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What does a forfeit look like in the NFL?

Seriously, what are the rules on this?

I can’t believe this is an article that needs to happen. But here we are. With more members of the Tennessee Titans testing positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday the word “forfeit” is starting to get tossed around a lot. What do the NFL rules have to say on this? Not much.

Note: If a team forfeits a game, the opponent will be declared the winner by a score of 2-0, but the points will not be added to the winning team’s record for purposes of offensive production or tie-breakers.

Some of this is open to interpretation but let’s do our best. Notably, this is a footnote in the section titled “Winning Team.” That rule is just as simple.

The team that scores the greater number of points during the entire game is the winner.

What that strongly suggests then is that the team that wins by default is considered a true winner when it comes to record. Also of note, the final sentence introduces the concept of “what applies for playoff tiebreakers at the end of the season.” It’s important that this clause only specifically excludes the “points” awarded in the event of a forfeit. This too suggests the win itself counts as normal.

From the best interpretation of the rulebook, if the Titans forfeit, the Buffalo Bills will be officially 5-0.

A lot of the questions I’ve seen around a forfeit involve those tiebreakers. Here’s a link to the NFL rules for those. There’s no mention of the word forfeit. The seeding is determined by “best record,” which is not defined here. Tiebreaker scenarios refer back to win percentages. The NFL should consider it a true win for the Bills if the Titans need to forfeit, but if they don’t, expect the league to revert to winning percentages. This could also come into play if games are cancelled.

My final thought is that we should all get used to working with rate stats rather than volume if this plays out any longer. Yards per game will be more meaningful than total yards if a game goes “missing.”

UPDATE: Per Chris Mortensen, if a forfeit were to occur, under the current guidelines players would also give up their game check. This includes the Bills players.