During a 2020 season that was expected to be the worst in terms of dealing with COVID-19, the NFL used pauses and postponements to work around the virus.
Even with positive tests soaring compared to late in the season a year ago, the league — and its clubs, coaches, and players — are still working through coronavirus worries in 2021.
On Sunday, the first 17 games of the regular season will come down to a playoffs-or-bust showdown between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles Chargers. For those and other teams on the postseason bubble, masks and vast conference rooms — even virtual position-group sessions — are as much a part of game planning as Xs and Os. The same goes for the teams who have already arrived.
Dallas coach Mike McCarthy, whose club won the NFC East in Week 16, stated, “I’m scared about COVID just like the rest of the league.” “It’s just a different component in our league’s success.” Last year’s experience has proven to be really useful. We’ll make the best of the situation.”
The Philadelphia Eagles are relieved to have clinched a playoff berth over the weekend, as 12 additional players, including defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and tight end Dallas Goedert, were placed on the COVID-19 reserve list on Monday.
As the focus changed from isolating affected players to pushing vaccination booster doses as the best method to cope with the extremely infectious omicron strain, the league and players’ union agreed to relax return-to-play standards.
According to NFL data, there were roughly 600 verified positive COVID-19 cases among players and league staff from Dec. 12 to 25, compared to around 100 during the same span in 2020.
However, the league has only rescheduled three games, all of which occurred in Week 15, when two games were rescheduled for Tuesday.
Cleveland was one of the postponements after Baker Mayfield tested positive as part of an outbreak for the Browns, and the enraged quarterback vented his frustrations on Twitter as the league was discussing possible modifications to testing methods.
The game was postponed two days, and the Browns were defeated 16-14 by the Las Vegas Raiders. They were already out of the playoffs when they lost to Pittsburgh on Monday night.
The 10-day quarantine for athletes who test positive but don’t display symptoms was cut to five days as the numbers grew. Around the same time, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued similar instructions.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told the NFL Network, “We wanted to follow where the research was heading, and I will say that that five-day timeframe sort of reflects the evidence we have been seeing in our own NFL testing data throughout the year.” “So it wasn’t really about player availability or roster size.” “What is science teaching us?” was the question.
The adjustments enabled Carson Wentz of Indianapolis avoid becoming the latest starting quarterback to miss a game due to a lack of vaccinations. The Colts still lost to the Raiders, and they need a win over two-win Jacksonville in Week 18 to make the playoffs.
Kirk Cousins and Minnesota, who were also inoculated, were not so fortunate. On Sunday, he was inactive against Green Bay, and the Vikings never had a chance in a last-ditch effort to keep their playoff chances alive, losing 37-10.
Baltimore has to beat Pittsburgh this week to make the playoffs, while the Steelers can keep their postseason hopes alive with a win. After a COVID-19 epidemic ravaged the lineup, New Orleans fell to Miami two weeks earlier. Even so, if the Saints defeat Atlanta and the 49ers lose to the Los Angeles Rams, the Saints will advance.
“I think the players and staff here have handled a lot of challenging things, not always perfectly, but we’ve managed to keep our heads above water, keep grinding, and keep fighting,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, whose team was also displaced due to Hurricane Ida damage in New Orleans early in the season.
“You’re just looking at the number one goal, which is to make it to the postseason, aside from winning the division.” This weekend, we’ll get the chance to do so. “All you want to do now is figure out a method to get into the tournament.”
NFL players are usually off on Friday evenings in preparation for Sunday games, and the most recent one occurred on New Year’s Eve. It’s reasonable to assume that was a hot subject in the locker room.
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott remarked, “I don’t believe many players are partying right now.” “Now that you’ve reminded me, there could be one or two young men who have the inclination to do it.” So all we have to do now is make sure everyone knows where we are in this season, where we’re aiming to go, and what the most essential things are right now.”
With a pandemic-limited attendance of 25,000, Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl last season in its home stadium. While there has been no hint of a capacity reduction for the inaugural Super Bowl, which will be held on Feb. 13 at 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, the contending teams will arrive late in the week, as they did last year in Florida.
Between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, the NFL schedule includes the typical additional week. Last season, there was no need to alter throughout the playoffs, but as the postseason advanced, the favorable examples all but vanished.
Many of the player absences this season, particularly in December, have occurred late in the week, giving the impression that clubs will be without key players at any time. As the stakes rise, so will the worry.
“To say I’m not concerned” would be an understatement, according to Rams coach Sean McVay, who was speaking last month while his squad battled with an epidemic. “I believe you want to learn more because, based on the league’s environment, this is as terrible as the epidemic has gone.”
“And the difficult thing is for some of these guys — and I don’t want to get into specifics out of respect for the individuals — but for some of them, there are no symptoms,” said McVay, whose team has qualified for the playoffs and can win the NFC West with a win over the 49ers or a loss to Seattle by Arizona. “What’s sad is that they feel terrific.”
To adapt, the regulations have been evolving.