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Around AFC North: Browns hit hard with COVID-19; Ravens could be without Lamar Jackson

The Browns and Ravens could be dealing with major issues at the wrong time in the tight AFC North race.

Detroit Lions v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The AFC North race in 2021 has to be one of the tightest in recent memory. The Baltimore Ravens (8-5) hold a slight lead over the Cleveland Browns (7-6) and Cincinnati Bengals (7-6). Even the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1) aren’t that far out of things with only four games remaining. Not to mention that the AFC Wild Card race is just as close.

With the standings so close, even the slightest slip-up could mean missing the postseason entirely. That seems to be an unfortunate reality for the Ravens and Browns this week as both teams are going to possibly be missing some of their best players.

Lamar Jackson day-to-day

Jackson left the game against Cleveland last week early after falling in an awkward manner that sprained his ankle. It seems like that could possibly hold the former MVP out against a big game against the Packers this weekend.

Another bad sign for Jackson’s availability was the team signing Josh Johnson off the New York Jets practice squad as insurance for Sunday. That isn’t something teams do if they are confident in a player being able to go. Tyler Huntley has won a game this season when brought in after Jackson went down against the Chicago Bears. He also ended up making the game against Cleveland interesting before throwing a game-ending interception. Huntley going up against Aaron Rodgers doesn’t exactly bode well, though.

Browns could miss starters and coaches this week

The NFL has been hit with a rash of positive tests for COVID-19. The Browns currently have 11 players and two coaches with positive tests. That list include starting quarterback Baker Mayfield and head coach Kevin Stefanski.

Here is the complete list of players that could miss Saturday’s game:

  • Quarterback Baker Mayfield
  • Guard Drew Forbes
  • Tight end Austin Hooper
  • Wide receiver Jarvis Landry
  • Right guard Wyatt Teller
  • Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr.
  • Defensive end Takkarist McKinley
  • Cornerback Troy Hill
  • Safety John Johnson III
  • Defensive tackle Malik McDowell
  • Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo

These players and the two coaches need two negative tests 24 hours apart before Friday at 4 pm ET to be eligible to play if they are vaccinated. If they are not vaccinated they will miss 10 days.

There are quite a few offensive starters on that list outside of Mayfield. Missing guys like Willis and Teller could be just as significant as Cleveland will have to lean heavily on Nick Chubb and the running game with Case Keenum set to start again this season after winning his last game he started this season. That game he wasn’t without all of this offensive talent.

The biggest issue could be in the secondary. though, as Thomas Moore notes:

Defensively, the Browns have some depth at defensive end — namely Porter Gustin and Joe Jackson - to deal with the loss of McKinley, and the defensive tackle position is such a mess already that losing McDowell might not be that noticeable.

The loss of Hill and Johnson might be manageable if cornerback Greg Newsome II, missed last week’s game with a concussion, and safety Ronnie Harrison Jr., who is dealing with an ankle injury, can play. If not, well, let’s not think about that right now.

The Las Vegas Raiders aren’t the tough task they once looked like earlier in the season. However, this does really help give the Raiders a pretty big edge heading into this matchup. This is one that Cleveland really needed with a tough game against the Packers the following week. It keeps looking like that last game of the season between the Browns and Bengals could have huge implications for the Wild Card race and maybe even decide the division altogether.