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The NFL’s Week 15 Schedule Changes Put Competitive Integrity First

Faced with a situation in which some teams were bound to be upset, the league did the best it could to stay as fair as possible.

Before we get too far, let’s acknowledge the obvious: there is no fair way to do this. In the wake of mass rescheduling this weekend, which was activated following a recent surge in COVID-19 cases across several teams, clubs were going to get a raw deal from a competitive standpoint. Some locker room was going to be left thumbing through social media, riding the momentary high of the latest NFL-hates-our-team conspiracy theory (turns out, the Raiders have plenty of practice).

The Browns, who have 24 players, 12 starters, both quarterbacks and almost half of their offensive line, will have their game against Las Vegas moved from Saturday to Monday. Two Sunday games, between Washington and Philadelphia and Seattle and Los Angeles, got pushed to Tuesday. Washington had both of their quarterbacks on the COVID-19 reserve. The Rams had one of their best defensive players, one of their starting wide receivers and their starting tight end on the list. More than 25 Rams players were on the reserve list in total.

There was no way some of these teams could field a competitive roster in time. We’d be shoving replacement players barely familiar with the playbook into action amid a spike in virus causes just to check some box for advertisers and cable providers on the NFL’s balance sheet. Credit to them for putting the integrity of the game first.

The unfortunate flip side to this? Some healthy teams will have to play on a short week, which is another issue we’ve been arguing against for years. Each week in the league gifts a player’s body the equivalent trauma of a full-on car accident. Every rest day, every moment in the cold tub is precious, especially at the end of a grueling season.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) walks off the field during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens.

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As frustrating as it all seems, the teams who are doing the complaining are failing to admit that they would be in the same place: begging for a scheduling change, if it were their quarterback, starting pass rusher, cornerback or even punter that they had to replace with a below-average stand-in at the last minute. As horrible as it is to put your body through the short week trauma, wouldn’t it be worse to have a season irreparably altered because of some asymptomatic positive tests from mostly vaccinated players, rendering all of the previous traumas from each earlier week irrelevant? Wouldn’t a short-week game be almost as dangerous as a regularly scheduled game full of scabs running around without much of an idea of where to be?

We noted this earlier in the week and it still seems worth mentioning now: there is a difference between teams losing players because they failed to enforce protocol and teams losing players during a season where most of the league and its staff have been vaccinated. The Broncos last year playing with Kendall Hinton? It came at the end of a week where the Broncos’ starting quarterbacks left their tracking devices in different corners of the room and met together. One of those quarterbacks was unknowingly COVID-19 positive.

Now, most of the NFL has been vaccinated. Most of the league received their shots at team facilities, and thus, can be verified. Players did this to avoid mass cancellations and forfeits.

And so the league was met with a choice: punish the COVID-19 positive players who (we are led to believe) followed all the rules, or inconvenience the players who did not happen to test positive that week amid the rise in cases. It could have been the Seahawks just as easily as it was the Browns.

One scenario would have the league running back to its hard line on cancellations, prioritizing the almighty dollar and the whims of our television providers over what is ultimately best, optically, for the league and for competition. The other would be frustrating momentarily, but ultimately signal that they are concerned with putting a quality product on the field and not having an entire season wilt because of circumstances beyond a team’s control.

What, ultimately, would you prefer as a player when considering the situation neutrally? 

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