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NFL approves plan to expand playoffs in case of game cancellations

If the NFL can’t finish its regular season as planned, it will add an extra team to each conference playoff tournament.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended his decision to postpone the Ravens game six days because of a coronavirus outbreak — and not do the same for the Broncos when a position group was wiped out. 
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to the media Tuesday.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

If the NFL can’t complete the regular season because of the coronavirus, it will add an extra playoff team in each conference.

Owners voted Tuesday to approve the proposal, which would put a total of 16 teams in the postseason only if the pandemic forces meaningful regular-season games to be cancelled.

The NFL’s goal is to play all 256 games, even if it takes adding an 18th week to the regular-season schedule. If the extra week wouldn’t accomplish that, the league would expand the playoffs to four division winners and four wild-card teams per conference. The division winners would be seeded 1-4 based on their records, followed by the wild-card teams seeded 5-8.

“We’re committed to playing the regular season as scheduled,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said after a two-hour virtual league meeting.

Expanding the playoffs would help mitigate a worst-case scenario and could be good for the Bears, who currently sit eighth in the NFC.

Goodell reiterated that the league still expects to finish the season as scheduled and wants “as many fans at the Super Bowl as can be done safely” on Feb. 7 in Tampa, Florida. The NFL’s planning, he said, is not based on the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine becoming available.

No games have been cancelled yet this season, though the NFL has acknowledged an increasing rate of infection around the league and the country at large. Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 7, there were 15 new positive tests among players — including three on the Bears’ roster. That’s almost one-fifth of the 78 total positive tests among players since Aug. 1.

Also Tuesday, owners approved a proposal from the NFL’s diversity committee designed to encourage teams to develop minority head coaches and general managers. A team would receive third-round compensatory draft picks in back-to-back years if it has a minority coach or executive who agrees to become a head coach or GM for another team. If a team loses both a minority coach and a minority executive in the same year, it would get compensatory picks in three straight seasons.

The proposal, which still requires approval by the players’ union, could be a greater incentive than the “Rooney Rule,” which merely requires teams to interview minority candidates for coaching and GM jobs.

The Bears have a prominent front-office executive who could garner attention from other teams: Anthony “Champ” Kelly, their assistant player personnel director, who interviewed for the Jets’ GM vacancy in June 2019. Minority coaches on staff include secondary coach Deshea Townsend, running backs coach Charles London, safeties coach Sean Desai and offensive line coach Juan Castillo.