Nightmare COVID Outbreak For Browns as Playoffs Loom

The Cleveland Curse was broken for exactly two days. After making the playoffs for the first time since 2002, the probability of the Browns advancing to the divisional round just became slimmer. Cleveland announced it was closing its facility Tuesday after five members of the Browns tested positive for COVID-19. Among them are head coach Kevin Stefanski and three-time Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio.

Bitonio has spent his entire seven year career in Cleveland playing for four different head coaches and enduring both the 0-16 and 1-15 seasons under Hue Jackson. He, along with Stefanski, WR KhaDarel Hodge, a defensive back coach and tight end coach will miss Sunday’s wild-card game against the Steelers. Special teams coach Mike Priefer will now serve as Cleveland’s acting head coach.

The NFL is also in the process of contact tracing, though any close contacts who test negative all week would be in the clear given the early week timing of the positive tests. But the week is young and community spread in Cleveland, like most of the United States, is astronomical.

The Browns have been hit as hard as any team by COVID-19 this season. Baker Mayfield was placed on the COVID list in November after a staff member tested positive, and the entire wide receiver corps was sidelined during Week 16’s 23-16 loss to the New York Jets.

There has been no conversation about the NFL postponing the Browns-Steelers game and there probably won’t be given the quasi-bye a postponement would allow both teams. It would also be unfair for the winning team to play a divisional game on a shortened week.

But the conversation about whether the NFL should have bubbled up during the season or created mini-divisional bubbles in advance of the playoffs is certainly rages on.