Some within league circles have wondered aloud why the Patriots caught a break from the NFL, with the news that starting quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19 resulting in a postponement of Sunday’s game against the Chiefs — a game in which the Pats were a seven-point underdog with Newton in lineup.
But it’s not about giving the Patriots more time to prepare with Brian Hoyer at quarterback, as if the league office would ever do the Patriots any favors. It’s about monitoring the Patriots (and also the Chiefs, given that practice-squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu also tested positive) for additional positives that would constitute a Titans-style outbreak.
So what about last week’s Bears-Falcons game, which wasn’t postponed when cornerback A.J. Terrell generated a positive test on Saturday? If the Falcons had returned any positive tests on Sunday morning, the game likely would have been postponed.
Here’s the other difference — the Titans outbreak hadn’t happened as of a week ago. The constant stream of Tennessee positives in recent days has exposed the donut hole in the NFL’s COVID protocols: The incubation period. Personnel who are destined to test positive don’t test positive immediately, and there’s a chance that Cadillac-level PCR testing, which still has a 24-hour turnaround, won’t flag a player or other employee as positive before he or she begins shedding virus and exposing others, who in turn won’t test positive for several days and may shed virus before a positive test is confirmed.
The Patriots and Chiefs could play on Monday or Tuesday night is no further positives emerge on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. The Patriots undoubtedly won’t have Newton for the game, if it’s played this week. Indeed, the best strategic outcome for the Patriots would consist of the game being bumped to Week 18, a very possible if not inevitable destination for games that are postponed and can’t easily be dropped into bye weeks.