The Cleveland Browns will make their first playoff appearance in 18 years on Sunday night when they take on the rival Steelers in Pittsburgh (who were also their last playoff opponent in 2003). It wasn’t the cleanest landing for the Browns to get into the playoffs, as they lost to the Jets and then narrowly escaped with a two-point win in Pittsburgh a week ago despite the Steelers resting stars like Ben Roethlisberger.
One of the reasons for their problems the last two weeks has been positive COVID-19 tests, which wiped out their entire wide receiver room for the Jets game and then took out star cornerback Denzel Ward for the Steelers game. Now in their third week of COVID-19 issues, the Browns will go into Sunday night without their head coach, Kevin Stefanski, who tested positive and will be unavailable. Special teams coach Mike Priefer will be the acting head coach, with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt taking over all play-calling responsibilities.
We were informed this morning that Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, two additional members of the coaching staff and two players have tested positive for COVID-19.
Our contingency planning calls for Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer to serve as the acting Head Coach. pic.twitter.com/Mhh9Zt1e4d
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) January 5, 2021
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the other positive tests were from a wide receiver and offensive lineman on the player side, and a defensive backs coach and tight ends coach on the coaches side.
In addition to HC Kevin Stefanski testing positive, here are the Browns other COVID issues:
A DB coach (Mesa test today) and TE coach (Mesa test today). A WR and OL (Mesa tests today). https://t.co/i7USJ6PCtW
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 5, 2021
It took a bit of time, but Stefanski really got the Browns offense to take off in the latter half of the season — final two weeks as exceptions to that — as he got in a pretty great groove calling plays and working with Baker Mayfield to get the most out of the young QB. Now, Van Pelt will have to assume those responsibilities without the benefit of many practices, as the Browns have shut down their facility for now and won’t have nearly as much on-field time to try and get everyone on the same page for their biggest game in nearly two decades.