News of Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski, and several other Browns personnel testing positive for COVID-19 sent the odds for the team’s Wild Card game against Pittsburgh spiraling. The Browns opened as 3.5-point favorites, but dropped to six points by Tuesday, and was even at 6.5 at Station Casinos. The over/under of 47 points remained unchanged.
Cleveland made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but Stefanski will not be on the sidelines. The team said that tight ends coach Drew Petzing and defensive backs coach Jeff Howard also tested positive. All three will miss the game.
“Our contingency planning calls for special teams coordinator Mike Priefer to serve as the acting head coach,” the team said in a statement. “The team will continue to consult with the league and medical experts to determine the appropriate next steps as the health and safety of our players, coaches, staff and the entire community remains our highest priority.”
Two players, guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. The list is for players that have either tested positive or who has been put in quarantine. Teams are not allowed to disclose players’ medical status.
Tall Task Just Got Taller
The Browns defeated Pittsburgh in the final game of the regular season on Sunday, 24-22. The Steelers rested all of their starters for the game, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
When the two teams met earlier in the year at Pittsburgh, the Steelers dominated them, 38-7. The Browns have not beaten their AFC North Division rival on the road in 17 years.
On Monday, Stefanski met with the media and told them the Wild Card game would be far different than the team’s home victory on Sunday.
“I think we expected it to look different with the change in quarterback, and we expect it to look different again this week,” Stefanski said. “That is part of their job is to play to their players’ strengths. We understand that may change. It is our job to put ourselves in their building, think like them and try and get a feel for what they may do this week.
Will Player’s Absence Affect Team?
The two players on the Reserve/Covid list were not starters. Bitonio had played in 12 games, however. Hodge had played in nine games, with 11 catches for 180 yards and no touchdowns.
The loss of those two affects the depth at each position. It should not have a huge bearing on the outcome. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said to reporters he sympathizes with the Browns and their plight.
“Every morning at 6 a.m. I am looking at my phone waiting for verification of the previous day’s test results,” Tomlin said. “Are we in the clear, or are we not, and what necessary adjustments need to be made. What investigations, if any, need to be made. That has been our life, and not only ours in Pittsburgh, but ours collectively as members of the National Football League since July. There are daily reminders.”