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NFL officials continue to plan and explore scheduling scenarios and contingency plans amid the coronavirus pandemic. One of the discussions taking place involves expanding the playoff field to 16 teams in the event that COVID-19 cases force the cancellation of additional games and leave the league with no time to make them up without moving back the Feb. 7 date for Super Bowl LV.

The NFL’s competition committee discussed the scenario on a conference call Monday, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions remain ongoing and the NFL had not made any official announcement.

League officials remain hopeful that the entire 17-week regular season will take place as scheduled, and they continue to operate with the understanding that flexibility is key. 

NFL discusses expanding playoff field to 16 as COVID-19 contingency plan

NFL Logo on the goal posts pad during an NFL football game between the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts in Detroit, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. (Photo: Rick Osentoski, AP)

So far, the NFL has avoided canceling games. The league has had to shuffle some contests and bye weeks as COVID-19 cases have forced teams to temporarily quarantine. But bye weeks are beginning to evaporate, and after Week 13, the final bye week on the schedule), the NFL would have to look for other alternatives. 

It remains unclear how many games would have to be missed before the league would adapt a proposal of expanding the playoffs from 14 to 16 teams instead of adding an 18th regular-season week. It’s also unclear what winning percentage would determine the cut for those eight playoff teams per conference. All of those details remain topics of discussion, a person familiar with the talks said.

Earlier this year, the NFL’s owners and players agreed to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams as part of the new collective bargaining agreement. The top seed of each conference would receive a first-round bye. But under the proposal that’s being discussed, if the playoff field expanded to 16 teams, there wouldn’t be a bye week.

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