The 2020-21 NFL season had to have at least one crazy COVID-19 story in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, it happened to the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns, making their first playoff appearance in 18 years, found out Tuesday that head coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive and won’t be able to coach this weekend.
Stefanski was one of five Browns who tested positive on Tuesday and will have to sit out the game. The Browns will also be without two other members of the coaching staff and two players.
Imagine the heartbreak for those five individuals. Stefanski was an assistant for 14 years before finally getting his shot to be a head coach, he got the Browns to the playoffs and now he can’t even coach them in a playoff game. The other four have to be crushed as well.
Titans (+3.5) over Ravens
This was the most surprising line of wild-card weekend.
There has been a lot of negativity surrounding the Ravens all season, with talk of them and quarterback Lamar Jackson taking a step back. The Titans soundly beat the Ravens in the divisional round last season. Tennessee had another fine season, with Derrick Henry rushing for more than 2,000 yards. They beat the Ravens again in overtime this regular season.
Yet, the Ravens are favored by more than a field goal on the road.
It’s not unjustified. Baltimore has played very well lately, though the schedule did get a lot easier. The Ravens are running the ball like they did last season, capped by a 404-yard rushing day against the Bengals in Week 17. The Titans defense is not good, and they’ll have trouble stopping Baltimore.
Still, this is a good Titans team. Ryan Tannehill has played well for two seasons and he has weapons around him. This game has the highest total over wild-card weekend at 54.5 and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it go over. This should be a high-scoring, fun game.
It’s hard to pass on the Titans getting more than a field goal. They’ve shown they match up well against Baltimore. This could end up being the best game of the weekend.
Saints (-10) over Bears
The Bears are the reason the expanded playoffs will ultimately not be a good idea.
The Bears went 8-8. They had a six-game losing streak during the season. When the Bears could have clinched their own playoff spot with a win in Week 17, they lost by 19 points at home. They backed into the playoffs because the Arizona Cardinals lost and because the NFL has seven teams in each conference. Expanded playoffs will reward mediocre teams more often than not. And the Bears are mediocre at best.
The Saints can’t be happy to be playing on wild-card weekend again, but they learned a lesson last season. They were disappointed that a 13-3 record didn’t get a bye. The Minnesota Vikings came to the Superdome and upset the Saints in overtime. New Orleans is not going to make that mistake again. Also, receiver Michael Thomas has returned to practice and Alvin Kamara should be able to play after sitting out last week on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
This is a big line for a playoff game, but it makes sense. If there’s going to be one blowout this weekend, this is it.
Steelers (-6) over Browns
The Browns are not the Detroit Lions. They’re a much, much better football team.
Yet, we saw one game this season in which a team lost its head coach and key members of its coaching staff due to COVID-19 protocols. It was the Lions in Week 16, and they put forth one of the worst NFL games you’ll ever see a team play in a blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs led 34-0 at halftime.
The Browns are better equipped to be without Kevin Stefanski. Tight ends coach Drew Petzing and defensive backs coach Jeff Howard will also miss the game, Cleveland.com said. Guard Joel Bitonio and receiver KhaDarel Hodge were put on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Browns are hoping to get six players and three coaches who are on the list back for the game, Cleveland.com said, but they will be shorthanded. And their practice schedule has been disrupted. It should be obvious that this all has a negative effect on the Browns.
The Steelers struggled after an 11-0 start. But I can’t pick a team without its head coach in a road playoff game.
Pittsburgh would have been a fair pick even without the Browns’ COVID-19 issues. They got to rest some key players last week and still almost pulled off a win over the Browns. The Browns might be coming down off a big emotional high. This is still a Steelers team that, despite its flaws that were exposed over the last five weeks, went 12-4 in the regular season.
It would be better if we were analyzing this game without anyone being shelved due to the coronavirus. But these types of stories have been an unfortunate part of this crazy season.
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