On the eve of the NFL’s official 2020 schedule announcement — in what will be a marathon three-hour special on NFL Network starting at 8:00 PM Eastern on Thursday — there is a first solid rumor about the format of that schedule. This plan clearly takes into account the possibility of the early portion of the schedule being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as it allows for the first month to be dropped if needed without unbalancing teams’ slates of games.
According to NFL insider John Clayton, this year’s schedule will feature a unique quirk: all of the NFC vs. AFC games will take place in the first four weeks of the season.
.@JohnClaytonNFL tells @937theFan that the NFL schedule will be NFC vs AFC for the 1st 4 weeks of the season. Steelers play the NFC East. So 1st 4 games would be Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins, and Giants.— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) May 6, 2020
The motivation for this looks clear. If the pandemic forces the NFL to postpone the start of the season, this gives the league the ability to shorten the calendar down to 12 games. By dropping the cross-conference matchups, all intra-division and intra-conference games will remain, meaning that there would not be a possibility of one team playing fewer of those games than normal, thereby affecting playoff tiebreakers.
After all, divisional record and conference record are key tiebreakers, so if one team were to have fewer conference games than another, that would make the same number of losses have a greater impact.
For the Packers, this plan could also help dictate the home and road splits for the first month of the season. Green Bay is scheduled to play the AFC South division in 2020, with home games against the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars and road dates against the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans. However, the Packers submitted requests to the NFL to play road games in weeks three and four, with the Ryder Cup scheduled to be held at Whistling Straits over the weekend of September 25-27 and the Wisconsin-Notre Dame college football game at Lambeau Field on October 3rd, the day before week four Sunday.
As a result, that would leave the Packers at home in weeks one and two and on the road for the next two games, with the matchups following the rough script below:
Week 1: vs. Titans or Jaguars
Week 2: vs. Titans or Jaguars
Week 3: at Colts or Texans
Week 4: at Colts or Texans
For Titans and Jaguars fans, it should be a comparatively warm trip to Wisconsin in 2020, should this report turn out to be true.