Dec 26, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Micah Parsons (11) rushes against Washington Football Team offensive tackle Sam Cosmi (76) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dr. Allen Sills: NFL bracing for COVID surge as playoffs begin

There’s one wildcard the NFL expects to crash the playoffs: COVID-19.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said on Thursday that overseas patters of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus indicate the NFL should brace for high numbers the next “2-3 weeks.”

“When we start talking about projecting where we’re going to be, I like to quote that great medical scientist Yogi Berra, who says it’s really difficult to make projections, especially about the future,” Sills said in an NFL Network interview. “If we’ve learned anything, it’s that COVID can take us a lot of different directions. If this follows the trend we’ve seen in other countries, we do expect there will be a rapid decline with Omicron.

“I would see us being in the thick of this the next 2-3 weeks. Then hopefully seeing declining cases as we get later in our playoffs. We’ve been wrong about where this thing goes before.”

Several prominent players were among the lot added to the COVID/reserve list this week, including front-and-center starters for playoff teams such as Bengals running back Joe Mixon, Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith and Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons.

Parsons is officially out for Sunday’s game and won’t travel to Philadelphia with the team.

Protocol for COVID-19 testing and return to play shifted along with CDC guidelines shortening quarantine periods from 10 days to five days.

For playoff teams, that makes next Tuesday and Wednesday critical for testing, although asymptomatic, vaccinated players can be cleared before the five-day quarantine window.

An unvaccinated player testing positive next Tuesday would not be cleared to return for a Saturday wild-card game. The same is true of Wednesday testing for players scheduled to play wildcard Sunday.

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday the team is opening hotel rooms at the team headquarters, The Star, for players planning to create a “bubble” environment for the playoffs.

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA;  Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) warms up before a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Bears’ Justin Fields, Panthers’ Stephon Gilmore enter COVID protocol

Quarterback Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears and cornerback Stephon Gilmore of the Carolina Panthers were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday in advance of their teams’ season finales this weekend.

Both the Bears and Panthers have been eliminated from playoff contention in the NFC.

Fields didn’t play in a Week 17 victory over the New York Giants because of an ankle injury, but coach Matt Nagy had said Wednesday that Fields would start this weekend when the Bears (6-10) face the Vikings (7-9) in Minnesota.

The starting job Sunday will fall to veteran Andy Dalton if Fields isn’t released from the protocol before game time.

Fields, the No. 11 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, is 2-8 as a starter. He’s completed just 58.9 percent of his pass attempts for 1,870 yards with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Gilmore, acquired by the Panthers in a trade with the New England Patriots in October, has played in eight games (three starts) for Carolina. The 31-year-old, a two-time All-Pro, had two interceptions, two passes defensed and 16 tackles on the season.

The Panthers also on Thursday placed rookie wide receiver Shi Smith on the COVID list. He has six catches for 104 yards in six games.

The Panthers (5-11) will end their season Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4).

–Field Level Media

Dec 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; (Editors Notes: Caption Correction) Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings activate QB Kirk Cousins from COVID list

The Minnesota Vikings activated quarterback Kirk Cousins from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday, and coach Mike Zimmer said the veteran will start Sunday in the season finale.

Cousins, who is unvaccinated, tested positive last week for the virus. He missed the team’s Week 17 game, a 37-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Zimmer said Wednesday that Minnesota’s starters will play on Sunday against the Chicago Bears (6-10), even though the Vikings (7-9) have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Sean Mannion made his first start of the season against the Packers, throwing for 189 yards and a touchdown.

On the season, the 33-year-old Cousins has completed 66.4 percent of his throws for 3,971 yards with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 15 starts.

–Field Level Media

Jan 2, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) celebrates while leaving the field after the game against the Washington Football Team at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles place 12 players on COVID-19 list

The Philadelphia Eagles had 12 players test positive for COVID-19 on Monday, including defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and center Jason Kelce, according to NFL Network.

Every player has a chance to return for the team’s Week 18 game under the updated protocols, according to the report.

