NFL prepared for season without teams playing 16-game schedule?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL had months to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic and with the 2020 season set to kick off on Thursday, all of the league’s protocols will soon be put to the test.

As training camp comes to a close, the league’s COVID-19 data is in great shape. It’s a testament to the league’s strict coronavirus protocols, daily testing for the virus and players exercising caution.

Unfortunately, despite the NFL’s best efforts, an outbreak is still expected and it could have a real impact on the upcoming season.

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Will the NFL have a full 2020 season?

The good news for football fans is the NFL Kickoff Game arrives on Thursday between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans. Not only will it be a great start to an exciting NFL season, but fans will be in attendance despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we’ve learned from Major League Baseball, however, outbreaks can happen quickly. MLB was forced to make huge adjustments to its schedule following the Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets and Oakland Athletics’ coronavirus outbreaks.

Unlike MLB, which can play doubleheaders multiple times per week to account for lost games, the NFL doesn’t have that luxury. Outside of a single bye week for each team, the league would run into a dire situation if a club was sidelined by a major outbreak.

The NFL knows it will have players test positive for COVID-19 during the season. Any player that tests positive for the coronavirus might be sidelined multiple weeks and even with practice squads expanded to 16, a team-wide outbreak is possible.

If that happens, it seems the NFL is already prepared for the fallout from a team not playing a full 16-game schedule.

“We’re prepared if we have to do that. We’ve obviously gone through work on that basis with teams,” NFL commission Roger Goodell said, via NBC Sports’ Peter King. “There will be potential competitive inequities that will be required this season because of the virus and because of the circumstances that we wouldn’t do in other years. That’s going to be a reality of 2020. If we feel like we have an outbreak, that’s going to be driven by medical decisions—not competitive decisions.”

The NFL standings will be even more important this season with the playoff expansion. While the league is considering a bubble, that is only a possibility for the postseason. So, an outbreak becomes even more likely outside of quarantine and teams playing a different number of games would have a monumental impact on playoff seeding.

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For now, the NFL remains confident that fans will get to enjoy a full 17-week regular season and all 32 teams will play out their 16-game schedule. Given the unpredictability of COVID-19 and the issues that have already been created by this pandemic, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if we don’t see a full 2020 NFL season.