How COVID-19 Impacts the Super Bowl and NFL Playoffs

By Patrick Hayes   November 30, 2020 

How COVID-19 Impacts the Super Bowl and NFL Playoffs

Super Bowl 55 will be held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay on February 7, 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic will dramatically alter the game in comparison to other modern Super Bowls, but the NFL did announce in November that some fans will be in attendance.

The NFL does not anticipate that a COVID-19 vaccine will be available en masse before the game, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. Still though, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said the league is planning on having Raymond James Stadium at about 20 percent capacity for the game. The stadium holds a little over 65,000 fans, so that means there will be about 13,000-15,000 people allowed inside for the game. Along with several safety precautions and socially distant seating, the biggest change for fans who attend is what they use to buy things once they get inside – for the first time ever, the Super Bowl will not allow cash purchases for anything inside the stadium.

The NFL still plans a big halftime show in partnership with Roc Nation and Pepsi. This year’s headliner will be Grammy winner The Weeknd. The circumstances around the game might be more different than ever, but at least the halftime act is still causing crank New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick to react to a pop music choice as if it represents the end of civilized times in the world. 

The path to get to the game could look different, too. As coronavirus cases spike, the NFL has had to develop contingency plans for the playoffs in case games are canceled with playoff implications. The league already expanded the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams before the regular season started. That big change means only one team per conference instead of two will receive first round byes. 

But that field could expand once again to eight teams per conference if there are cancelations. NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero reported that though the goal is to have all teams complete a 17-game schedule, NFL owners unanimously approved a contingency plan to expand the playoff field from 14 to 16 teams if games with playoff implications are canceled because of COVID-19. Division winners would receive the top four seeds in either the current or contingency formats. So far, though, no NFL games have had to be canceled because of the pandemic.

Now, the only thing left to figure out is who will be playing in the game this year. Before the NFL season started, these were the five teams with the best odds of winning the Super Bowl: 

  • Kansas City Chiefs 5-1
  • Baltimore Ravens 13-2 
  • San Francisco 49ers 7-1 
  • New Orleans Saints 12-1
  • Dallas Cowboys 12-1

That Chiefs pick is still looking pretty solid, with Kansas City at 10-1 and looking every bit as hard to beat as they did last season when they won. Baltimore also looks like a decent bet – the Ravens are 6-4 and have allowed the fewest points in the league. The Saints were also looking like a good bet, until they lost quarterback Drew Brees last week. New Orleans hopes to have Brees back in time for the playoffs, but if they don’t, a Super Bowl run with Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston at the helm doesn’t seem as likely.

Who got overlooked in the preseason? The Arizona Cardinals, who were 60-1 odds during the preseason, suddenly look like a safe bet to make the playoffs, led by MVP candidate Kyler Murray and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The Pittsburgh Steelers, currently the league’s only undefeated team at 10-0, were at 25-1 odds before the season started.

The 49ers and Cowboys have had the hardest luck of that group, both losing star players for the season to injury. San Francisco’s defense has been far less ferocious without star defensive end Nick Bosa, and the Dallas passing game is anemic without quarterback Dak Prescott. The 49ers are 5-6 and in last place in the NFC West and the Cowboys are 3-8 and last in the NFC East.

Here are the current top five Super Bowl odds as of week 10 of the NFL season:

  • Kansas City Chiefs 7-2
  • Pittsburgh Steelers 11-2
  • New Orleans Saints 13-2
  • Green Bay Packers 9-1
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-1

This year’s Super Bowl will be broadcast by CBS.  

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