NFL faces potential scheduling dilemma with COVID spreading among teams

The official NFL logo is seen on the back of a hat.
The NFL is mulling whether to postpone multiple games this week, including Sunday’s game between the Rams and Seahawks at SoFi Stadium.
(Chris Delmas / AFP/Getty Images)

Heading into this season, the NFL made it clear that it wasn’t going to be moving games around because of positive COVID tests. The schedule was set. The message: Figure it out, teams.

But now that three clubs — the Rams, Washington Football Team and Cleveland Browns — have been ravaged by positive tests, the NFL faces a real dilemma: Force those decimated teams to play this weekend’s games as scheduled, or give way to postponements that will force a reshuffling of the deck.

Of course, all three impacted teams want to delay their games, and time is of the essence because the Browns play host to the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday. The NFL needs to make a decision as early as possible.


If Raiders-Browns were postponed, Washington-Philadelphia and Seattle-Rams almost certainly would be delayed too.

The NFL delayed Sunday’s game between the Rams and Seattle Seahawks at SoFi Stadium to Tuesday because of COVID-19 issues affecting each team.

Dec. 17, 2021

Surely, the Raiders, Eagles and Seahawks want to move forward as planned. It’s hard to believe they would have much sympathy for their opponents being shorthanded.

Then again, as contagious as COVID is and considering how quickly it can tear through a team, those clubs that might be against postponements now might have a very different opinion next weekend. It’s worth noting that NFL teams are largely vaccinated, including all but one Rams player.

If the league were to start postponing games, it obviously would need to look ahead to next week. Cleveland is scheduled to play a Christmas Day game at Green Bay on Saturday, so moving Raiders-Browns to, say, Monday night would severely compress next week for Cleveland.

The problem is replete with safety issues. There’s the risk of further spreading the virus, yes, but also the peril of putting your quarterback behind a cobbled-together, second-tier offensive line. Or throwing a player into a game after just plucking him off the street.

Also, the league has to consider how much good a postponement of 24 or 48 hours would do. Would Washington get one of its quarterbacks back? (As it is, the team might have to promote a practice-squad QB.) Cleveland’s missing its quarterback and head coach. Would a Monday or Tuesday game make a difference?

An ancillary factor, but one the league won’t ignore, is that moving games impacts the broadcast partners too.

The Chargers had the opportunity to win their biggest game of the season, but coach Brandon Staley’s continued insistence to go on fourth down cost his team the game.

Dec. 16, 2021


If Raiders-Browns is moved, NFL Network loses a national Saturday afternoon game. That’s a big deal. It probably isn’t as impactful that moving Seahawks-Rams would cost Fox one of its Sunday afternoon games.

Last year, the NFL moved a couple of Sunday afternoon games into national windows because of outbreaks. It even played a postponed Thanksgiving game on the following Wednesday afternoon.

If the affected games this weekend could not be played, and the league opted not to postpone them one or two days because of the cascading effect, the NFL could save them for a provisional Week 19.

The NFL could put those unplayed games in its back pocket, pull them out after Week 18 — the scheduled end of the regular season — and decide whether they’re worth playing. In other words, do they have postseason implications?

That would mean delaying the postseason a week. In that case, it’s far more likely that the NFL would collapse the extra week between the championship games and the Super Bowl, rather than bumping the Super Bowl in Los Angeles back a week. Moving the Super Bowl would be a mess, with all the work that’s been done so far, the flights, the hotels.

All this might seem like its rolling the video too far ahead, making a huge leap from postponing a few mid-December games while worrying about how that might impact the Super Bowl. But the league has to consider the impact of toppling that first domino.