By CHARLIE SNYDER
Super Bowl or bust! What can the National Football League do to make it all the way to America’s biggest day in sports?
During a year of memorable changes among professional sports, the National Football League (NFL) has managed to stay afloat despite rampant COVID-19 outbreaks within the league. Consequently, almost every week of football has at least one game disappointingly postponed or dramatically affected by star players being sidelined with illness. It is becoming increasingly clear that with COVID-19 cases rapidly rising across the nation, the NFL is going to have to make some major adjustments if it wants to make it all the way to the Super Bowl.
One of the teams hit hardest by the effects that the coronavirus has had on the league is the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens were on a steady incline as the decade came to a close, with last year holding the best record in the league at 14 wins and just 2 losses, winning the American Football Conferences (AFC) Northern division for the second year in a row. Yet, despite this success, the team has not reached the Super Bowl since 2013 when they won it all. This year was expected to be another opportunity for Raven’s to reclaim their dominance over the AFC and perhaps the entire league.
Fast-forward to now: with two thirds of the season complete, the Ravens sit in third place, five games behind the Pittsburgh Steelers for the division lead. This was a team in prime position for a deep playoff run, yet now they might not even get there. Why is this? All signs point towards the NFL’s mistreatment of the coronavirus pandemic.
Undoubtedly, the biggest domino to fall as a cause of Baltimore’s disappointing season was when 2018-19 NFL Most Valuable Player and Raven’s quarterback (QB) Lamar Jackson tested positive for COVID-19. This prompted the team to then play second-string QB David Griffin III, who went on to to exit the game mid-way through with a hamstring injury. This then forced in third-string QB and internet sensation Trace McSorley to play in a game that had already been postponed twice due to COVID-19 related issues. The whole ordeal was one big football-infused dumpster fire.
Unfortunately, the Raven’s are not even the team with the most issues at the quarterback position, as injury and illness left the Denver Broncos forced to play a game without a QB! This meant that the team had to start their practice squad with wide receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback, which prompted a 33-3 absolute blowout from the New Orleans Saints. The game has even been dubbed “The Kendall Hinton Game” by football fans and sports enthusiasts alike.
Quite obviously, the league has many issues regarding disease control. If similar events are to take place in the coming weeks, and possibly the playoffs in January, then not much is stopping the coronavirus from derailing the NFL’s superbowl hopes (and biggest source of revenue). So, what can the organization do to stop this? Well, one answer may be more foolproof then it seems.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) recently concluded their 2019-2020 season in dramatic fashion, with league commissioner Adam Silver implementing an “NBA Bubble,” where no player, coach or staff member was allowed to leave once permitted in. This resulted in an astonishing zero positive tests for COVID-19 over a three month period of high intensity basketball, smack dab in a state who has suffered some of the worst from the coronavirus pandemic. However, the only reason that the NFL did not copy this model when their season commenced was due to the fact that NFL teams have a much larger roster of that compared to the NBA, and it was too complex to carry out in practice. This problem would be much less daunting if there were only 14 NFL teams as compared to the usual 32. However, luckily for the NFL, 14 is the exact number of teams left when playoff football commences.
Nevertheless, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would have quite the task ahead of him if he were to model Silver’s airtight bubble. But considering what it would mean for the NFL if a star player was to contract Coronavirus during the playoffs, it would not be a safe bet for Goodell to roll that dice.
It is for this primary reason that it would be in the NFL’s best interest to learn from what other major sports leagues have miraculously accomplished. By implementing an NFL bubble, Goodell would not only likely earn the same praise that Silver has in recent months, but would also keep America’s Super Bowl hopes in good faith.