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How the NFL’s schedule contingency plans affected the Packers for 2020

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Details of the NFL’s goals for a flexible schedule reveal why the Packers play at home two days after a college football game at Lambeau and how a 14-game schedule could work.

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers did not get both of their wishes granted when the NFL announced its planned 2020 schedule on Thursday evening. The Packers have only one road game in weeks three and four, despite requesting to be away from home on both of these weekends.

As it turns out, the reason that their request was denied is because of the league’s contingency plans for the schedule, which were put in place to maintain a level of consistency if the COVID-19 pandemic requires the rescheduling and cancellation of some games. A report from the Los Angeles Times late on Thursday illustrates a few of these specific quirks, and understanding them explains why the Packers still ended up with a home game on the schedule for week four.

The report also sheds a little light on how the NFL is likely planning for a possible shortening of the 2020 schedule. Based on that, fans can extrapolate a few of the possible issues if the NFL does end up with a shortened 2020 campaign.

Here is a look at how the contingency plans affected the Packers and what a shortened season might look like.

“Every game in week 2 pits teams who have the same off week.”

For the Packers, their week two game comes at home against the Detroit Lions. As the statement above indicates, both of these teams have the same bye, in week three. So if the NFL ends up nixing the first two weeks of the season, teams can make up these games by sacrificing their bye weeks. That would shift the Packers-Lions contest to week five from week two without having to rearrange the schedule.

“There are no off weeks and no divisional rivalries in Weeks 3 and 4, and every team has a home and away game during that stretch.”

The issue here is that the Packers requested road games during both weeks three and four, thanks to the Ryder Cup taking place in Whistling Straits during week three and the Wisconsin Badgers-Notre Dame Fighting Irish game at Lambeau Field happening the following Saturday. However, with this plan in place, the NFL would be unable to accommodate both requests in the event that sports are taking place normally during this time, while also maintaining a balanced schedule to account for the possibility of canceling these games.

As a result, the league came up with the best option it could for keeping the Packers at home during one of these weeks and minimizing the conflicts. Whistling Straits is an hour’s drive from Lambeau Field, but hotels all across the East coast of Wisconsin will be filled up and the Ryder Cup itself lasts Friday through Sunday. That leaves no real opportunity to turn over hotels between that event and a Packers game, so the NFL sent Green Bay on the road to play the Saints on Sunday night instead.

By having the Packers host a game on Monday night in week four, there is at least a full day of separation between the college game on Saturday evening and the Packers’ game against the Falcons. That should allow hotels to turn around their rooms from hosting college football fans who stay Saturday night to Packers and Falcons fans coming in Sunday for the Monday night game. Interestingly, this game is also a Gold Package contest, which will make for an interesting traffic situation on I-43 Monday and Tuesday.

Again, the setup of weeks 3 and 4 ensures that if these games do not happen, no team loses divisional games, and no team will end up with fewer home games than road contests.

So what happens if the NFL postpones the start of the season by a month?

Obviously, the best-case scenario is that the season starts on time. But it seems that the NFL sees the worst-case possibility being the postponement of the start of the season and a cut-down to a 14-game schedule. Here’s how that would go down.

In this case, the NFL would likely start with week five being the opening week of the season. The Packers and Lions are the only teams in the NFL with week five byes, so moving that game from week two to week five ensures that every team plays that week. In fact, that’s the whole idea with that week two contingency — there would be no bye weeks in this scenario, unless the league were to institute a league-wide bye, which seems unlikely at best.

The plan would then involve dropping weeks three and four entirely and shifting what had been week one back to “week 18,” playing the opening games on what would normally be Wild Card weekend. That simply shifts the playoff schedule back one more week.

In this way, each team still has seven home games and seven road contests, and all divisional matchups are conserved. The one complication in terms of playoff tiebreakers, however, is that some teams will eliminate out-of-conference games on their weeks three and four schedules, while others — like the Packers — will have only in-conference games. That could mean that teams could be tied on overall record and have the same number of wins against teams in the same conference, but one team has a lower in-conference winning percentage.

Imagine a scenario where the Packers & Vikings both finish at 10-4, the two teams split their head-to-head meetings, and both finish with 5-1 division records and identical records against common opponents. The next tiebreaker for the division would be winning percentage against conference opponents. However, Green Bay will play two fewer conference games than Minnesota in this scenario, due to the Vikings sacrificing their week 3 & 4 games against the Titans and Texans. The Packers would then have only 10 NFC games to the Vikings’ 12, so the unbalanced conference schedules will have a huge impact.

There could actually be a benefit for the Packers in this scenario. If the Packers go 3-1 against the AFC and 7-3 against NFC teams, they would hold the tiebreaker over the Vikings even if Minnesota won one more NFC game and went 8-4 against the conference. Effectively, the Vikings would need to stay even in the conference loss column with the Packers by winning two more of these games in order to pull ahead of Green Bay in this tiebreaker.