COVID OUTBREAK WON'T LET UP ON BROWNS
Team's drive for first playoff appearance since 2002 rocked for second straight week
It seems like the football gods are toying with the Cleveland Browns and their long-suffering fans.
Two games from the end of their most successful season in 13 years, the Browns needed just a single victory to gain a playoff berth for the first time since 2002. As luck would have it, they were drawing the 1-13 New York Jets in Week 16. They were heavy favourites.
Alas, COVID-19 put six of Cleveland's starters on reserve for last Sunday's game, including their entire receiving core.
Jets 23, Browns 16.
This week, good news. The Browns are expecting to get all six players back for their regular season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Helping their cause is the fact the Steelers, having just clinched the division title, will rest quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and other starters.
But wait. Now the virus is taking down other Browns.
On Tuesday, tight end Harrison Bryant and safeties Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo were added to the reserve/covid-19 list.
And on Wednesday, after a coach and practice squad player tested positive, the team closed its facility to conduct contact tracing and held early day meetings remotely.
In the afternoon the Browns reopened the facility and held practice.
Despite a “high positivity rate” in the Cleveland area, NFL officials are determined to have the game played on Sunday. A carry-over to Monday or Tuesday would hinder the Steelers preparation plans, at least, for a wild card game next week.
The NFL has also maintained it won't postpone games for competitive reasons. But as it stands, the Browns are likely to be without their two starting safeties in Sendejo and Joseph, and who knows what tomorrow will bring?
“It's definitely frustrating,” said JC Tretter, the Browns starting centre and the NFLPA president. “Guys want to be out there, and that was one of the tougher things this year. Guys are competitors. Guys play through injury, through illness, but this year that's not possible. You can't play through COVID. It's not safe for the guys around you, and the choice is taken away from the players.”
After finding so many ways to lose for so long, the Browns' fate might be taken out of the their hands this time.
OUT OF THE HUDDLE
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has decided to rest quarterback Patrick Mahomes and other starters for Sunday's game against Atlanta. Chad Henne will start at QB for K.C.
With a first-round bye, Mahomes will have two weeks off before hosting the division final. Might be a good thing. He's thrown four interceptions in the last three games, after tossing only two picks in the first 12 outings … The Panthers will be without star running back Christian Mccaffrey (quad) and backup Mike Davis for Sunday's game against New Orleans, where the Saints will be gunning for a firstround bye. Does it matter? In a Week 7 meeting of the two teams, with Mccaffrey out, Davis led Carolina's rushing attack with seven carries for 12 yards. Saints won by three … Kyler Murray's leg injury won't keep him out of Sunday's game, with a playoff spot on the line, against the short-handed Rams. “There's no holding back,” said Murray. “If we lose, I'll be home chillin', so my leg … I'm fine.”
THROWN FOR A LOSS
Dalvin Cook's sensational season has come to a sad end.
The Vikings' star running back will miss Sunday's game against the Lions due to the death of his father, 46-year-old James Cook. The running back has left the team to be with his siblings in Miami, which means he'll miss daily COVID-19 tests and therefore will be unavailable for the season finale.
Cook, 25, leads the NFL in touchdowns (17), total yards from scrimmage (1,918) and scrimmage yards per game (137). His 1,557 rushing yards are second only to Derrick Henry's 1,777 … The Colts suffered a big blow when they learned they'll be without starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo for the rest of the season. He's scheduled to have surgery for a major ankle injury.
CALLING BILLS MAFIA
After keeping their doors locked to fans for the regular season, the Bills will allow nearly 6,800 visitors into their Orchard Park home for the first playoff game next weekend. Attending fans will have to test negative for COVID before the game and wear a mask while at the stadium. No tailgating will be allowed. There will also be contact tracing after the game.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo hopes that game will serve as a pilot program for how the state can safely reopen large events and other businesses. It's expected tickets will be snapped up by season seat holders and won't be available to the general public.
MOVING THE CHAINS
Despite saying Alex Smith
(calf ) was close to playing last week, Taylor Heinicke took first string reps for Washington at Wednesday's practice.
Coach Ron Rivera said “there's a chance” Smith could play when the Football Team tries to clinch first place against the Eagles … The Carolina Panthers are reportedly among teams who have shown interest in QB Dwayne Haskins, the 2019 first-rounder who was released by Washington and cleared waivers this week. Haskins has mutually parted ways with his agent, David Mulugheta, according to ESPN'S Adam Schefter.
Criticized for decisions that led to losses early in the season, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn has his team on a three-game winning streak heading into Week 17. He also has the full support of quarterback Justin Herbert, who is expected to be named the league's rookie of the year. “He's a leader and this team follows him,” Herbert said Wednesday. … The 49ers have placed PK Robbie Gould on COVID-19 reserve.