No team in the NFL faced more issues this season because of COVID outbreaks in opposing teams than the Pittsburgh Steelers. But after getting shortchanged by the system multiple times during the regular season, there's no way they will have to deal with it again. Not this time of year.
The Browns announced today that head coach Kevin Stefanski, two other members of the coaching staff and two players tested positive for COVID-19. All of them have been ruled out for their playoff game against the Steelers this week and the Browns have shut down their facility.
The possibility of additional positives emerging remains omnipresent. But regardless of the outcome of subsequent tests, the NFL has no choice but to play this game as scheduled or, worst case, make the Browns forfeit the game to the Steelers. Either way, the NFL can't do what they did to the Steelers during the regular season in the playoffs.
Twice during the regular season, the Steelers had games postponed because their opponent had a COVID outbreak. It started in Week 4 when their game against the Titans was moved to Week 6 because of an outbreak within the Tennessee facilities. Pittsburgh's bye week was moved to Week 4 and because the decision to postpone the game happened later in the week, the Steelers had already been working out and preparing for the game, thus giving them essentially no bye week this season.
That paled in comparison to the mess that ensued around their game against the Ravens scheduled for Thanksgiving. Following a Ravens' outbreak that included Lamar Jackson getting COVID, the game was postponed multiple times and was ultimately played the following Wednesday. Steelers players were irate about the decision and rightfully so. Again, they had prepared for a game to be played on Thursday, didn't play until the following Wednesday, and then had to play again the next Monday. They suffered their first loss of the season in that game against Washington and lost two more after that.
There's no alternative for the NFL this time. They have to play the game as scheduled. Because it's the last game of the Wild Card round, they can't postpone it to later in the week. They certainly can't move it to Monday because that would be an unfair advantage to the team the Steelers or Browns face in the next round of the playoffs. Even if the Browns come back with more positives or contact tracing eliminates more players, there's no option except to play the game or force the team suffering an outbreak to forfeit the game. That's not what anyone wants, but there's also no alternative.