The NFL news cycle has been dominated by COVID-19 outbreaks this season as teams struggle to play football amid the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately for the NFL, with the playoff race heating up, bigger problems could be looming.
Before training camp began, the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to daily testing of all players and personnel. While the numbers started out promising this season, they’ve taken a concerning turn with 52 new cases of COVID-19 found from Nov. 8-14. Now, things are about to get even worse.
According to CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones, the NFL is bracing for a significant post-Thanksgiving spike in COVID-19 cases across the league. There is a fear that with the surge in the virus, it will have an impact on the remaining regular-season games.
The NFL has every reason to be concerned. Cases of COVID-19 are spiking across the United States, with the country exceeding 100,000-plus new positive tests every day since November began. It’s also a trend that reflects in the NFL’s testing of players and personnel, with 47 percent of cases in the regular season coming in November.
Just this week, with cases surging, the NFL put all 32 teams into the league’s intensive protocol. Despite the measures taken, there have been outbreaks across the country. The New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles are among a handful of teams that had players or personnel test positive for COVID-19 this week.
Problems really began for the NFL in October, when the Tennessee Titans had a massive coronavirus outbreak. The league launched an investigation, which determined the team often failed to follow basic COVID-19 safety protocols. However, the organization avoided significant discipline.
Since that time, the NFL hasn’t taken repeated violations nearly as lightly. After warning teams that failing to meet basic safety precautions would lead to severe consequences, the league started dropping the hammer.
The NFL handed down harsh penalties to the Las Vegas Raiders for repeated violations. It came after a pattern of negligent behavior at every level, and discipline followed. Jon Gruden was fined for not wearing a mask during a home game against the New Orleans Saints. Shortly after that, the NFL fined Raiders’ players for COVID-19 violations at a charity event.
We could see the New Orleans Saints headed for a similar punishment, following repeated violations of the COVID-19 protocols.
There’s a reason the NFL is fearful its cases will spike in the two weeks after Thanksgiving. According to CBS Sports, a high-ranking league source indicated the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 cases among players happened because they had people over at their homes.
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s easy to expect that players and team personnel will be spending time with their families. With countless people traveling, exposed to the virus’s potential carriers, the odds of COVID-19 spreading spike dramatically.
The NFL hasn’t been forced to reschedule or postpone a game since Week 7, when it moved the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Las Vegas Raiders game from Sunday afternoon to "Sunday Night Football." Continuing to push through with games, even amid sizable outbreaks, has been due to the NFL’s desire to avoid massive changes.
With that said, preparations are already being made for future postponed games. The NFL is willing to host a Week 18 slate for makeup games, which would result in Super Bowl LV being pushed back.
It’s not the only option being considered. The league recently approved a plan for a 16-team playoff, part of a contingency plan if a COVID-19 outbreak affects the regular-season schedule.
The NFL is already in danger of losing billions of dollars in revenue because of the pandemic. If it doesn't handle things correctly for the rest of the year and during the playoffs, it will be far worse.