The NFL is in a bind as it comes to the Ravens-Steelers matchup on Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
The Ravens had two players test positive (Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins) that were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Then, more positive tests were announced on Tuesday (with names still to be announced) which made the league state once again that the game will be played on Thursday as scheduled.
The caveat, however, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, is that further positive tests could put the game in danger of being postponed.
If that’s the case, the league will be presented with its most difficult COVID-19 scheduling problem to date, as bye weeks for both the Ravens and Steelers have happened already.
The first option is to simply play the game as scheduled, which would mean the Ravens would be out at least six players due to the COVID-19 list for a game in two days. But while that’s the easiest option for the league, and the Steelers would no doubt hold a big advantage if the game were to be played on Thanksgiving night, it might not be possible.
COVID-19 tests can sometimes take five days to show up as positives, meaning Thursday’s game could be played with players who are positive but have yet to produce a positive test. The league showed, however, they’re willing to play games with outbreaks ongoing, like what happened with the 49ers and Packers a few weeks ago. Should this be the case, the league would have to be absolutely certain the spread has been identified, contained and stopped before both teams hit the field.
But if the game gets postponed, it seemingly could be moved back to Friday, Saturday or Sunday if the league chooses. It’s not clear what the NFL would prefer, or even how realistic an option moving the game back is. There is, however, a limit.
The Ravens are scheduled to host the Cowboys on Thursday in Week 13, seven days after playing the Steelers. They get a bit of a long week in Week 14 when they play the Browns on Monday Night Football 11 days later. The Cowboys play on Sunday in Week 14 and on Sunday Night Football in Week 15.
Meaning, the league could go without a Thursday Night Football game in Week 13 and instead put the Ravens on a normal week-to-week schedule with a weekend Ravens-Cowboys game.
The most drastic measure is, of course, a postponement of the game. If the Ravens produce more positive tests on Wednesday with the game postponed by the league and unable to be played over the weekend, there’s a few options.
Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported the league could have a 16-team playoff if games are lost (no games have been lost as of yet) and some teams are unable to play a full 16-game schedule.
The NFL could also institute a Week 18 to make up for the postponed game, which would present a bevy of options, including adding a bye in Week 17 for all teams who don’t need to makeup games to prevent a competitive disadvantage of a multiple-week bye.
For the Ravens, who are now in a fight for the playoffs, and the Steelers, who are fighting for the AFC’s top seed, each win is massively important down the stretch.
So whatever the league decides after the final results of tests come through, it’s not an enviable situation. Because of right now, all options are on the table.