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NFL, NFLPA Announce Rise in COVID-19 Cases for 2nd Straight Week

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The NFL and NFLPA have announced a rise in COVID-19 cases across the league for the second straight week.

There were 70 new confirmed positives over the most recent testing period spanning from Dec. 27 through Jan. 2. 34 of the new confirmed positives tests were of players, while the other 36 stemmed from other staff members and personnel.

In total, 40,709 tests were administered to 6,702 players and personnel league-wide during the most recent period.

Not only is this the second-straight week of increasing numbers, but it is also the fifth consecutive week cases have not decreased across the leagues as they remained stagnant from Nov. 29 through Dec. 19.

A significant portion of the new positives can be attributed to the Cleveland Browns, who announced Tuesday they will be without head coach Kevin Stefanski, two assistant coaches and starting left guard Joel Bitonio for Sunday’s playoff game in Pittsburgh.

With the postseason set to get underway this weekend, the rapid rise in case numbers league-wide is concerning to say the least, and could continue to wreck havoc on teams vying for the Super Bowl.

2021 NFL Draft

NFL Cancels In-Person 2021 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis; Pro Days On

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After weeks of rumors and speculation, the NFL has made it official, announcing in a memo to clubs Monday they are significant alterations to the 2021 Scouting Combine.

Annually held in Indianapolis, the league is scrapping in-person workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, instead opting for pro days on college campuses. The NFL will coordinate with schools to ensure “consistency in testing and drills,” providing video of said workouts to all clubs.

Interviews and psychological testing of prospects normally executed at the physical combine will instead be conducted in an entirely virtual format.

As for medical evaluations, limited in-person exams will most likely be conducted over a three-day span in early April. While some evaluations will also be held virtually, an undetermined number of prospects will be invited to designated satellite locations for in-person exams. Each franchise will be permitted to dispatch a physician and athletic trainer to conduct the in-person portion.

Leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft in April, the league will work directly with clubs, schools and affiliated broadcast partners to ensure media availability with Combine invitees. The NFL intends to keep with tradition and make head coaches and general managers available to the media as well.

The altered Combine format was devised and overseen by a special committee of league and club officials, including NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills, Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill and Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.

Further details regarding protocols and finalized dates will be released as the committee continues to meet and plan over the coming weeks.

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NFL

Around the NFL: Chiefs Reach Third-Straight AFC Championship, Lose Patrick Mahomes to Concussion

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The Kansas City Chiefs will host their third-straight AFC Championship game next week, defeating the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Kansas City’s victory did not come without sacrifice, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes exited the game in the third quarter with a concussion and did not return.

Still, backup Chad Henne stepped in beautifully, and made a pair of crucial plays in the final moments to ice the win. After nearly scrambling for a game-sealing first down, Henne found wide receiver Tyreek Hill on fourth and inches.

Mahomes was his usual self prior to the injury, carving the Browns defense up for 255 passing yards and touchdown each on through the air and on the ground.

Cleveland was impressive in defeat, but an ill-advised challenge and decision to punt late by head coach Kevin Stefanski thwarted their upset chances.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield passed for 204 yards and a touchdowns, but was baited by Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu and picked off early in the third quarter.

Cleveland also deviated from the run early, a ground game that had made their offense so potent and dangerous all season.

When they did run, the Browns found success. Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 101 yards and a score, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

The Chiefs now turn their attention to the red hot Buffalo Bills, who they defeated back in Week 6. The Bills are 11-1 since that loss, led by an excellent defense and MVP candidate at quarterback in Josh Allen.

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Around the NFL: Bills Top Ravens 17-3, Reach First AFC Championship Game in 26 Years

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The Buffalo Bills are heading to their first AFC Championship game since 1994 following their 17-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night.

Quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills offense overcame swirling winds and the vaunted Ravens defense, winning with grit as opposed to flare.

Allen missed a number of deep shots early due to the conditions, but made plays in critical moments as he has all season. He passed for 206 yards and a score on the night.

Buffalo wideout Stefon Diggs once again showed why he was the acquisition of the season, catching everything thrown his way and consistently moving the chains Saturday. The former Viking finished with six receptions for 106 yards and the lone touchdown.

While not initially running the ball with much success, the Bill found some early in the second half behind running back Devin Singletary. The FAU product demonstrated a rare mix of power and elusiveness, needling the Ravens for a modest, but meaningful 25 yards on seven carries.

Not to be outdone, the Buffalo defense smothered Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, holding the former MVP to just 34 rushing yards on nine carriers. Jackson completed 14 of 24 passes for 162 yards before exiting the game with an injury.

Buffalo capped off their outstanding defensive performance with a 101-yard pick six by cornerback Taron Johnson, tied for the longest in postseason history and the first red zone interception of Jackson’s career. Bills Mafia erupted as expected.

The Bills now await the winner of Sunday’s weekend finale between the Chiefs and Browns, wondering if they will be heading to Kansas City or hosting their first conference championship game since the mid-1990’s.

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