The NFL is bracing for a post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 case spike across its players and personnel members that could throw the rest of the regular season out of whack.
That's according to multiple sources who believe the cases will only increase in the 10-14 days following the holiday. And it's what led to the NFL mandating all teams make the intensive protocol the default setting for the rest of the season beginning Saturday.
Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical doctor, told reporters the league has been conducting genomic testing on those who test positive for coronavirus to see if they got it from a teammate or within the team facility. "We can look to see if there's any linkage between those and we're not finding it," Sills said, adding that in most cases the virus comes from community spread.
A high-ranking source told me this week that the "overwhelming majority" of these player cases of community spread originate from having people over to their house. "Contact tracing is showing it's having guys over to their house, sitting indoors," the source said.
Since the start of the regular season, 47% of all COVID-19 cases among players and personnel were recorded in the first two weeks of November. That coincides with Halloween activities while the weather cools and activities move indoors.
That's what makes the upcoming holiday that much scarier for the NFL. It involves family and friends coming from different communities to sit indoors and eat without masks. But what the NFL cannot do -- and has no interest in doing publicly -- is mandate how players are to behave outside the facilities. NFL coaches will no doubt be issuing strong warnings to their players in meetings, but the league wants nothing to do with telling players how to conduct themselves during the holiday.
That's why the league has entered into the intensive protocol heading into Thanksgiving week. Among other things, the protocol requires masks at all times, all meetings to be held virtually and no gatherings of players or coaches away from the facilities. The league is aware COVID-19 will be entering team facilities more in the coming weeks, and the point is to identify and isolate it as quickly as possible to avoid a Titans-like outbreak.
"I don't know what more can be done," one league source told me Wednesday when I asked if the league is doing enough to keep players safe.
Take care of each other out there.
Senior Bowl on ... for now
More than 50 players have accepted invitations to January's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, but will there even be a Senior Bowl to play in?
As of now, that answer is yes. In the last month, two lesser all-star games have canceled due to concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Senior Bowl is full steam ahead for its Jan. 30 kickoff date.
"We are confident in our plan to keep everyone (players, coaches, staff) safe at this year's event but too many things can change so it's probably not in our best interest to share details at this time," Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said in an email.
The event will be stripped down to just practices and the game. It's unclear who will be tested and how frequent those tests will be. Also unclear is whether players will show up at the start of the practice week like usual or arrive days earlier and quarantine for a spell before joining in on-field activities.
The Senior Bowl practices normally take place following the conference championship games with the game being played the weekend before the Super Bowl. If there's a Week 18, or if there is an extra round in the playoffs, that bye week would evaporate.
Fingers are crossed around the league that the Senior Bowl will take place. There's less tape and information on top players this year than ever before. This would also be the first chance to take a look at several players who opted out of this year's college football season.
But last week the NFLPA canceled its 2021 Collegiate Bowl, and that came weeks after the East-West Shrine Bowl game was canceled. College teams are having a hard enough time safely putting a healthy roster of players on the field each Saturday, and these all-star events require players from all over the country to travel to Alabama for a week of competition.
It's a fluid situation, and many in the NFL community are hoping this essential element to the pre-draft process can be pulled off.
Hula Bowl also still on ... with details!
This week the Hula Bowl announced it is moving forward with its plans for the 2021 event in Honolulu. I asked for more details about how the event planners will keep participants safe and I got them.
Players will be required to quarantine before traveling to Hawaii, and state law requires anyone entering Hawaii to test negative from a "trusted testing and travel partner" to avoid a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. There will be rapid diagnostic tests for players there. The locker rooms will be equipped with Synexis 'Sentry' devices that sanitize locker rooms and minimizes the transmission of the virus. It's unclear how many NFL teams would be willing or able to send personnel to the event, though.
The game is scheduled to be played Jan. 31 and broadcast on CBS Sports Network.
20/20 vision on Jimmy G
I come away from Kyle Shanahan's endorsement of Jimmy Garoppolo unmoved. What else is he supposed to say?
On Tuesday, reporters asked the 49ers head coach about Garoppolo's long-term future in the Bay Area. Here's what Shanahan had to say:
"I expect Jimmy to be our starter next year. I expect him to come and play with us this year. We have six games left. We are not out of the playoffs yet. I've been on a team that was 3-6 going into a bye week and ended up winning their division. I think we have guys on this team capable of finishing this the right way. We've got to do one game at a time and I hope Jimmy can come back and be a part of that, but to think that we've made any decisions on somebody going into the future, this isn't the case. Jimmy has won a lot of games for us this year. It's a lot harder to win games when he's not here and I'm just hoping we can get him back."
Shanahan checked all the boxes here. The 49ers (4-6) are last in the toughest division in football but still in the hunt for the playoffs. You never want to lose your job while injured. And Garoppolo is still coming off a year where he was the quarterback of the NFC champions. He should be voicing confidence in Jimmy G.
But if the Niners want to move on, they'll have plenty of opportunities to do it. Garoppolo just turned 29 and has two years left on a deal with a cap hit around $27 million in each season. In the unlikely event that San Francisco cuts him, the dead cap hit is only $4.2 million over those two years.
The Niners would have the 12th pick in the draft if the standings froze. That's high enough to be in striking distance of any quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence in the draft. That's not including quarterbacks who will be looking for new homes like Sam Darnold and others.
For now, Shanahan should be saying that. And if Garoppolo isn't on the team in 2021, these comments will hardly come back to bite him.
Just a ho-hum 10-4 week for me. I feel very zoned into my picks lately. I think I'm seeing the whole field. My year-long record is now 98-47-1 but this Week 11 is humbling looking at the scheduling. I took Seattle on Thursday Night Football. And I got a rare Thursday night win! Now, let's get to the rest.
Without question the toughest game of the week to pick. Normally in these games, I default to who has the better quarterback, but both quarterbacks have been wildly underwhelming this year. Carson Wentz is actively hurting his team every other game while the coaching staff is doing its part to screw up the season on the other days. Last week it was the coaching staff. This week, it's Wentz.
The pick: Browns
Deshaun Watson is playing the best ball of his career while the franchise is a laughingstock and his best pass-catcher is enjoying the desert. Meanwhile, the Patriots may appear to be turning the corner. And while I don't want to believe in the Pats comeback, they're facing the worst rushing defense in the league. All one has to do to beat New England is stop their run, and Houston is ill-equipped to do that.
The pick: Patriots
Call me crazy, but I don't think this Brees absence is going to go as well for the Saints as the one last year. The NFC has been up and down all year, and I think it'll continue with the NFC South's top dog this week. The Falcons know how to play under Raheem Morris, and whether you have overwhelming confidence in Jameis Winston or not, I don't think he'll be able to get into a rhythm with Sean Payton insisting to give Taysom Hill snaps at quarterback.
The pick: Falcons
Ravens over Titans
Football Team over Bengals
Steelers over Jaguars
Chargers over Jets
Lions over Panthers
Dolphins over Broncos
Vikings over Cowboys
Chiefs over Raiders
Packers over Colts
Buccaneers over Rams