Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, two additional members of the coaching staff and two players have tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be available for the AFC wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night if the game remains as scheduled.
In making the announcement Tuesday, the Browns said special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as the acting head coach. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt is expected to call the offensive plays in place of Stefanski.
Wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge and Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio were the players to test positive, a source told ESPN, while the other coaches to test positive were defensive backs coach Jeff Howard and tight ends coach Drew Petzing.
According to NFL rules, anyone testing positive must sit out at least 10 days.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Tuesday there is no change to the status of Sunday night’s game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and that contact tracing is still ongoing. The Browns shut down their practice facility Tuesday for a fifth time in 10 days.
“If any players or personnel are identified as such, they would remain apart from the team and facilities for five days from the last exposure to a positive individual,” McCarthy said in a statement. “They would be eligible to return to the team and play in the game.”
During Sunday’s win over the Steelers in the regular-season finale, the Browns had to play without six starters because of COVID-19 protocols, as well as offensive line coaches Bill Callahan and Scott Peters and wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea.
Star cornerback Denzel Ward, tight end Harrison Bryant, linebackers Malcolm Smith and B.J. Goodson and safety Andrew Sendejo all sat out Sunday’s game after testing positive for COVID-19. Nickelback Kevin Johnson was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list as well, a day before the game.
The Browns are playing in their first playoff game since 2002 after snapping the NFL’s longest postseason drought.
The consensus line, which opened with the Steelers -3.5 and had risen to -4.5 as of Tuesday’s opening, has now jumped to -6 at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill after Tuesday’s news.