Some of the questions that are cropping up moving forward:

What’s the deal with the NFL moving all these games around?

This is a good reminder that, in the age of uncertainty, these games aren’t even written in pencil. They’re in chalk. The NFL is going to have to do a lot of juggling, and every game for the rest of the season should be considered tentative.

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After there were positive tests among the Tennessee Titans last week, the league pretty easily moved Pittsburgh’s game at Tennessee until Week 7. Can’t that kind of stuff be done again?

The league got lucky with that, because there was a very elegant solution that involved giving those teams their week off immediately, and rearranging their scheduled weeks off. Basically, there was almost no ripple effect. The deeper we get in the season, small ripples become big, disruptive waves.

Why does it get worse as the season goes on?

Because now teams are starting to get their scheduled week off, so they have no wiggle room to move games around.

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After cornerback Stephon Gilmore joined quarterback Cam Newton on New England’s reserve/COVID-19 list, the league moved the Patriots’ scheduled home game against Denver from Sunday to Monday night.

So there will be two games played Monday?

Yes, as long as the Patriots have two more days of clean tests. You have to have three clean days in a row.

What if the Patriots have another positive test Saturday or Sunday?

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If Broncos-Patriots can’t be played Monday, the game likely goes in the league’s pocket. Maybe it’s held to be played in an extra Week 18, or maybe not. Maybe it matters in the playoff picture, maybe it doesn’t and therefore doesn’t need to take place. Maybe there are some other games in the league’s pocket at that point that can be played in a catch-up week.

With two games already postponed because of positive coronavirus tests, the NFL could benefit from expanding the season to an 18th week.

What’s going on with Buffalo-Tennessee moving to Tuesday?

We’re talking about two undefeated teams, and the Titans are dealing with a legitimate COVID-19 outbreak. What’s more, they’ve already burned their week off because they couldn’t play host to Pittsburgh last week.

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We won’t know until Sunday if Bills-Titans can be played Tuesday night, because the Titans need to have three clean testing days in a row. As soon as it’s clear that the game is taking place on Tuesday, the NFL will have to move the Thursday night game between Buffalo and Kansas City. Obviously, the Bills can’t play two games in three days.

When it comes to moving Chiefs-Bills, the league has options. That game could be played Saturday, Sunday or Monday. Saturday comes up pretty quick, and wouldn’t be entirely fair to the Bills if they just played Tuesday night. Sunday is a possibility, but it would be a great matchup added to an already robust schedule of games. It could get lost in the mix.

What the Bills should be lobbying hard for is to play that game Monday night, with the league staging another doubleheader. Chiefs-Bills could be the early game, followed by Arizona at Dallas.

But none of that will be official until and unless the Titans have clean results Saturday and Sunday.

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Sam Farmer makes his picks and predictions for the remaining slate of games in Week 5 of the 2020 NFL season.

How do you figure out the playoff puzzle if some teams play fewer games than others? Should the NFL use winning percentage in conference games as playoff tiebreakers?

It’s based on winning percentage now. The NFL tiebreaker rule doesn’t say “minimum 12 games, then record within the conference.” It says best winning percentage in conference games. So if, say, Denver and New England have one fewer game than everybody else, it doesn’t change much.

When does missing games become a really big problem?

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It becomes a nightmare when the NFL loses a division game. Then, what do you do about playoff tiebreakers within the division? It’s supposed to be head-to-head results first, and you have to sweep another division team to have the upper hand. But if you only play once, is one game head-to-head enough to determine a division champion?

Say you skip head-to-head records and instead go straight to division record. That’s problematic too. What if the league were to cancel Cincinnati-Pittsburgh, but Baltimore still plays all its division games? Then, the Ravens would have played six division games, and the Steelers would have played five. How can that be made fair?

You might have to skip division opponents, skip conference opponents, and go straight to conference winning percentage.

All New York Jets players and coaches have tested negative for COVID-19, and Sunday’s game against Arizona will be played on time.

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Is there anything else commissioner Roger Goodell should consider?

Yes. What about inserting an extra week or two during the regular season, instead of tacking on a week at the end?

Maybe you say, “Everybody take off Week 7 and Week 13.” Then, if at any point you’ve got one or more make-up games, there’s an available open week where everyone else is off. Instead of having a Week 18 as a catch-all, why not insert a couple of rest stops during the season to let teams get healthy and, if necessary, get COVID clean?

All these possibilities are being discussed by the league.


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