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Armando Salguero: NFL Seemingly Whips COVID’s Butt, Coincidently, Just In Time For The Playoffs

The headlines in the Washington Post and on the NFL’s own in-house site, NFL.com, were ominous a few weeks ago

“As NFL playoffs approach, growing coronavirus issues threaten competitive balance,” the Post headline warned.

“The task to complete [the] regular season, not to mention the postseason that is to follow, has become daunting in recent weeks as the league deals with a major surge in coronavirus cases attributable to the growing prevalence of the Omicron variant,” the article read.

Oooh, scary.

“The Omicron variant exploded upon the NFL starting on Monday,” an NFL.com article on Dec. 20 read, “sending 163 players into quarantine by Saturday.”

Yikes!

An NFL source, citing league numbers, told OutKick that 476 players were placed on the COVID-19 reserve list from Dec. 13-27, and that was a concern because a large majority of those players — nearly 80 percent — were vaccinated.

More shocking is how that 476 compared to the 428 players who were placed on the COVID-19 reserve list the entirety of the 2020 season when there was no vaccine, thus not one player was vaccinated.

So the NFL expected bad things just in time for the playoffs, and to brace for the blow, it granted teams in the playoffs unlimited promotions from the practice squad during the 2021 postseason.

Except, the playoffs are here.

And Coronarmegeddon hasn’t manifested.

Twelve teams played six games during Wild Card Weekend, and it’s hard to argue even one was so adversely affected by a COVID-19 reserve list loss that it changed anything.

Seven of the 12 teams didn’t report even one COVID-19 reserve list addition. The other five teams had a total of seven players added to the list the entire week.

Only one starter — Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills — missed his team’s playoff game because he remained on a the COVID-19 reserve list.

That has been followed by a week of practice amid freezing cold temperatures in NFL outposts such as Green Bay, Buffalo, and Kansas City, and there’s not one peep about a COVID-19 reserve list addition that might significantly affect a game.

The big COVID news in the NFL Thursday?

The Bengals placed linebacker Joe Bachie on the COVID-19 reserve list. Bachie wasn’t playing Saturday against the Tennessee Titans anyway because the reserve linebacker has been on injured reserve and out for the season after tearing his ACL December 19 against the Denver Broncos.

When reserve cornerback Greg Mabin popped positive and was added to the Titans’ COVID-19 reserve list on Wednesday, there was concern more positives might be coming in Tennessee. But that didn’t happen on Thursday.

The Bills placed defensive lineman Eli Ankou on the COVID-19 reserve list, but the practice squad player was not expected to play against the Chiefs.

So not only have the NFL’s COVID-19 reserve list numbers plummeted during the playoffs, this week the coronavirus is apparently only picking on backups, practice squad players and guys already out for the season with an injury.

Omicron may have taken a good swing at the NFL a month ago, but it’s suddenly looking more like Omicrock since the playoffs began.

What’s going on?

Coincidence?

Is the NFL postseason a cure for COVID-19?

OutKick asked league spokesmen to comment Thursday and received no response prior to publication.

And because no one took five minutes to write me an email, let’s begin trying to find reasons the NFL is whipping Corona’s butt in the postseason with the conspiracy theory first:

The NFL postseason is the sport’s greatest time. It’s when most eyes are glued to the sport. CBS said viewership for the Cowboys-49ers playoff game Sunday averaged 41.5 million and was the most watched playoff game since 2015.

So it’s in the best interest of the league to have all its stars and best players available for its biggest games. And that, interestingly, is exactly what has been happening so far.

This is not to suggest testing is rigged, but conspiracy theorists, it must be noted, have ammunition for their argument. Consider Jan. 10.

On Jan. 10 only two players — Patriots DB Shaun Wade and 49ers practice squad QB Tyler Bray — were placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. That was it.

Two guys. It was the lowest number of positive tests on a Monday since late November.

That day was also the first day following the regular season. And it was the first day playoff teams began preparations for their Wild Card Weekend games.

Now let’s examine a more likely reason for the lower COVID numbers: The NFL is no longer so freaked out about COVID.

In late December, amid growing COVID concerns around the country, the NFL revised its COVID protocols — and by “revised,” I mean “relaxed.”

The NFL shortened the quarantine period by half to match recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control.

Regular testing for vaccinated players and team staffers was discontinued unless someone reported symptoms. Interestingly, reports of symptoms plummeted the last two weeks.

The standard isolation period for asymptomatic players, coaches, or club staffers who tested positive was reduced from 10 days to five days, regardless of vaccination status.

“I think this is a new phase of the pandemic,” Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer said at the time. “We’ve got an evolving virus and a landscape that’s changing. And therefore, we’re going to need to evolve our solutions.”

Whatever the solution, the NFL playoffs have been a beneficiary.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

One Comment

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  1. Pretty obvious they changed the rules to make it easier to skirt them. I bet Aaron isn’t really getting regularly tested either. I am going to do a bit of prognosticating and say that no one in the NFL will die from Covid (excluding any 70+ year old owner….). I wouldn’t rule out dying from a heart attack though from the clot shot.

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