Why Those NFL Games Should’ve Been “Rained Out”

Many times in the history of Major League Baseball, rained-out games have had to be made up after the end of the regular season, in order to decide the outcomes of league pennants prior to 1969, division titles from 1969 through 1993, and either division titles or wild card playoff berths from 1995 to the present (the 1994 season having been halted by a strike).

This past week's postponements of three Week 15 NFL games — Las Vegas at Cleveland, Washington at Philadelphia, and Seattle at the Los Angeles Rams — present the NFL with the opportunity to do something extremely similar.

The Raiders/Browns game, originally scheduled for Saturday, December 18, was moved to Monday night, December 20 — and the Washington/Eagles and Seahawks/Rams games, both originally scheduled for Sunday, December 19, were moved to Tuesday night, December 21, leaving the four teams involved with two less days to prepare for their Week 16 games.

What would have stopped the NFL from playing these three games on January 16 — with the stipulation that they would only be played if necessary to determine which teams do or do not make the playoffs?

And if any of these games did have to be made up, thus delaying each round of the playoffs by one week, the idle week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl — something that has long since outlived any usefulness it ever might have had — could simply be eliminated. And not for nothing, but seven times in Super Bowl history, there has been no off week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl — and in those seven Super Bowls the average margin of victory for the winner was 11.6 points, compared with 14.4 points in the other 48 Super Bowls when there was a week off beforehand, meaning that, on aggregate, the Super Bowls with no prior week off have been more competitive.

Not only that, but why should teams that have been lax in enforcing the NFL's own COVID protocols be rewarded?

In 1986, the then-San Diego Chargers faced a dire situation at quarterback going into their November 2 game at Kansas City: Neither starter Dan Fouts, then on the downside of his career, nor backup Mark Hermann, nor even third-stringer Tom Flick, were expected to play — which may have forced the Chargers to turn to Kyle Grossart, who hadn't even so much as appeared at an NFL training camp since 1978 (with the Jets). Flick did end up playing — and he completed 4-of-17 (a shockingly low number of pass attempts for a Chargers game of that era) for 42 yards, with 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions in a surprisingly, under the circumstances, close (24-23) Chiefs victory.

But as Ralph Kramden said on The Honeymooners, that's the way the cookie crumbles; or as someone even less empathetic might say, T.S. — and that doesn't stand for tennis shoes!

If the NFL couldn't bring itself to declaring the Browns, Eagles, and Seahawks winners by forfeit, the least they could have done is to postpone these games to "Week 19," if necessary; and if that in fact occurs for even one of these games, they will have established a precedent for eliminating the idle week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl on a permanent basis (and if "Week 19" does happen, that conveniently establishes a precedent, too) — necessary sooner or later, if the NFL wants to have both an 18-game regular season (for which they are still holding out hope despite the collective bargaining agreement that allowed for the 17-game regular season conceptually ruling it out) and play the Super Bowl on the Sunday of the Presidents' Day weekend, thus making "Super Bowl Monday" a de-facto national holiday (just as the Friday after Thanksgiving is often colloquially referred to as "Thanksgiving Recuperation Day").

Shameless exploitation of a pandemic? No more so than the way the NFL exploited 9/11 — using that tragedy to make Super Bowls played in February the new norm, thus moving one step closer to their holy grail of playing the game on the Presidents' Day weekend.

And if this results in some teams playing fewer games than others, the NFL has been down that road before: in 1935, a game between the then-Boston Redskins and the Eagles on the last week of the season was canceled due to an ice storm in Philadelphia.

That's the awesome thing about anomalies from the past: they can always be used to justify anomalies in the present.

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