The SF 49ers are going to be a case study in how the NFL can properly impose a playoff bubble this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SF 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are providing more than enough evidence on how an NFL playoff bubble could be a factor for this season.
Week 12’s debacle between the Ravens and Steelers, which was initially a Thursday Night Football bout, then postponed multiple times and drawn out all the way to Wednesday, Dec. 2, showcased just how quickly COVID-19 can force things to get out of hand. The Niners, too, experienced something similar during their Thursday Night Football matchup in Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers, although the NFL sat on its hands when San Francisco was dealing with a plethora of players on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Now, just imagine something like this playing out in the postseason.
It’s a strong push for the idea of a playoff bubble. Yet NFL commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t exactly buying into the suggestion, telling reporters the following:
"We feel strongly that our protocols are working. I don’t see us doing a bubble in the sense a lot of the media focuses on it. We may look at different ways to reduce the risk of personnel that would limit exposure to others."
Well, one of the ways to limit exposures would be to create a bubble. The NBA did it with great success. So did the NHL. The MLB playoffs also delivered a similar format.
No serious outbreaks (except for the LA Dodgers’ Justin Turner).
SF 49ers can be the example why an NFL playoff bubble works
Goodbye, Levi’s Stadium.
The Niners have essentially been kicked out of their own home by Santa Clara County for at least the next three weeks, getting permission from the Arizona Cardinals to play the next two home games at State Farm Stadium instead of staying home at Levi’s Stadium.
State Farm Stadium effectively becomes a neutral site, eliminating any natural home-field advantage for the SF 49ers for the foreseeable future. And depending on what Santa Clara County does with its own restrictions, perhaps for the rest of the season.
San Francisco currently has three remaining “home” games on its schedule along with a Week 16 “road” contest against the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium anyway.
Putting remaining teams into a bubble, particularly in the playoffs where the weekend’s slate of games is already reduced, isn’t going to create too much of a logjam for field use. Particularly if the league elects to use a mere two or three venues to accommodate teams participating in the postseason.
And the 49ers can be the case example in helping determine whether or not home-field advantage is critical despite the overwhelming lack of fans in attendance, depending on local municipalities of course.
But that’s where the bubble comes into play.
Putting together neutral sites would help guard against what happened between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, which would be overwhelmingly disastrous if it were to happen in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Niners can showcase why playing “home” games away from a home stadium can still be effective, too.
If Goodell bites, of course.