health issues

Eight NFL bubbles and a 10-game regular season. Here’s how it works.

2016 Military Bowl, 27Dec2016, Wake Forest vs Temple; Photo: Anthony Moretti

If there is to be a 2020 National Football League season, then a bubble system will have to be implemented.

It’s taken one week for Major League Baseball’s players to demonstrate that no bubble will generate coronavirus challenges for multiple teams. Meanwhile, the MLS bubble system has been working, and we’re about to see if the NBA and the NHL can also pull it off. For a sport like football — with far more close-up contact on every play than baseball — the potential for spreading coronavirus would be magnified if the players were allowed to live a “normal” life.

No bubble? No chance at a season.

So, here’s my proposal:

  1. Split the teams into eight bubbles based on geography, and place four teams in each bubble
  2. Establish two bubbles in each of the NFL’s divisional names: east, north, south, west
  3. Assign two AFC and two NFC teams to those bubbles (Can you imagine the potential for cheating if all four divisional teams were within a few miles of each other?)
  4. Each location/stadium will host two games each weekend (Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, Sunday night and Monday night are the time slots)
  5. NFL teams will need to establish working relationships with area colleges or large high schools so that they can use their fields and locker rooms for practices; the league would have to commit to paying all expenses relating to maintenance and more.

That leads to this potential arrangement:

Bubble A: Boston: New England, Buffalo, New York Giants, Philadelphia (Boston was selected because I’m skeptical that the governors of New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania will accept “outside” teams this fall.)

Bubble B: Washington/suburban DC: Washington, Dallas, New York Jets, Miami (Washington was selected because Texas and Florida continue to fight sizable coronavirus numbers, making them less-than-desirable locations.)

Bubble C: Cleveland: Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago, Minnesota (The “north” bubbles have the most flexibility, except for Pittsburgh — see comment above about the Pennsylvania governor; I deliberately didn’t choose Baltimore because nearby Washington is a bubble site.)

Bubble D: Detroit: Detroit, Green Bay, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh (Detroit or Minnesota is especially viable because that means an indoor stadium in which weather or a worn-out grass field is eliminated from worry.)

Bubble E: Indianapolis: Indianapolis, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Charlotte (Indianapolis was selected because of the indoor stadium and because, I believe, Florida must be off limits as a bubble site. North Carolina is out because of the persistent coronavirus numbers there.)

Bubble F: Atlanta: Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Houston, Tennessee (Atlanta over New Orleans? Larger city and a newer facility.)

Bubble G: Kansas City: Kansas City, Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco, Arizona. (Kansas City was selected because Arizona and California remain major coronavirus problem areas.)

Bubble H: Seattle: Seattle, Los Angeles Rams, Denver, Las Vegas (Seattle was selected because it’s the only possible NFC West location, if you accept, as I do, that California and Arizona aren’t viable options.)

There is at least one unfair advantage to the idea presented above: Eight teams will practice at “home” throughout the season. I don’t know how much that “home field” advantage will help in terms of game preparation, wins and losses, and more. Unless the league wants to pick eight cities that have no current NFL teams, then yes, eight teams will be home. But don’t forget, those players must be separated from their families for the duration of the season.

The league then adopts the MLB geography schedule plan. The divisional opponents play each other twice (6 games, once at “home” and once “away”) and each of the other teams once (4 games, two at “home” and two “away”). Yes, I know, this means an abbreviated 10-game schedule, but that idea already has gained traction around the league.

Denver’s schedule, as one example, would look like this:

Las Vegas H
Arizona A
Seattle H
Los Angeles Chargers A
Kansas City A
Los Angeles Rams H
Las Vegas A
Kansas City H
San Francisco A
Los Angeles Chargers H

The playoffs include 16 teams, representing the top two from each division.

To limit travel as much as possible, the divisional teams play each other in the first round of the playoffs. After that, the four remaining teams in each conference are ranked based on record with the teams with the better records hosting the remaining games to determine which teams go to the Super Bowl.

And the Super Bowl will be played in…

…certainly not Tampa Bay, which is the planned location for the 2021 game.

Instead, it should go to Indianapolis. A bubble already is in place here. The stadium is indoors. Indiana has had fewer challenges than many other states in dealing with coronavirus.

Your thoughts are welcomed. Please offer your thoughts in the reply box at the bottom of this post.

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