It is no question that for the second consecutive year, COVID-19 has impacted the NFL season, including win/loss records and the NFL schedule. While the league has managed the crisis well throughout the season, there have been a large number of breakouts in the past few weeks, which has hurt several teams.
According to Adam Schefter, there were 262 positive cases around the NFL last year in total, while there were 400 positive cases in December 2021 alone. Each week it seems as though more and more Pro Bowl-caliber players are ending on the COVID list and missing important games down the stretch, such as Kirk Cousins, who missed Sunday night’s division matchup against the Packers.
The large number of players missing time with COVID has affected more than just your fantasy team’s championship game, as it has had a largely negative impact on a number of teams who have had to craft up game plans and replace personnel from week-to-week while missing key pieces. Though some players have been able to come off of the list and play last minute, it has still kept a lot of players out each week. No teams have been more affected by the virus than the Saints, Browns, Football Team, Jets, and Jaguars during the 2021 season.
Like most teams, the Browns have had to face numerous cases throughout the season but were bombarded with cases headed into their Week 15 matchup with the Raiders.
They were scheduled to play on Saturday of that weekend, but COVID cases caused the game to be moved to the following Monday, which still was not ideal for either team. Both rosters were ultimately depleted for a game that had large playoff implications for both teams. Even with the game pushed out to Monday, Cleveland was missing 18 players, including their top two QBs, Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum, which led to Nick Mullens starting in an eventual loss.
Washington Football Team
The Washington Football Team has had a rough year for several reasons, particularly due to injury, and most recently due to the COVID IR. In Week 15, the Football Team, whose playoff hopes were still somewhat alive, suffered a loss to the division-rival Eagles after their game was pushed to a Tuesday matchup due to the number of COVID cases.
The Football Team was out many key starters and was most strapped at the QB position, where they had to sign Garrett Gilbert off of the Practice Squad to make the start, with the other QBs on the roster being out. The Week 15 outbreak was not all for the WFT, as they suffered another outbreak going into Week 17, another matchup with the Eagles. They were without two of their starting OL, Ereck Flowers, and Samuel Cosmi, and were without their starting RB Antonio Gibson. Predictably, they struggled to generate much offensively in that outing, leading to another loss.
New Orleans Saints
Throughout the season, Sean Payton and company have dealt with a lot of different injury and COVID cases, making their job to field a full roster each week even more difficult. Throughout the season, they were without players such as Cam Jordan and Mark Ingram due to COVID. However, the rest of the season looked like nothing in terms of COVID compared to what they faced in Week 17.
The virus completely depleted their roster as they were without around half of their starting defense, including Malcolm Jenkins and DeMario Davis. They also did not have All Pro tackle Ryan Ramczyk and their remaining top two QBs, Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian. They were forced to play the Monday night game against the Dolphins with a total of 17 players out from COVID, an important game that they ended up losing handily.
New York Jets
The Jets have gone through a number of hardships this year, as they have caught the injury bug all season long to some key starters — especially their highly valued rookies and free-agent signings. Towards the back half of the season, they could not escape the COVID bug either, as they had 18 players hit the COVID list going to their Week 16 matchup with the Jaguars, in addition to head coach Robert Saleh.
Although they still pulled out the victory in Week 16, they were very thin at multiple positions, including OL, CB, and WR. They were especially thin at TE as well, where backup swing tackle Connor McDermott played some snaps as an extra lineman/TE, and actually caught a TD. In Week 17, where they were matched up with the defending Super Bowl champs, they were without 4 other starters, including Tyler Kroft and Quinnen Williams.
The Jaguars’ season has been a unique one, as they have a seemingly different roster week-to-week, are without their HC, and have the former No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence struggling through his rookie season.
Their season has not been defined by COVID, but it has had a large impact. Like the Jets in their matchup of bottom-dwellers last week, Jacksonville was without 14 players, including key starters Josh Allen and Laviska Shenault. Then, going into their matchup with New England this past Sunday, they were without 13 players while missing starting OT Cam Robinson and LB K’Lavon Chaisson.
While many more teams have been affected by COVID all season, these late outbreaks across the league have had a major impact on these five teams more than others. We will continue to monitor all of these cases and missed games as the regular season finishes up. Player and coach health is always important, but it will be of even greater importance as the season heads toward the playoffs.