BOSTON (CBS) — As you know by now, the upcoming NFL season will be like none before it. With every team playing 17 games — instead of 16, which has been the norm since the late ’70s — there will be some tweaks and adjustments that will take some getting used to by players and fans alike.
The strangest one, though, will come at the very end of the season.
Peter King included some scheduling tidbits in his Football Morning in America column. He mentioned that there will be a doubleheader on the Saturday of Week 18, which is not new information.
What is new is this: The teams involved in those two Saturday games won’t know that they’re playing that day until … days before they kick off.
Here’s what King said:
The league will obviously want the most important game to go on Sunday night, but will want two games having some impact on the playoffs to be played on Saturday. The league will not decide the two Saturday games or the Sunday night game until the week before those games, meaning that four teams could be told Monday night, Jan. 3, that they will have to play games with playoff implications on Saturday.
King added this anecdote: “I am sure every coach and GM will respond to such scheduling calmly and with great understanding about the common good of maximizing the TV windows of the next Saturday games.”
It’s a fascinating twist, as every moment of preparation in the NFL is valued, and teams tend to appreciate having knowledge of short weeks with as much advanced notice as possible. Finding out on Monday that the next game is on Saturday instead of Sunday is sure to mess with coaches and players in what will be the most important week of the season.
It could come into play for the Patriots, too. They went 7-9 last season and missed out on the postseason for the first time since 2008. But with some key additions in free agency (Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Kyle Van Noy, Henry Anderson), and with Dont’a Hightower, returning after opting out of last season, and with a third-place schedule instead of a first-place schedule, it’s fair to expect some improvement.
Whether that translates to 11-6, or 12-5, or 10-7, or 9-8 … nobody can say just yet. Likewise, nobody knows what it will take to win the AFC East or to secure a wild-card berth.
But with the Bills sitting as reigning champs, and with the Dolphins putting in the work to build for a better 2021, it does seem fair to assume that a very competitive AFC East will lead to some late-season dramatics for playoff spots. And that may include some late notice on a short week for the final game of the season.