However, the Eagles have already clinched a playoff spot and the talk on Monday revolved around whether the team would rest its starters anyway. The Eagles (9-7), owners of the seventh and final wild card spot in the NFC, host the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday.

“We’re talking through all that still. We haven’t decided anything there yet. We don’t have to decide right now,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said Monday.

Tight end Dallas Goedert is also one of the positive cases, the report stated, while linebacker Genard Avery, safety Marcus Epps, guard Nate Herbig, running back Jordan Howard, cornerback Avonte Maddox, safety Rodney McLeod, running back Boston Scott, linebacker Alex Singleton and tight end Jack Stoll all were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Sirianni also said second-year linebacker Davion Taylor is done for the season. He was put on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury in Week 11 against New Orleans. He started six games this season.

In other moves Monday, the Eagles activated cornerback Andre Chachere from the reserve/COVID-19 list and released kicker Matt McCrane from the practice squad.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) runs the ball in the fourth quarter against the Washington Football Team at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Broncos’ COVID list grows to 16, including Jerry Jeudy, Bradley Chubb

The Denver Broncos added five more players to the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday as they deal with an outbreak ahead of their Week 17 game at the Los Angeles Chargers.

Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, defensive lineman McTelvin Agim and linebackers Bradley Chubb, Jonathon Cooper and Baron Browning were placed on the list.

Jeudy, Chubb and Browning are starters. Denver coach Vic Fangio told reporters that those three, plus Agim, tested positive.

Other Broncos on the list that numbers 16 include wide receiver Tim Patrick, running back Mike Boone and cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Mike Ford. But the Broncos aren’t concerned they will be too short-handed to play.

“I’m zeroed in on a Sunday kickoff,” Fangio told reporters. “Until I’m told otherwise, I’m ready for a 1:05 (p.m.) kickoff West Coast time.

The Broncos called up four players from the practice squad as COVID-19 replacements, including Travis Fulgham, who led the Philadelphia Eagles in receiving last season.

Jeudy has hauled in 36 catches for 437 yards this season, his second in the NFL, over nine games (five starts). Chubb has started all six of his appearances in 2021; both players, former first-round draft picks, have missed time due to injuries.

Also, starting receiver Courtland Sutton’s testing results haven’t been confirmed and he could be added to the list. The team held Sutton out of Friday’s walkthrough practice.

Defensive line coach Bill Kollar is also on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the only Denver coach in protocol as of Friday.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) catches the ball for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers activate WR Mike Evans from COVID protocol

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers activated receiver Mike Evans from the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday, potentially clearing the way for him to play Sunday against the New York Jets.

He is still recovering from a hamstring strain he sustained in Week 15, and the team did not say whether he’d be ready for action when the Buccaneers (11-4) visit the Jets (4-11).

Evans, 28, missed the Week 16 win against the Carolina Panthers because of the injury, then entered the health and safety protocol on Monday.

The Buccaneers also placed punter Bradley Pinion on the COVID list Friday, where he joins three others: wide receiver Jaelon Darden and cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting.

Evans is the Buccaneers’ second-leading receiver behind Chris Godwin, who is on injured reserve and out for the season. Evans has 899 yards and a team-leading 11 touchdowns. Those 11 scoring catches rank second in the NFL to the 14 by the Los Angeles Rams’ Cooper Kupp.

Already the first player in NFL history to begin his career with seven straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons, Evans is just 101 yards shy of making it eight in a row.

Pinion, 27, started the first 14 games of the season but was sidelined in Week 16 because of a right hip issue. He has a gross average of 42.4 yards and a net average of 38.5 yards on 53 punts this year — with 23 of them downed inside the 20 and two touchbacks.

–Field Level Media

Aug 27, 2020; Englewood, Colorado, USA; A general view of the Denver Broncos logo outside of UCHealth Training Center where practice was cancelled after a morning team meeting. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Broncos cancel practice after five more positive COVID-19 tests

The Denver Broncos canceled practice Thursday amid a new batch of players testing positive for COVID-19.

