With the NFL passing an in-case-of-emergency amended playoff bracket and having a tentative Week 18 in place in case games need to be rescheduled, the league is planning ahead. Its months-long anti-bubble stance remains, but the prospect of one taking place in the postseason has not been ruled out. The NFL will consider holding conference championship games at neutral-site bubbles, according to Mark Maske of the Washington Post. Like the 16-team bracket, this would be a contingency plan. Should the NFL proceed with bubbles for its penultimate postseason round, Maske notes warm-weather cities would be the likely sites.
Here is the latest on the NFL’s navigation of the coronavirus pandemic:
- As cases spike nationally, the NFL has seen a significant uptick as well this month. Forty-seven percent of the league’s positive coronavirus tests this season came during November’s first two weeks, CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones notes. As such, the NFL is bracing for more COVID-related trouble after Thanksgiving. The league expects cases to surge after the holiday, with high-ranking execs informing Jones the bulk of its cases thus far this season occurred because of in-home gatherings. No games have been rescheduled since Week 7, but given the protocol adjustments and postseason contingency plan, the league appears to be preparing for postponements to re-emerge.
- Beginning Saturday, all NFL teams will be thrust into the intensive COVID-19 protocol. The recently implemented higher-security format will be the new norm, per NFL.com’s Judy Battista. Positive tests were previously necessary to move teams into the intensive protocol — which calls for all meetings to be held virtually, masks to be worn at all times at team facilities and no player congregation to occur outside of teams’ headquarters — but the league’s Thanksgiving-related concerns have prompted precautions.
- The Bengals were without four coaches during their Week 10 game against the Steelers and will be without three staffers this weekend as well. Cincinnati cornerbacks coach Steve Jackson, wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell and safeties coach Robert Livingston will not be with the team in Washington due to COVID-19 protocols, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Last week, the Bengals were without Jackson, Bicknell, linebackers coach Al Golden and senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner. Bengals DC Lou Anarumo will assume more responsibility this weekend, per the team, in overseeing the team’s defensive backs.
- Former Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton will be back in the Cowboys‘ starting lineup this week, but he has not yet fully recovered from the coronavirus. The 10th-year veteran developed symptoms and has not fully regained his taste and smell senses, via Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News (on Twitter). Dalton’s wife and one of his sons also contracted the virus. The Cowboys activated Dalton from their reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday.