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There's no end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic, but the NFL still plans to release a full schedule for the 2020 regular season by May 9, according to The Washington Post's Mark Maske.
The league will structure the slate in a way that can easily be adjusted to account for a condensed season, according to Maske. Though he doesn't go into detail about how the NFL plans to accomplish that, Maske reports "it should be fairly obvious" when the schedule is released.
The most obvious solution to this problem is for the NFL to back-load the schedule with the most important contests so an entire month - or more - can be trimmed off the start of the campaign with minimal effects to the league's competitive balance.
Here are some ways that could be accomplished:
Typically, the first and last months of the season are filled with divisional battles. These are the most important contests, as they go the furthest in determining division champions and playoff participants. Therefore, the NFL can least afford to lose them to a shortened schedule. Surely, it would also prefer fans to be allowed back in the stands by the time these crucial, familiar encounters take place.
The least significant games when it comes to playoff tiebreakers are the non-conference ones, so expect the schedule to feature plenty of those early. While they're often the most intriguing (each AFC and NFC club square off only once every four years), they're also the most expendable.
Teams often play multiple games in a row at home or on the road, and then vice versa, but that will be a risky proposition in 2020. The league will want every club to play an equal number of games on home soil and in enemy territory, so road trips or homestands that extend beyond one game don't make sense.
Nobody really enjoys a bye in Week 4, but the NFL won't have time to let teams rest in Week 12 during a condensed season. The earlier the league gets the bye weeks out of the way, the greater a chance it has of making sure every team plays the same number of games. As a result, we may see more squads than usual receive byes in Weeks 4 through 8.