The recently released NFL schedule leaves open the possibility that there could be no games the first three scheduled weeks and all 16 regular-season games could still be played.
Every game in Week 3 has teams which share the same bye week later in the season. That means the teams could make up that week's games on what was originally scheduled to be their bye.
The NFL also could lose the week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, and has secured hotel rooms in Indianapolis -- site of the Super Bowl XLVI -- for two weeks, meaning the Super Bowl could be played a week later than its originally scheduled date of Feb. 5, 2012.
The NFL season is scheduled to begin on Sept. 8, with a full slate of games on Sept. 11-12. That means the league could start the season as late as Oct. 2, 2011 and still finish the Super Bowl by Feb. 12, 2012.
"While the uncertainty remains, it is impossible to plan for every eventuality in terms of the playing schedule," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "If and when it becomes clear that we cannot play the schedule as it was announced, we will make the appropriate adjustments with an eye toward minimizing changes."
McCarthy said the flexibility built into the schedule includes bye weeks, flexible scheduling for the Sunday night games late in the season, moving games from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and the two-week break between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. The NFL, he said, also asked clubs not to book their stadiums during their bye weeks.
The NFL also took safeguards to ensure the season would play out as fairly as possible.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, there never has been a week without a divisional game since the AFL-NFL merger. Yet there are two scheduled this season, in Week 2 and Week 4.
Plus, every team that plays at home in Week 2 is on the road for Week 4, and every team on the road for Week 2 is at home in Week 4.
Thus, the NFL conceivably could lose those games to a labor dispute and not lose the divisional battles they covet.
"Our goal is to play this schedule as it is announced," McCarthy said. "We are working as hard as possible to eliminate the labor uncertainty and proceed with the 2011 season as scheduled."
On Wednesday, after four mediation sessions between the NFL and its locked-out players, a federal judge in Minneapolis decided to give both parties an extended break. They will reconvene on May 16.
In the interim, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson is expected to decide well before then on the players' request to immediately lift the lockout, which is now almost six weeks old.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.