- Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, two players, and two coaches tested positive for COVID-19.
- As a result, they will not be available for Sunday’s Wild Card game at Heinz Field against the Steelers.
- The spread line for the Browns at Steelers wild card game has increased from 3 to 6 in the aftermath of positive tests.
The Cleveland Browns’ finally ended the NFL’s longest playoff drought. However, the road to earning their first playoff appearance since 2002 wasn’t easy.
Star wide receiver Odell Beckham tore his ACL in Week 7 and missed the rest of the season. Then their playoff hopes took a hit when they played their Week 16 games against the Jets without their entire receiver corps due to COVID-19. Last weekend, they played without six starters and three coaches as more COVID-19 positive tests emerged. Despite those, the Browns clinched a wild card spot. But now that they are in the postseason, more challenges lie ahead.
More Positive Tests
Kevin Stefanski and 4 others test positive for COVID ahead of wild card weekendhttps://t.co/aD8DTXXm6H
— FanSided (@FanSided) January 5, 2021
As if facing the Steelers at full strength this time around isn’t big enough for a challenge, the Browns will head to that game without head coach Kevin Stefanski, Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio, tight ends coach Drew Petzing, defensive backs coach Jeff Howard, and reserve wideout KhaDarel Hodge, who all have tested for the COVID-19 virus.
With this development, the spread line for Sunday’s wild card game has continued to increase from the opening line of +3 points for the Browns to +4.5 to +6.0 points, depending on which online sportsbook you trust. Per William Hill and SportsBetting.ag, the spread line is now listed at +6 for the Cleveland Browns after Stefanski tested positive for COVID-19.
According to the NFL on Tuesday, contact tracing is still ongoing and there is no change to the status of the Browns at Steelers game which is scheduled for Sunday. That means the line could continue to increase additional coaches and/or players from the Brown will be declared unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols.
Ending the Drought
Joel Bitonio is the longest tenured player on the #Browns. Kevin Stefanski gave him the game ball after Sunday’s win. Now they both test positive.pic.twitter.com/RCJmq41zSZ
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) January 5, 2021
Stefanski is credited for ending the Browns’ 18-year playoff drought. In his first season as head coach, the 38-year old former Minnesota Vikings assistant coach led Cleveland to its first 11-win season since 1994 by improving last year’s win-total by five games. However, he will not be on the sidelines when the team plays it long-awaited return to the postseason. Nor will Stefanski be in the club’s biggest practice sessions this week.
According to a team statement on Tuesday, the Browns said that Special Teams coordinator Mike Priefer will fill in as acting head coach. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt is expected to call the plays in Stefanski’s place. Van Pelt called the offensive plays during training camp and was supposed to call them at some point during the season although that did not happen.
Tuesday’s COVID-19 positive tests marks the third consecutive week where Cleveland will be compromised due to COVID-19 protocols. Two weeks ago, the Browns played without all four of their wide receivers after they were exposed to linebacker B.J. Goodson. During last week’s season finale, the Browns played without six starters including star cornerback Denzel Ward plus offensive lines coaches Bill Callahan and Scott Peters and wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea. Some of them might be available this weekend, if they test negative. However, there’s no way Stefanski will make it on Sunday and that’s the one that hurts the most.