The 2020 NFL season, just like the entirety of American life, has been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The league has instituted widespread testing, masking, and distancing protocols. Games have been postponed to later dates several times, teams have had bye weeks moved around, the schedule has been altered several times over, we've seen a team play without a quarterback, and I am writing this post as we're preparing to watch a Wednesday Afternoon Football game between the Steelers and Ravens.
One thing the NFL has not done, though, is institute a bubble like those used by the NBA, NHL, NWSL, and several other sports leagues. There's been no neutral site, no quarantining of entire teams of players, staff, and other personnel.
And according to commissioner Roger Goodell, that likely won't be happening for the postseason, either.
"We feel strongly that our protocols are working," Goodell said during a media conference call on Wednesday. "I don't see us doing a bubble in the sense a lot of the media focuses on it. We may look at different ways to reduce the risk of personnel that would limit exposure to others."
Regarding what the league would do if, as has happened two different times this season (first with the Titans and now with the Ravens), there was a COVID-19 outbreak during the playoffs, Goodell didn't have any specifics ready.
"We have been discussing how we would proceed in postseason" if there were multiple positive tests, he said. "We'll be prepared for that, considering a number of alternatives to deal with that."
What exactly that means or how exactly the league would plan on completing the playoffs without canceling games is unclear. The NFL has tried to avoid at all costs canceling any regular season games, going to all the lengths described above -- postponements, midseason schedule changes, and this week, delaying a game by nearly a full week. But that's much less possible in the playoffs, when each round takes place in one given week and the next round can't begin unless and until the previous round is completed.
Such a reality is why Major League Baseball, even after not utilizing a bubble during its regular season (and dealing with multiple outbreaks during said season), went to one for the playoffs. But the NFL appears unwilling to move in that direction. We'll just have to wait and see whether or not that decision ends up costing them.