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What Happens When an NFL Game is Delayed?

In almost all instances, NFL games that had to be delayed were rescheduled within 48 hours and were played as planned. The reason for these delays has been weather related, usually due to snow, heavy rain, or lightning. There is no time limit for how long a game can be delayed. [1]

If a game is delayed, the statistics, score, and time remaining remain official instead of restarting the contest. 

In a few extreme circumstances, games have been canceled due to poor playing conditions or labor disputes, but there hasn’t been a canceled regular season game since 1987.

Key Takeaways

  • Most NFL games that had to be delayed were rescheduled within 48 hours. The majority of delays occur due to poor weather conditions, mainly lightning or heavy snow.
  • Some NFL games have been canceled due to labor disputes, but since 1987 all regular season games have eventually been played
  • Statistics for a delayed game are kept until play can resume

Reasons for a Game to Be Delayed

In most instances over the last several decades, the weather has been the primary culprit for game delays. Lightning is the most likely weather condition to cause a delay. If lightning is detected within a few miles of the stadium, a delay will be called so that spectators and players are not exposed. [2]

In general, games delayed by lightning can resume within a couple of hours since these storms tend to be brief and pass through an area quickly. 

If heavy snow is forecasted or there’s another imminent weather event like a hurricane, a game may be delayed before it even starts. In these cases, the teams will either change venues or reschedule the game for a different date when the conditions are projected to be better. 

Fans wait in their seats as a weather delay is displayed on the jumbotron prior to the game between the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 5, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

This most recently occurred in a scheduled game between the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns. The game was supposed to be played as a home game for the Bills, but Buffalo was forecasted to get up to six feet of snow in the days preceding the game. Instead, the two teams played in Detroit’s home stadium. [3]

A similar event happened in week one of the 2017 season. Two Florida teams, the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Buccaneers were supposed to play but Hurricane Irma had other ideas. This game was delayed several weeks and rescheduled for week 11. [4]

This delay had huge effects on both teams, as week one was considered the team’s “bye “ or week off. Instead of getting a break in week 11 as planned, they instead had to play 16 consecutive weeks. Both teams finished the year below .500. We can’t be clear how much the rescheduled game had to do with their poor seasons, but it certainly didn’t help. [5, 6]

My most memorable delay happened to the Minnesota Vikings in 2010. The Vikings were already enduring a rough year when heavy snow caused the roof of their home stadium to collapse.

The Vikings had been scheduled to host the New York Giants that Sunday. Instead, the game was rescheduled for Monday, and like Buffalo and Cleveland, the game was played in Detroit but still considered a home game for the Vikings. 

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many NFL games were delayed due to outbreaks of the virus on individual teams. In most cases, these games were able to be rescheduled a couple of days later once players were healthier. But it led to a year in which several games were played on odd weekdays. [7]

Canceled NFL Games

While we’ve seen a handful of rescheduled and delayed games throughout the years, every regular season game has been played since 1987. Mired in a labor dispute, NFL players “walked out” after week 2 of the 1987 season. The week 3 games were canceled but the schedule resumed the following week with replacement players while the dispute continued.

All of the original players were back by week 7 and the season progressed as planned. However, week 3 of the season was never rescheduled. [8]

Several preseason games have been outright canceled since 1987, in most cases due to poor field conditions or inclement weather. [9]

But the NFL is financially incentivized to make sure that every regular season and the postseason game is played, even if it must be delayed.


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