The NFL was always going to have to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at some point this season. You’re talking about too many players and too many people, period, for a pretty contagious virus to pass the league by. To their credit, the league turned sluggish early planning into a surprisingly effective response, and through the first three weeks of the season only one positive case popped up, and that was Atlanta’s own A.J. Terrell.
Now the league is dealing with something a little larger, with five players and six staff members on the Titans testing positive, and more potentially on the way. In light of that, the league has decided not to have the Titans play the Steelers in Week 4, largely in the hopes that they can contain the outbreak before it sweeps across the league.
The #Titans' additional new positive cases came from Wednesday's round of COVID-19 testing, I'm told. It brings the total to 11 -- five players and six personnel -- in addition to the coach who tested positive late last week. Their facility is closed until further notice.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) October 1, 2020
Atlanta apparently dodged a viral bullet, given that Terrell was the only positive test last week, but this is a reminder that luck and caution are both critically important when you’re fighting something that’s effectively invisible and easy to spread. The NFL has had a hard time getting some coaches and teams to take the recommended precautions, and this will likely be a wakeup call for those teams, given that the last thing anyone wants is postponed or cancelled games.
The scheduling for this one will be interesting, too, but the NFL has already said it intends to announce a new date soon, potentially even before this weekend.
This change has a huge range of implications for the league, which now has to see how effective this response is and whether this proves to be an isolated problem or something that could imperil the season. It also has an impact on everyone’s fantasy teams if you happened to be carrying Steelers or Titans, but I hope that’s less important in the grand scheme of things to most of us. For those of us at home, all we can really do is wait and hope that this proves to be the one blip on an otherwise full slate, and that the league’s slow throttling down on locking fans out for games doesn’t lead to any outbreaks in the larger communities these teams play in.