What would it take for the Ravens-Steelers game not to be played?

What would it take for the Ravens-Steelers game not to be played? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

As the Broncos, the Team Without A Quarterback, walked off the field in a 31-3 defeat, a few members of the organization were already making their exceptions known with the decision to play Sunday’s game. 

Saturday night, the Broncos learned that they would have no quarterbacks available for Sunday’s game against the Saints. Meaning Kendall Hinton, a practice squad receiver that had no idea he would even dress at his normal position Sunday, started for the Broncos at quarterback. 

He tried his best, but his best was never expected to be enough, and nor was it. In fact, it may have been worse than people thought. He finished 1-of-9 passing for 13 yards with two interceptions. As a team, the Broncos gained just 112 yards of total offense. 

Which left many, understandably, upset the Broncos even had to play that game at such a disadvantage. 

The league could be faced with a similar situation for Tuesday, as the Ravens are set to travel to Pittsburgh and face the Steelers. As of Sunday night, 23 players are reported to be destined for the reserve/COVID-19 list, including four offensive linemen and eight defenders in the front seven. 20 players are officially on the list already.

As of Sunday evening, the Ravens’ COVID list is as follows, sorted by position (with Sunday reports of Matthew Judon, Mark Andrews and Willie Snead testing positive): QB Lamar Jackson, QB Trace McSorley, RB Mark Ingram, RB J.K. Dobbins, FB Patrick Ricard, WR Willie Snead, TE Mark Andrews, OL Patrick Mekari, OL Matt Skura, OL Will Holden, OL D.J. Fluker, DE Calais Campbell, DE Jihad Ward, DE Broderick Washington, DT Justin Madubuike, DT Brandon Williams, OLB Pernell McPhee, OLB Jaylon Ferguson, OLB Matthew Judon, CB Iman Marshall (IR), CB Tavon Young (IR), CB Khalil Dorsey (IR), and LS Morgan Cox.

And, also as of Sunday evening, the league has maintained that the game is on as scheduled. 

The NFL seems hellbent on playing this game, as they’ve postponed it from Thanksgiving night to Sunday, and then from Sunday to Tuesday. Which, in the process, moved Thursday’s game against the Cowboys to next Monday. 

The Ravens now have 49 eligible players as of Sunday night, with two players (a cornerback and offensive tackle) on the exempt list as they go through the league’s six-day COVID-19 protocol. More players could also come off the COVID-19 list, like quarterback Trace McSorley, or defensive tackle Brandon Williams. 

But there are two main obstacles to playing Tuesday’s game right now, the first being simple science. 

If the Ravens are still producing positive tests from players and staff on Monday and Tuesday, it seems inconceivable that the league would have the Ravens get on a plane Tuesday morning and face another NFL team and further risk spreading coronavirus. The Ravens have had positive tests for eight straight days as of Sunday. 

Forcing the Ravens to play on Tuesday night would not only be a potential disaster for the Ravens and Steelers, but for the league as well. If the outbreak isn’t contained by Tuesday when the team heads to Pennsylvania, they could risk spreading it to the Steelers five days before their matchup with the Washington Football Team. In that scenario, the Ravens and Steelers would risk further messing up the league’s schedule as a domino effect would mess with the rest of the league’s games from now until Week 17. 

From a football perspective, further positive tests from the Ravens could compromise the integrity of Tuesday’s game. As of now, the Ravens have 49 players set to play — just one more than the number of players that make up their active gameday roster. If more positive tests are reported on Monday and a particular position group, especially the offensive or defensive line, is hit with more absences related to COVID-19, there’s an issue of safety for the players on the field. 

Right now, the Ravens have just seven members of the offensive line and three true defensive linemen able to play in Tuesday’s game. More names could come off the reserve/COVID-19 list before then, but any further tests could put the team at an extreme disadvantage. Asking players to play out of position isn’t something anyone wants to happen. 

Of course, if a position group were to be wiped out entirely, that would mean more positive tests have happened on Monday or Tuesday and the outbreak will not have been contained just yet. In that scenario, the game will be unlikely to be played anyway.

The league, should Tuesday’s game not happen, would be faced with an interesting predicament of which there seem to be three options: Cancel the game entirely and have the Ravens and Steelers play 15-game regular seasons, add the game to a potential Week 18, or have the Ravens forfeit. The last option is the most severe, as the league would have to be absolutely sure and have concrete proof that the game was unplayable due to direct actions by the Ravens (who have already disciplined a staff member for protocol violations). 

With less than 48 hours until scheduled kickoff, it’s clear that more positive tests, one way or another, should spell doom for Tuesday’s game against the Steelers no matter which way you slice it.

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