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The Weekly Kickoff with Geoff Schwartz: NFL Week 5

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Editor’s note: The Weekly Kickoff is a weekly column from the pen of former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz. Check back every week for the latest edition.

There are so many reasons we love the NFL. The competition, the violence, fantasy football, rivalry. 

The underlying reason we love the game is the consistency of the product. We know what to expect. The NFL is being played primarily on Sundays with one game on Thursday night and one on Monday night. The playoffs are three weekends in a row, followed by an off week and then the Super Bowl in early February. 

Well, about that…

We are entering a Week 5 of the NFL season with one game rescheduled as a result of COVID-19 transmission, multiple games moved to different days including a future Tuesday night. There’s also a contingency for moving games from Thursday to Sunday, but they could head back to Thursday depending on testing results. 

It’s a roller coaster, but that’s to be expected in a season played alongside a global pandemic. The NFL appears to be inflexible at times, but it’s handled these issues with a fluidity I did expect, even if the masses seem to believe the league has no clue what it is doing. But should the NFL be moving all these games for a single team? Let’s explore that.

The Tennessee Titans have 23 or 24 players and personnel who have tested positive for COVID-19. Almost all the schedule changes have been to accommodate their coronavirus-related issues. The Titans’ Week 4 game against the Steelers was moved to Week 7. Both teams lost their bye week later in the season and now the Steelers have their four toughest game stretch with no bye week. 

The Bills were scheduled to visit the Titans this weekend, followed by a Thursday night game hosting the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs, having to move their Week Four encounter against the Patriots to Monday, would be playing three games in 10 days. HUGE advantage for the Bills. 

Instead, as scheduled now, the Bills play Tuesday against the Titans and then Sunday against the Chiefs. Now the Chiefs get a full week to prepare and the Bills play on a short week. Should the NFL be making all these accommodations for the Titans? I don’t think so.

The NFL has teams with players who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. The Falcons had a player weeks ago. The Chiefs and Raiders currently have one each. What do those teams not have in common with the Titans? A massive viral spread (at least for now) within the facility. 

The NFL has specific protocols put in place to avoid this. Social distancing, PPE, virtual meetings and contact tracing using GPS. An outbreak shouldn’t happen if you’re following these precautions. The NFL and NFLPA are doing a joint investigation into why the protocols weren’t followed and I’m sure we will get an answer soon. 

So should the Titans be forced to forfeit the games they missed because of their pandemic mismanagement? I’d lean towards “yes,” but a Titans forfeit doesn’t just affect them.

At the minimum, the Titans would forfeit to the Bills. Buffalo is currently undefeated and looking like it has a real shot at the AFC bye in the playoffs. Is that fair to gift the Bills a win for a game they didn’t play? I bet the Chiefs, Ravens and Steelers would say no. 

How about those Chiefs? They’d play the Bills on Thursday night football, playing their third game in 10 days while the Bills would have a forfeit win against the Titans AND 11 days to prepare for a visit from Kansas City. While this season was never going to be fair, forcing the Titans to forfeit feels like it would affect more teams than just them, which isn’t what the NFL wants. 

The NFL can add a Week 18 to make up any games. I can’t imagine this is the only incident of a COVID-19-related cancellation and adding an 18th week would allow these makeup games to be played. 

On top of that, the NFL must respond by hammering the Titans with fines and the loss of draft picks. They have to make them feel the pain for this.