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What Happens if Steelers-Ravens Can’t Be Played Sunday?

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The NFL is closely monitoring the situation with the Baltimore Ravens’ COVID-19 outbreak and could once again reschedule the Week 12 game with the Pittsburgh Steelers that has already been pushed back from Thursday to Sunday.

The determining factors in postponing or canceling the game will be whether or not the Ravens are able to stop the continuing spread of the disease amongst its locker room and when they do, if they have enough players available to field a team.

The Ravens continue to get new positive cases, with four new tests, including star quarterback Lamar Jackson, coming in on Thursday. The team’s facility has been closed since Monday, so the average five-day incubation period for the disease means that new cases should be slowing or stopping soon. If Baltimore gets clear tests back Friday and Saturday, the Ravens should be able to play at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon.

Baltimore did receive one additional positive test on Friday via a point-of-care test, according to Pro Football Talk. The league’s standard utilizes only the more accurate PCR tests, that have a roughly 24-hour turnaround.

If more positive cases from PCR tests come in Friday and/or Saturday, the game could be pushed back first to Sunday night, which would allow Baltimore to travel to Pittsburgh the day of the game, then a day a time, as far out as Tuesday. The NFL has already had one game moved back to a Tuesday this season.

That would result in Baltimore’s Week 13 game against the Dallas Cowboys, which is currently scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 3, being pushed back to later in the weekend.

The other factor in addition to getting multiple days of clear testing is Baltimore’s ability to field a team. The POC test that came back on Friday gives the Ravens 13 players that have come back with positive tests, according to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.

Some of those players that tested positive early in the week could return for Sunday, Monday or Tuesday if they remain asymptomatic. They need back-to-back negative tests separated by 24 hours and must sit out for at least five days. All symptomatic players will have to miss at least 10 days.

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Then there are the close contacts of those positive cases. Players that were identified as close contacts on either Monday or Tuesday will have to sit out five days and could return for a game on Sunday, much like Steelers players Ben Roethlisberger and Vince Williams did after Vance McDonald’s positive test. Players identified as close contacts later in the week will likely miss the game.

With 13 players COVID-19 positive, the Ravens could have a couple dozen close contacts. Even with a 53-man roster and a 16-man practice squad, if three dozens Ravens are excluded either by a positive test or by being a close contact, that would give Baltimore just 33 players for game day.
That might be enough to play, but it will depend on the position distributions of that group. The NFL won’t make Baltimore play if they don’t have a quarterback. Starter Lamar Jackson and third-stringer Trace McSorely are both on the COVID-19 list. Baltimore also has significant clusters at center, linebacker and running back.

So if the Ravens can’t clean up their tests in time for a Tuesday game, or don’t have enough players available for a Tuesday game, what happens next?

The NFL hasn’t said for sure. The league has threatened to force teams to forfeit games, for breaking COVID-19 protocols, which the Ravens have admitted that one staff member did. But that seems unlikely.

The league could push the game back to a Week 18, moving the playoffs back a week and absorbing the off week in between the championship games and the Super Bowl.

They could also not play the game, leaving both Pittsburgh and Baltimore with only 15 games played. They’ve developed a contingency plan for that scenario, which would add a Wild Card team to each conference and eliminate byes for any teams.

But that seems like a last resort. As the NFL works through its process, it will start with the game going forward as currently scheduled on Sunday, with options to move it to Sunday night, Monday night, Tuesday night, or a Week 18.

If none of that is able to happen for whatever reason, then and only then would a forfeit even be brought to the table, and it’s more likely that the game would just not be played and considered a no contest.

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