PHILADELPHIA – The difference between a team that might make the playoffs and one that won't could be as simple as the bye week.
The Eagles were off last week, returning on Monday just as the positive results of the latest COVID-19 tests were exploding around the NFL.
Because the Eagles weren't around the NovaCare Complex last week, the virus didn't spread. No one was allowed to enter the facility upon returning until the testing was completed.
So wide receiver Quez Watkins and practice-squad running back Jason Huntley, who tested positive, were sent home before interacting with the other players and coaches.
The Eagles' opponent on Sunday, the Washington Football Team, wasn't as fortunate. Washington placed three more players on the COVID-19 list Thursday, bringing the total to 21.
That's 30% of the roster, including the practice squad. Seven defensive linemen are on the list, and Washington could be using its fifth-string center against the Eagles.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: What the 2 games vs. WFT can mean for Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew
Washington was simply doing the day-to-day things that a football team normally does – traveling back from a game in Las Vegas on Dec. 5, then practicing, holding meetings, eating in the cafeteria, going home to their families.
You know: life.
The Eagles caught a break because they had last week off.
"I’m just fortunate that we came back in and that we didn’t have a lot of guys that tested positive after being on a bye week," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. "So, obviously, credit to the guys that they were safe when they were out. They were cautious about what they were doing."
So now the Eagles have a huge advantage, even if some of those Washington players on the COVID-19 list can return in time for the game on Sunday.
It's up to the Eagles to capitalize, especially in a critical game like this one where both teams are 6-7, in line for the final playoff spot.
Sure, the NFL can intervene and postpone the game. But as of Thursday, there are no signs of that happening.
"We’ve heard nothing from the league as far as that’s concerned. We’ll see," Washington coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday in a conference call.
The Eagles, meanwhile, were instituting their own safety protocols before the NFL announced Thursday a new set of rules.
Sirianni said the meeting rooms are spaced out more, and all players are wearing masks inside the building even though those who are vaccinated aren't required to. The NFL is taking that one step further by saying all meetings must be either held outside or remotely.
"We want to try to put ourselves in an advantage any way we can," quarterback Jalen Hurts said. "You see things going on the league and in the sports world. A lot of people are getting sick for whatever reason.
"That’s their business, and I know it happens. But for us, we want to control what we can."
This is the roster as of now. Look at the Covid and IR lists. pic.twitter.com/rfjowF2Okn
— John Keim (@john_keim) December 15, 2021
Even that might not be enough.
Rivera speculated that the new omicron variant, which so far is thought to spread much faster than the delta variant, might have something to do with the outbreak.
"We’re for the most part having to look potentially at guys that we would have to elevate and slot them into positions," Rivera said, adding that his team is in the NFL's "enhanced protocols" where meetings are held on Zoom.
"Other than that, hey, business as usual."
The WFT's CB situation w/o Kendall Fuller:
*Benjamin St-Juste & Torry McTyer are on IR
*Danny Johnson is mostly slot
*Darryl Roberts hasn't played a def. snap this yr
*Corn Elder & Troy Apke haven't either
*Jeremy Reaves has played 1 — at FS
*There are no other CBs on prac. sq. pic.twitter.com/rAr5woHolP
— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) December 14, 2021
Except it's not business as usual.
It's much different having a defensive line of Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Matt Ioannidis on the field as opposed to, say, three replacements from the practice squad. Or with a safety having to play cornerback in case Kendall Fuller can't return.
"They’re going to have 11 guys out there," Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert said. "They’re going to be in the same positions. They’re all in the NFL. They’re all very capable of doing things."
They're just not as capable as the players they might be replacing. After all, Washington is ranked fifth in the NFL against the run, allowing only 94 yards per game, while the Eagles' running attack is first in the NFL, averaging 160 yards per game.
That's a pivotal matchup. But Washington's success is due to the starting defensive line instead of the practice-squad players who might be replacing them.
None of this is happening in a vacuum. More than 100 players have tested positive around the NFL this week, with a high of 37 on Monday. Before this week, the previous high for positive tests in a day during the regular season was 18.
Cases around the country are skyrocketing, too, and that will likely continue with the spread of the omicron variant, the onset of winter and people gathering indoors for the holidays.
On Wednesday, the U.S. went over 800,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March of 2020.
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But Rivera isn't lamenting his situation, even if it could end up costing his team a critical game and thus hurt the Football Team's chances of making the playoffs, with the Eagles benefitting.
"That’s just the way it is," Rivera said. "It’s no different than if you have a couple of high ankle sprains that you’re dealing with, and not having guys available. It’s the same thing, to a degree."
But what is frustrating to Rivera is that many of his players who have tested positive are asymptomatic. It's like this around the league as well.
On Thursday, the NFL announced changes to the protocols to get through the rest of the season. That includes mandatory masking, whether players are fully vaccinated or not; either remote or outdoor meetings; and pre-vaccine rules from 2020 that include no group meals and no visits from family or friends on road trips.
The NFL also amended the return-to-play rules for vaccinated players who are asymptomatic. That could lead to many of the Washington players returning in time for Sunday.
For one, those vaccinated and asymptomatic players would require one negative test instead of two. And they would be tested daily until they get that result.
Washington, of course, is also dealing with those injuries that Rivera alluded to.
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke left last week's game with an elbow injury, although he was a full-practice participant on Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to play. He’ll have to because backup Kyle Allen is on the COVID-19 list.
Top wide receiver Terry McLaurin and running back J.D. McKissic are both in the concussion protocol. McLaurin, who has 808 yards receiving, practiced on a limited basis Thursday. McKissic, a key receiver out of the backfield for Washington, has yet to practice.
Rivera will have to figure all of that out by game time.
Is it fair? Probably not, but it doesn't matter anymore.
The Eagles, or any other team, could have been in this situation just as easily as Washington, or the Browns, or the Los Angeles Rams.
"This week opened a lot of guys’ eyes," cornerback Darius Slay said.
It made them realize that COVID-19 could have as much to do with what teams make the playoffs as Xs and Os.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: COVID-19 outbreak is giving Eagles a huge advantage over Washington