While it may need adjustments along the way, the 2020 NFL schedule is set to be released Thursday night. The hope is for the season to begin on time, with the league completing a 17-week regular season and uninterrupted playoff tournament, culminating with Super Bowl LV in Tampa on February 7, 2021.
With uncertainty surrounding when football might return, many possibilities have been discussed at the league level, including how any postponed games might be made up and if there are ways to protect certain contests as best as possible.
One possibility includes scheduling all non-conference games in the first four weeks of the season, beginning Thursday, September 10 and running through Monday, October 5. This strategy would protect the conference schedule by providing a buffer of four weeks should the season need to be shortened because of concerns regarding COVID-19.
Under these conditions, the Patriots would play the four teams in the NFC West to open the season - Seattle and the Los Angeles Rams on the road, San Francisco and Arizona at home. The remaining 12 weeks would include six games against AFC East teams, four games against AFC West teams and games against Houston and Baltimore, who both finished first in their divisions in 2019.
In 2001, the Week 2 schedule of games was postponed following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Those games were rescheduled for the week following the regular season and the playoffs began a week later, pushing Super Bowl XXXI back to February. It’s possible the 2020 plan could follow a similar script, re-scheduling any postponed games to after the regular season, with the playoffs and Super Bowl LV pushed back accordingly.
The Patriots, as defending champions, opened the 2019 season at home on Sunday Night Football against the Steelers, while the Bears and Packers filled the traditional Thursday Night Football spot typically reserved for the previous year’s champion. This year, the Chiefs are expected to open the season at home on Thursday, September 10. The Patriots are among the teams the Chiefs could host that night.
The Patriots played five prime-time games in 2019, but could see that number drop with the departure of Tom Brady to Tampa Bay. Conversely, the Buccaneers played only one prime-time game in 2019. That number is expected to grow this year with Tampa slated to face, among other teams, the Raiders, Packers, Saints and Chiefs.
Monday morning, the league announced plans for five international games have been scrapped and all of the regular season contests will be played in the United States. The Jaguars were set to host two games in London, while the Dolphins and Falcons also were slated to host games in England.
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