It’s safe to say that the 2020 NFL season has been anything but conventional. The biggest changes have been COVID-19-related; coaches are wearing masks, some players have opted-out, and some teams are playing in empty stadiums. There have also been some unexpected results, though. The New England Patriots are struggling for the first time in two decades, and the Cleveland Browns are within touching distance of a playoff berth.
Those Cleveland Browns, however, have just found themselves in a terrible situation. With a playoff appearance on the line, the team will be without four wide receivers thanks to COVID-19.
Even the NFL couldn’t completely avoid COVID-19 issues
Under normal circumstances, the NFL is popular and powerful enough to do more or less anything it wants. Dealing with COVID-19, however, is a different story.
Although the NFL was in the midst of its offseason when the coronavirus pandemic reached North America, the league still had to make some changes. In April, the 2020 NFL draft moved online; rather than an in-person event on the Las Vegas strip, Roger Goodell ran things virtually from his home office.
That audible, however, was only the beginning. As the season got closer, more changes needed to be made. The league canceled the preseason, reduced training camp rosters, and gave players the ability to opt-out of the 2020 campaign.
While things haven’t been perfect—several teams have had internal COVID-19 outbreaks, and a handful of games have needed to be rescheduled—the NFL has more or less gotten what they wanted. We’re heading into Week 16 of the regular season, and, barring any spectacular collapses, the playoffs are just around the corner.
COVID-19 decimates the Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver room
Throughout the 2020 NFL season, we’ve seen COVID-19 force teams to take the field without some talented players. The New England Patriots, for example, couldn’t dress Cam Newton against the Kansas City Chiefs; more recently, the Denver Broncos had to start a wide receiver at quarterback. Come Week 17, the Cleveland Browns will be the next team to make do with some significant absences.
As reported by ESPN’s Jake Trotter, contract tracing has decimated the Browns’ receiving corps ahead of Week 16’s visit to New York. “Starting receivers Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, along with key backups Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge, were all placed on the list after being identified as high-risk close contacts of a positive test,” he wrote.
That leaves only one wide receiver, Marvin Hall, on the Browns’ active roster. While they made some emergency call-ups to bolster the lineup, Baker Mayfield won’t exactly have a wealth of talent to work with on Sunday.
It’s the worst possible time for the Cleveland Browns to play without any wide receivers
You don’t have to be an NFL expert to realize that playing without four wide receivers isn’t an ideal situation. For the Cleveland Browns, however, this COVID-19 outbreak happened at the worst possible time.
As mentioned above, the Browns are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in what feels like an eternity. While a win over the lowly New York Jets wouldn’t necessarily secure a postseason berth, it would almost guarantee a Wild Card appearance, bumping their odds of making the playoffs to more than 90%, according to the New York Times.
If the Browns lose in Week 16, however, things get trickier. Cleveland faces the Pittsburgh Steelers in their season finale; with a loss to the Jets, that final game is probably a must-win for Baker Mayfield and his company. Based on the New York Times’ scenarios, losing both games would only give the Browns a 23% chance of making the playoffs.
In their recent history, the Cleveland Browns have experienced virtually every setback and failure imaginable. Missing the playoffs due to COVID-19 decimating the wide receiving corps, however, sounds like something that even a screenwriter couldn’t dream up.
If the Browns can overcome this obstacle and reach the postseason, however, their curse may be finally exorcised.