The Baltimore Ravens have a huge game coming up against the Cincinnati Bengals, which would, at least for the time being, decide who is in the driver’s seat for the AFC North title. Both teams are 8-6, owning better records than the 7-6-1 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 7-7 Cleveland Browns. The winner will hold the outright lead in the division with two games left in the season.
And heading into such a pivotal game, the Ravens continue to be bitten by player availability. Not only are they still waiting for Lamar Jackson to be ready to return to practice on the ankle injury that kept him out of their last game, they are now being hit by a wave of COVID-19 that may signal an outbreak.
Baltimore placed five players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List yesterday, those being safety Geno Stone, defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, linebackers Chris Board and Kristian Welch, and tackle David Sharpe. Sharpe is on the practice squad, but he played in last week’s game.
The addition of five players brings their total to 11, after having placed linebackers Justin Houston and Pernell McPhee on the COVID-19 List earlier in the week. Already present were starting safety Chuck Clark, cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Chris Westry, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and center Trystan Colon.
Baltimore has already been gutted by injury, particularly in the secondary, with three starters on the Reserve/Injured List: All-Pro cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and safety DeShon Elliott. Clark is the other starting safety. He was placed on the COVID-19 List a week ago today, and could realistically clear by gametime.
Watkins, Westry, and the rest have all tested positive since Saturday. Not many players have been able to clear the protocols within a week, although it has happened, and the modifications to the protocols also make it easier for players to return.
The thing is, by the way, that Steelers fans probably want the Ravens to win this game. If the Bengals win, they are 9-6, and Pittsburgh loses control over their own fate. If the Ravens win, then the Steelers can still beat Baltimore again this season to secure control of the division. They can’t win the division simply by winning out, in a scenario in which the Bengals win.
On the flipside, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow made note of the fact that Cincinnati is too boring for many people to actually go out and get COVID. Of course, that’s not really how it works when we’re talking about it spreading within a team facility. You only need one person to bring it in, picked up from a family member or a grocery store, or the person who buys your groceries for you.