Could this only happen to the Cleveland Browns?
Preparing for the franchise’s first postseason game in nearly 20 years, the Browns will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday night’s AFC Wild Card playoff game without head coach Kevin Stefanski. The first-year coach won’t be on the sideline after testing positive for COVID-19.
As the Browns announced, two other coaches and two players will also miss the game due to positive tests. Contact tracing is still ongoing, but there are no current plans to postpone Sunday night’s game. The Browns shut down their facility on Tuesday, the fifth time the team has done so in the past 10 days.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will take over head-coaching duties for Cleveland in Stefanski’s absence. ESPN’s Jake Trotter reports that play-calling will be done by offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
We were informed this morning that Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, two additional members of the coaching staff and two players have tested positive for COVID-19.
Our contingency planning calls for Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer to serve as the acting Head Coach. pic.twitter.com/Mhh9Zt1e4d
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) January 5, 2021
COVID-19 positives also affected the Browns for their Week 17 finale versus the Steelers. Six players missed the game, in addition to three coaches. Cleveland managed a 24-22 win that clinched the team’s first playoff bid since 2003, finishing with an 11-5 regular-season record and second-place tie in the AFC North.
The NFL certainly had difficulties with COVID-19 while trying to play its 2020 season amid a global pandemic. Several games were postponed throughout the schedule, getting pushed to Monday and Tuesday afternoons or moved to bye weeks. The Ravens played their Week 12 game without 14 players, including quarterback Lamar Jackson. That same week, the Denver Broncos were forced to play their game without any of their regular quarterbacks.
As could be expected, Stefanski being unavailable has affected the betting line for Sunday’s game. Pittsburgh was a 4.5-point favorite before the Stefanski news was reported, but the spread has gone up to six points.
Stefanski is the second NFL head coach to miss a game due to COVID-19. Detroit Lions interim coach Darrell Bevell missed his team’s Week 16 game due to NFL protocols.