When the NFL season first kicked off almost three months ago, there was a lot of skepticism as to whether they’d be able to play a complete season without a bubble and with health experts warning of a spike in COVID-19 cases as the weather turned colder. We now know this spike the experts warned of has become a reality and it’s not sparing anyone, not even the NFL.
Week 12 saw the coronavirus wipe out an entire team’s quarterback roster, a single game was postponed three times, a team experienced positive COVID-19 tests for 10 straight days, a team lost a bye-week and long weekend and so much more. This concluded the longest week in NFL history after the first game was played at 12:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving day and the last game didn’t wrap up until the following Wednesday night. After all of this, the NFL still plans to play a complete season and finish on time. However, this raises new questions, most notably: what happened to all the promises and protocols put in place by the NFL to help prevent these scenarios and what’s next for the rest of the NFL season?
The NFL implemented fairly strict protocols for all organizations to follow, which included testing of all athletes, coaches and team personnel as well as strict mask guidelines for all teams to follow during games, practices, within team facilities and while traveling. These same mask policies were criticised for being too harsh at the beginning of the season when the NFL was handing out fines, some upwards of $500,000, to both coaches and organizations caught not wearing their masks. At this time, 18 games have been moved due to the virus and numerous players and staff have tested positive.
This past week was the most impacted by the virus. The Baltimore Ravens were scheduled to play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving night in what was bound to be a great matchup featuring the undefeated Steelers against their AFC rival. However, the Ravens wound up with a positive test that forced the NFL to push the game back and as more results came in, more positive tests were confirmed. In fact, the Ravens had positive tests for ten straight days. That game was moved three times before finally being played six days after the planned date. Among those testing positive was reigning MVP and Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson. They weren’t the first team however to have an internal outbreak of the virus. The Tennessee Titans experienced a similar scenario earlier in the season, however not on the same scale.
The issues didn’t stop there however. Santa Clara County, where the San Francisco 49ers play their home games has banned contact sports as cases there rise. As a result, the 49ers are working with the NFL to find an alternate site for their home games.
In such an unusual year, what happened to the Denver Broncos still caught the league and fans by surprise. All four of their quarterbacks were forced to quarantine or isolate due to possible exposure. As a result, they were forced to call up a practice squad wide receiver to play quarterback. That receiver, Kendall Hinton, was a Wake Forest graduate who hasn’t played quarterback in years. He was given just 24 hours notice of the move but attempted to make the most of a difficult situation.
While it remains unclear what the National Football League plans to do moving forward, questions remain unanswered as to how this season could finish on time. With cases skyrocketing around the country and states and counties enacting new rules and regulations every day, it is only a matter of time before the NFL may have to make difficult decisions about the remainder of the season.
On Dec. 2, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that he believed the current protocols put in place by the NFL are working and he sees no reason the NFL should have to move to the sort of bubble the NBA successfully used. It is important to note however, that the NFL has not ruled out anything but plans to adapt if necessary. All in all, it’s an unpredictable situation that will test the patience and discipline of the league, teams, players and of course the fans.