The NFL had not delved too deep into possible bubble scenarios prior to the Tennessee Titans outbreak last week, but sources said such conversations are picking up internally in the aftermath. Up until Week 3 there has been limited chatter about the potential need to form bubbles of some sort during the playoffs, with the most serious discussions surrounding the league forming a bubble for the championship games in each conference, sources said. The contingencies are now gaining traction, sources said, with the Patriots-Chiefs game also postponed as of now with a positive result in those buildings coming to light on Saturday.
However, while the playoff bubble concept had strong support within the NFL's competition committee, sources said it was not universally supported within the league office and was something that the NFLPA was not inclined to pursue during initial COVID-19 negotiations. An NFLPA source said that the league had not formally broached the subject of playoff bubbles recently, but noted it wouldn't be shocking for the sides to discuss it at some point depending on where the numbers were trending.
As a practical matter, the championship games are already deemed "league events" and not team events, with the NFL handling credentialing and oversight in a similar manner to the Pro Bowl or Super Bowl. Internal conversations focused on the need or desire to perhaps play those games in a neutral environment where a bubble for both teams could be maintained the week of the game and where fans would be allowed to attend by the local government. While a few stadiums are open to fans, most are not.
The NFL already has a greater deal of jurisdiction over the championship games. Some within the league office have long believed that it would be prudent to have a contingency plan for the postseason that involved hub cities and bubbles for the divisional and/or wild-card rounds. And with the Titans outbreak continuing to expand through the weekend, the NFL's football operations department has continued its dialogue about possible adjustments to several matters related to competitive balance.
There is the potential for teams to not play the same number of games and for teams within a division to have not faced an equal number of divisional opponents, compromising existing tiebreakers. The workweek will already not be the same for teams some weeks, and football operations aims to allow for at least two days of practice at a team facility before a club would have to play a postponed game.
But everything is in flux with each day providing new scenarios and challenges, and where a week ago the concept of bubbles was on the periphery -- particularly anything before the conference title games -- there are numerous team officials I spoke to who believe it may be imperative, and it's a concept the NFL will continue to explore.
There was also strong support within the competition committee for creating a bubble this summer where potential practice squad players and free agents could train daily while being bound by the same COVID-19 protocols that NFL teams are adhering to, but that concept did not gain much traction with the NFLPA, sources said.