With historic storm bearing down on Florida, the league will move the Tampa-Miami Week 1 game. The safest and most fair outcome will be to play the game 10 weeks later
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The NFL really doesn’t have a choice on this Tampa Bay-Miami game scheduled for Sunday, with one of the most powerful hurricanes in the history of the region forming in the Caribbean. The league can play at a neutral site far away from the southeastern United States (because the path of the storm could go up through Florida and then along the East Coast on Sunday and Monday), or the league can move the game to Week 11 when the Bucs and Dolphins each have a bye on Sunday, Nov. 19.
There are three reasons why I expect the NFL on Wednesday to move the game to Nov. 19, in Miami, even though that would leave the Bucs and Dolphins with a bye that neither team wants (in Week 1), and would give most of the starters on each team three full weeks off before opening their seasons:
• It’s the humane thing to do. Irma could be a historic hurricane. The NFL spoke with the Miami mayor and the Florida governor Tuesday, and though I don’t know the scope of their conversations, it’s a pretty sure bet Florida officials told the NFL they don’t want resources from a Level 1 crisis (with many public servants on 12-hour shifts) diverted to a football game, even if the game would be played Thursday or Friday. On Tuesday, an email was circulated to all University of Miami students telling them classes would be cancelled for the rest of the week, and a friend who has a child in school said his daughter was advised on campus to “leave the state” if possible. The Dolphins and Bucs should be worrying about health and family this weekend. It’s just not time for a football game.
• It’s the business thing to do. Because the Dolphins had already OK’ed the moving of a home game this season to London to aid the league’s initiative to boost the game overseas, that meant owner Stephen Ross would have only seven home games in south Florida this year. For Ross to lose another home game to a neutral site when it’s possible to play at home on a mutual bye Sunday later in the season is not fair. There will be those who complain, with cause, about players having to play 16 straight weeks. I don’t think the strain of moving the game to the midwest or further west before a tiny crowd is worth it—never mind doing all that while worrying about family and property back home.
• Playing 16 straight games isn’t unheard of. Byes are good. They’re healthy for players, without a doubt. But the league played 13 straight years, from 1978 to 1990, without them: four preseason games, followed by 16 regular-season games, all in 20 weeks. Then into the wild card weekend without a break, if a team made the playoffs without securing a first-round bye. This is not optimal. It’s just smarter than the alternative.
In a football sense, not playing this weekend would be a blow to both teams, but probably more to Miami. Quarterback Jay Cutler is still acclimating himself to Miami’s offense, and now he will go 24 days without playing in a football game. He last played (four series) at Philadelphia on Aug. 24, and now he won’t play till Sept. 17 at the Los Angeles Chargers.
In addition, the Dolphins now won’t play their first game in Miami this year till Oct. 8 against Tennessee. Although the Oct. 1 game is listed as a home game, the Dolphins will play New Orleans that day in London.
The coaches and players won’t be happy about not playing the weekend, most likely. Listen to Miami receiver Jarvis Landry, on the prospect of essentially losing his team’s bye: “It’s a long season. Let’s be honest about it. It’s a long season, and I think the stretch after our bye week is probably one of the toughest—if you want to be real about it—probably the toughest in the NFL. That bye week will give us an opportunity to kind of get some guys healthy. In this NFL, in the league, you’re going to get banged up week in, week out. For us, that bye week, it comes at an appropriate time. For us, to keep it there would be huge; but I know there are unfortunate situations and it’s out of our hands and it’s up to the NFL and the teams to decide what happens. But we could use that bye at that time.”