The NFL schedule might be written in sand more than etched in stone. While all major sports leagues have been delayed indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL is hopeful to kick off the season as usual Sept. 10 — even as Commissioner Roger Goodell left the door open for change.
On Thursday night, Goodell said the league would “be prepared to make adjustments as necessary” after releasing its schedule about three weeks later than normal. The NFL will monitor the latest medical and public health advice, according to Goodell, and that will dictate how a 2020 season might unfold.
Here are five things to consider about this schedule:
1. No delay to NFL division races? At first glance, the normalcy of the schedule — released under abnormal circumstances — is the top takeaway. The NFL’s divisional games are scheduled throughout the fall as usual. The difference is time between rivalries, possibly ensuring games are played in similar environments. The Vikings-Packers are one of a handful of Week 1 divisional matchups, including the 49ers-Cardinals and Patriots-Dolphins. The NFL seemed to consider whether fan attendance guidelines could change midseason. The Vikings and Packers will play seven weeks apart on Sept. 13 and Nov. 1; they played 14 weeks apart in 2019.
2. Are no international games just the first change? The NFL announced its five international games — four in London and one in Mexico City — will be played in the U.S. to ensure games are played under consistent stadium protocols for the safety of players and personnel. The Jaguars (twice), Cardinals, Dolphins and Falcons are now set to play all their home games at home. Whether all 32 NFL cities will be ready for football games this fall remains to be seen. In a memo to teams this week, Goodell outlined procedures to reopen team facilities, which includes consent from local state government officials.
3. What contingency plans are being considered? Four months between now and Week 1 leave a lot of room for change. According to the Washington Post, the league’s contingency plans include a shortened schedule, perhaps a 12-game slate starting in October, as well as playing games with empty or partly empty stadiums. The Korean Baseball Organization provided a glimpse of live sports during the pandemic when it began play recently without fans in the stands. The NBA and MLB have considered quarantining players in a city for games.
4. Spotlight on the reigning MVP and Brady’s Bucs. Focusing on the matchups, the NFL spread its wealth of prime-time games as eight clubs — the Chiefs, Ravens, Cowboys, 49ers, Rams, Patriots, Buccaneers and Packers — will play five nationally televised games. But only two teams, reigning NFL MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson’s Ravens and quarterback Tom Brady’s Buccaneers, will play three prime-time games in a row. Despite losing Brady in the offseason, Bill Belichick’s Patriots remain in the spotlight and also have the toughest strength of schedule (.537) based on opponents’ 2019 winning percentage.
5. No cold-weather games, again? Vikings’ first-round cornerback Jeff Gladney said he liked playing in cold weather, but he might have to wait another season. His best opportunity to feel a chill will be Nov. 16 in Chicago, otherwise the NFL’s schedule makers were kind to the Vikings regarding late-season destinations. The Vikings play four outdoor games — at Seattle (Oct. 11), Green Bay (Nov. 8), Chicago (Nov. 16) and Tampa Bay (Dec. 13) — with only the Florida trip on the December schedule. Last year, the Vikings’ coldest kickoff was 51 degrees on Dec. 2 in Seattle.