NFL beating coronavirus odds as season nears close

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The COVID-19 pandemic was headed toward its earliest and most deadly stages when the NFL went ahead and conducted its college draft in April.

Skepticism reigned.

The curve our nation was trying to flatten was predicted to be at its most dangerous height in April. Yet the NFL powered on, carried on with its draft with alterations to make it a virtual event without fans and with team executives conducting business from their respective homes.

And it went off without a hitch.

Then, after the NBA and NHL played their respective 2020 seasons in a bubble, the NFL announced its plans to press on with its schedule on time with no bubble.

Skepticism reigned.

How was the 32-team NFL, with rosters and coaching staffs numbering some 70 or so per team, going to play a full schedule with teams traveling all over the country? How was it going to pull this off without losing some weeks of the schedule with outbreaks of the virus?

The common belief — which has since been debunked — was that players across the line of scrimmage and in tackling were going to be breathing and inadvertently spitting on each other from close range. It seemed impossible to pull off.

There was talk that the league, with outbreaks of the virus, may have to use bye weeks to make up postponed games, or that it may have to use the bye week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl to make up games. There was more talk that there was no way the league would play its entire schedule.

Yet here we are: Playing Week 16 and on schedule to finish the regular season next week before the playoffs begin on time.

Sure, there have been some hiccups. The Titans, Ravens and Raiders were victimized by a number of positive tests. The Steelers were unwitting victims of having to deal with rescheduled games because of the Titans and Ravens breakouts.

The Broncos lost all three quarterbacks on their roster and were forced to play the Saints with a converted receiver who’d played some quarterback in his college career — and lost 31-3.

But these are isolated incidents, lesser issues when you look at the larger picture.

Data released by the NFL and the NFL Players Association on Tuesday provided evidence of the extraordinary job that’s been done by the league and its players during this pandemic.

From Aug. 1 to Dec. 19, 840,460 tests were administered to players and personnel, and 201 players and 359 other personnel had confirmed positive cases. That’s a remarkable .0007 percent positivity rate.

The league announced testing from Dec. 13 to Dec. 19 that 41,501 tests were administered to a total of 6,927 players and team personnel and there were 14 confirmed positive tests among players and 31 new confirmed positive tests among other personnel.

It feels like a minor miracle that the NFL has not been more adversely affected by COVID-19. And, like the draft in the spring turned out to be, it has felt like a godsend for starved sports fans.

It’s been a credit to the vision of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league powers as well as the responsible commitment of the players — save for the occasional knucklehead decisions like Dwayne Haskins’ going mask-less around strippers this past week — that has made this work.

Against a lot of odds and skepticism.

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