Coach Vic Fangio said the team had five positive tests, but he didn’t name the players because of the possibility of false positives The news came after four players, including starting receiver Tim Patrick, tested positive Wednesday.

Fangio said virtual meetings were set for Thursday afternoon.

The team could hold practice on Friday and Saturday in advance of their game Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers.

Before Thursday’s tests, the Broncos (7-8) had reported 23 positive tests since Oct. 24.

Nose tackle Mike Purcell and center Lloyd Cushenberry III have been activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list and are expected to play Sunday.

The game against the Chargers (8-7) has playoff implications, but Los Angeles has a far better chance of earning a wild-card berth. While not officially eliminated, the Broncos have less than a 1 percent chance of advancing, The New York Times reported.

–Field Level Media

Dec 16, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) runs with the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers in the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Kelce off COVID list; Chiefs at full strength

The Kansas City Chiefs activated All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday.

That was just one piece of good news from head coach Andy Reid. The other: Everyone on the active roster is out of COVID-19 protocols.

The Chiefs had 14 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list over the past two weeks.

Kelce missed the Chiefs’ Week 16 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers after testing positive.

On the season, Kelce has caught 83 passes for 1,066 yards with seven touchdowns. This is his sixth straight season with at least 1,000 yards.

In his ninth season in Kansas City, Kelce has caught 695 career passes for 8,947 yards and 55 touchdowns. He’s also run for two scores.

The Chiefs (11-4) have clinched the AFC West title and are seeking the No. 1 seed, which brings home-field advantage and a bye week. On Sunday, they will meet the Bengals (9-6) in Cincinnati, then close out the season Jan. 9 with the Broncos in Denver.

–Field Level Media

Oct 11, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) passes the ball under pressure from Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) during the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens activate LB Justin Houston, three others; Lamar Jackson back

Baltimore activated four defensive players from the reserve/COVID-19 list before practice Wednesday.

Additionally, coach John Harbaugh said quarterback Lamar Jackson would practice on a limited basis, making his first appearance on the field since sustaining an ankle injury on Dec. 12 in a loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Now that they are off the COVID-19 list, outside linebacker Justin Houston, safety Geno Stone and inside linebackers Chris Board and Kristian Welch now will be available to play Sunday when the Ravens (8-7) travel west to play the Los Angeles Rams (11-4).

Cornerbacks Chris Westry and Jimmy Smith and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee were activated earlier this week. Starting outside linebacker Tyus Bowser and backup safety Ar’Darius Washington went on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday.

Sunday’s game is a must-win for the Ravens, who were 8-3 and in first place in the AFC North division on Nov. 28. They have lost four games since and now need to beat the Rams — and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18 — and get some help to earn a playoff spot.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians looks on against the New Orleans Saints during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians positive for COVID

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, possibly keeping him out of Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.

Assistant head coach and run-game coordinator Harold Goodwin will lead the team during Arians’ absence.

“I tested positive for COVID-19 this morning but have only experienced mild symptoms to this point,” Arians said in a statement. “Harold Goodwin will take over my duties during my absence. I have complete confidence in him and the rest of our coaching staff to prepare the team for this week’s game against the Jets. I look forward to rejoining the team and being back in the facility as soon as I can test back in.”

Arians, 69, took over as Tampa Bay’s coach in 2019 and won Super Bowl LV with the team last season. He is a two-time winner of the AP NFL Coach of the Year award — in 2012, when he took over the Indianapolis Colts’ coach job while Chuck Pagano underwent cancer treatment, and in 2014 while coaching the Arizona Cardinals.

The Bucs also announced that cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting were added to the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Dean has made 13 appearances (11 starts) in 2021 and has 40 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions. Murphy-Bunting has started all seven games he’s appeared in this year after missing an early chunk of the season with a dislocated elbow.

Both players are in their third season in the NFL.

–Field Level Media