NFL Facing Crossroads Following Weekend Dotted By Positive Tests
The ’20 NFL season “might well be approaching a crossroads after one helluva scary weekend” that saw two games postponed and a third that was threatened “by a player’s positive test that proved false,” according to John Kryk of the TORONTO SUN. In addition to that, Patriots QB Cam Newton became the “the first star player … infected by the pandemic-causing illness,” while the Titans are in the middle of a “small, but still-growing COVID-19 outbreak.” These are “concerning cracks in the 2020 NFL edifice,” and they “beg a number of questions, as the league heads into Week 5.” Kryk: “Will the start of the playoffs have to be delayed until as late as late January? And in that event, how could anyone expect games to potentially be played in the north, at undomed stadiums in, say, the first week of February?” Answers do not exist right now, but the questions will “hover over the remainder of the 2020 NFL season with ever-darkening gloom, like an approaching thunderstorm off the horizon” (TORONTO SUN, 10/5).
JUST THE BEGINNING: YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel argued situations such as the Patriots-Chiefs being postponed until tonight are "going to be the new normal, nothing guaranteed until the ball is kicked." Still, the NFL schedule is an "enormous Jenga tower, and there are only so many blocks that can be pulled out before the 16-games-for-all model collapses." The league "isn’t there yet and hopefully never approaches it, but October just began" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/3). In K.C., Vahe Gregorian wrote the NFL "may be standing on the verge of an inflection point, reminiscent of what Major League Baseball was facing when outbreaks on the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals made the rest of the summer’s rescheduled and shortened season seem precarious at best." Whether the NFL "can navigate this crisis in a similar manner is another matter" (K.C. STAR, 10/4). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell wrote the last week has shown that "even the most stringent safeguards can be penetrated by COVID-19, which may be only beginning to inflict its most serious wrath on the NFL’s 2020 season" (USA TODAY, 10/3). Fox’ Howie Long said, “We all got lulled into a false sense of security. I know I did. It was inevitable that this was going to happen. The biggest surprise is that it didn’t happen earlier" ("Fox NFL Sunday," Fox, 10/4).
HASTY DECISION: In Boston, Tom Curran wrote the league was "doing real well with this up until now." Curran: "Everybody. Players, coaches, doctors, team personnel, every single person going above and beyond. And now, faced with a little adversity that puts them in a bind, they buckled." Instead of moving the Pats-Chiefs to Tuesday or to another week altogether, league officials "will cross their fingers and let the best team with the best player in the entire NFL play on Monday against a franchise that’s just printed money for everyone for two decades." More Curran: "If it works and nobody gets sick, bo-flipping-nanza. If it doesn’t? If the Patriots single positive turns into several and the Chiefs wind up with more too? Then they gambled and lost. An abundance of arrogance, we’ll call it" (NBCSPORTSBOSTON.com, 10/4). The GLOBE's Volin argues the Titans' current situation "should have been all the proof the NFL needed to postpone Patriots-Chiefs." Traveling Monday to play this game is "far too risky, given the realities of COVID-19." It is "certainly a good sign that everyone in both organizations has come up negative in the multiple tests they have taken since Saturday morning." And taking "two airplanes is certainly better than one." But the "idea that the Patriots are clean, and therefore are good to go for Monday night, is bonkers" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/5). ESPN’s Dan Graziano said, “It really is a case of the league feeling like its protocols are in place and working. What they’ve seen is individual positive tests in both these cases. They haven’t seen a flowering of positive tests like they’ve seen in Tennessee, so they feel like they’re OK to go ahead with the game tonight” (“Get Up,” ESPN, 10/5).
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: In Pittsburgh, Tim Benz: "Now the NFL has set a policy. It’s saying coronavirus infections are not just a team-to-team problem. They are a league problem as well. And the league is going to do whatever it takes to help a team that has been infected -- and by extension also protect the scheduled opponent from being infected." But eventually, the league is "going to have to reconcile the idea of declaring forfeits or pushing back the end of the regular season." The NFL "may have to come to grips with the fact that an unbalanced 8-7 record for Team X, a 9-7 record for Team Y and a 9-5 record for Team Z may have to be weighed against one another to figure out a playoff spot if games can’t be rescheduled" (TRIBLIVE.com, 10/5).
PAUSE THE SEASON? In Boston, Karen Guregian writes, "At some point, perhaps even now, the NFL needs to put the brakes on and hit the pause button. They need to suspend the schedule for two to four weeks, and re-establish a baseline with no cases" (BOSTON HERALD, 10/4). Also in Boston, Ben Volin: "The NFL can’t just keep postponing games and blowing up its schedule." If more outbreaks occur, it "may have to consider forfeits instead of postponements when one team is at fault" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/4). Volin in a separate piece wrote the idea of a bubble "doesn't seem plausible," so the NFL will "just have to forge ahead and keep fingers crossed that the positive cases don’t turn into full-blown outbreaks." Volin: "But don’t hold your breath over the NFL completing its season on schedule" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/4).
BYE-WEEK TESTING: In N.Y., Ben Shpigel reported the NFL and NFLPA agreed to "continue daily testing indefinitely -- including on bye weeks." In a memo sent to teams on Friday informing them of the updated protocols, the NFL "notified organizations that players and coaches are prohibited from leaving their team’s city on bye weeks." Any player who "misses a test without permission will be fined $50,000" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/3).