We knew this NFL season would be one unlike any other, but I’m not sure most fans would have expected all the chaos that occurred Week 12. The Baltimore Ravens headlined news with 20 players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, which included key players like MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. Their highly anticipated matchup against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers was originally slated for a Thanksgiving night game but was rescheduled three times and eventually played Wednesday afternoon. This also forced the league to reschedule both teams’ Week 13 matchups.
COVID-19 also negatively impacted the Denver Broncos, who had to play against the New Orleans Saints with zero quarterbacks, and the San Francisco 49ers, who have had to move all operations to Arizona for the time being. The setbacks that certain teams have faced raise the question about if the league should account for potential competitive advantages when rescheduling games. Commissioner Roger Goodell has insisted that all the decisions the league makes are based on player and staff safety, and are not impacted by business or competitive influences.
The Ravens have had the largest outbreak so far this season, which put one of the biggest rivalries in football on hold for almost a week. Baltimore had to play with backup quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and TikTok sensation Trace McSorley, who threw his first touchdown of his professional career Wednesday afternoon. Tight end Mark Andrews as well as running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram II were some of the other key players on the reserve/COVID-19 list and were unable to play. Pittsburgh’s poor play and Baltimore’s defense made it a closer game than anticipated, but the Steelers pulled off the win 19–14. The Ravens went 10 straight days with at least one positive test, which is why the league kept pushing the matchup back. It was the second NFL game on a Wednesday since 1948, which forced Baltimore’s Thursday night Week 13 game against the Dallas Cowboys to the following Tuesday and Pittsburgh’s game versus the Washington Football Team to Monday. It has been difficult to keep track of all these changes, but so far, the NFL has been able to make up all postponed games.
When the league postponed the Ravens-Steelers matchup, it only considered whether it was dangerous from a health standpoint to play. Because there was an outbreak with multiple cases within the Ravens organization, it posed a risk to both players and staff to play the game on its original date. For the Denver Broncos, all of their four quarterbacks were ruled out for their game against the New Orleans Saints after failing to wear masks around quarterback Jeff Driskel, who tested positive. Because the exposure was contained to just the quarterbacks, the NFL decided to play the game on its original date, which caused the Broncos to have to call up Kendall Hinton from the practice squad. A month ago, Hinton was searching for a sales job, and suddenly he became the starting quarterback because of his two years of experience at the position while at Wake Forest University. Hinton threw for 13 yards and had two interceptions, which allowed the Saints to prevail 31–3. The disadvantage that the Broncos faced has led many to question the NFL’s decision to play the game, and if it should consider postponing games to give each team a more equal playing field.
Surprisingly, the most underrated piece of news that came out of Week 12 was the 49ers’ being forced to play elsewhere due to Santa Clara County, home of the 49ers’ stadium, outlawing contact sports. The 49ers came to an agreement with the NFL and Arizona Cardinals that allows them to host their Week 13 and 14 home games at the Cardinals’ stadium. The current ban put in place by Santa Clara County is only three weeks long, but if the infection rate continues to worsen, there is a good chance that their Week 17 game against the Seattle Seahawks will also be played in Arizona.
With 2020 being the crazy year it has been, it is no surprise that the NFL would deal with its own uncertainties caused by the pandemic. Teams knew from the beginning that if they wanted to have a season, they would have to adapt and roll with the challenges that were thrown their way. It is already hard enough for the league to deal with addressing outbreaks and rescheduling games to limit the spread, but taking into consideration competitive advantages while also having a complete season would be nearly impossible. For the Broncos, only the quarterbacks were at risk for contracting the virus, which meant that it was safe for the rest of the team to play. Even though it is an unfortunate situation that the team had to deal with, organizations must prepare for situations like these and remind their players to follow public health guidelines in order to be successful on the field this season.