Cleveland Browns suffer COVID-19 outbreak before the team’s first playoff appearance since 2002

Cleveland Browns suffer COVID-19 outbreak before the team’s first playoff appearance in 17 years as head coach Kevin Stefanski and two players test positive – but the NFL says the game will NOT be postponed

  • The Browns are facing a COVID-19 outbreak ahead of Sunday’s playoff game as head coach Kevin Stefanski, two assistants, and two players have tested positive
  • NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero is reporting that the Browns’ two infected players are Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge 
  • Sunday’s Wild Card round playoff game against the rival Steelers in Pittsburgh will be Cleveland’s first playoff appearance since the 2002 season 
  • Per NFL rules, anyone who tests positive must sit out no fewer than 10 days, meaning that Stefanski can only return this season if Cleveland wins on Sunday
  • A league spokesman said there are no plans to postpone the game at this time

The Cleveland Browns have suffered a COVID-19 outbreak ahead of the team’s first playoff game since 2002 as head coach Kevin Stefanski, two assistant coaches, and two players have tested positive.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is expected to fill in for Stenfaksi when the team plays the rival Steelers in Pittsburgh on Saturday night. Tight ends coach Drew Petzing and defensive backs coach Jeff Howard also tested positive, although the infected players have not been officially revealed. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero is reporting that the two infected players are Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge.

Currently the Browns practice facility is closed while the team conducts contact tracing. Per NFL rules, anyone who tests positive must sit out no fewer than 10 days, meaning that Stefanski can only return this season if Cleveland beats Pittsburgh on Saturday.   

The Cleveland Browns have suffered a COVID-19 outbreak ahead of the team's first playoff game since 2002 as head coach Kevin Stefanski, two assistant coaches, and two players have tested positive. Tight ends coach Drew Petzing and defensive backs coach Jeff Howard also tested positive, although the infected players have not been revealed

The Cleveland Browns have suffered a COVID-19 outbreak ahead of the team’s first playoff game since 2002 as head coach Kevin Stefanski, two assistant coaches, and two players have tested positive. Tight ends coach Drew Petzing and defensive backs coach Jeff Howard also tested positive, although the infected players have not been revealed

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski will need to stay away from the team for at least 10 days

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski will need to stay away from the team for at least 10 days 

Browns wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge is among the two Cleveland players with coronavirus, according to NFL Network

Browns guard Joel Bitonio is reportedly infected

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero is reporting that the two infected players are Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio (right) and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge (left)

The NFL currently has no plans to postpone Saturday’s game, according to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.

‘There’s no change to the status of the game,’ McCarthy told DailyMail.com in an email. ‘We are continuing to conduct standard contact tracing to identify any possible high-risk close contacts. 

‘If any players or personnel are identified as such, they would remain apart from the team and facilities for five days from the last exposure to a positive individual. They would be eligible to return to the team and play in the game.’ 

The league has not postponed games for competitive reasons amid the pandemic. Rather, games have been postponed — in some cases several times — when it was thought that an internal team outbreak could be transmitted on the field of play.  

The outbreak isn’t anything new for the Browns (11-5) who beat the AFC Central champion Steelers, 24-22, on Sunday to qualify for the playoffs. 

Cleveland was without six players and three coaches in the victory due to COVID-19 and contact tracing, including cornerback Denzel Ward, tight end Harrison Bryant, linebackers Malcolm Smith and B.J. Goodson, and safety Andrew Sendejo.

Genomic sequencing tests have since determined that those infections include unrelated cases of COVID-19, according to a source familiar with the testing process. Similar tests will be conducted for the Browns’ newest infections.  

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is expected to fill in for Stenfaksi when the team plays the rival Steelers in Pittsburgh on Saturday night

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is expected to fill in for Stenfaksi when the team plays the rival Steelers in Pittsburgh on Saturday night

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