The Cleveland Browns had to wait 18 years to make the playoffs since their last appearance, and their head coach, Kevin Stefanski, is most likely going to have to wait at least one more. He, along with two other coaches and two players, tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be available for the Browns’ AFC wild-card game at Pittsburgh this weekend.
It’s a brutal blow for the Browns, and it would make a victory over the Steelers seem very unlikely. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will be the head coach on Sunday, while offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will be calling the offensive plays in Stefanski’s absence.
Offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, one of the top players in the NFL and the Browns’ best lineman, will also miss the game after recording a positive test.
Because of the positive tests, the Browns shut down their practice facility Tuesday, the fifth time in the past 10 days they’ve had to do that.
Cleveland actually had a run-through playing shorthanded this past Sunday in their win over the Steelers in their final regular-season game. They played that game without six starters, as well as offensive line coaches Bill Callahan and Scott Peters and wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said it will be business as usual as his team prepares to face a team led by someone serving as a head coach for the very first time. “I’m sure he’ll be the guy acting as the head coach on the sideline and making those decisions pertaining to challenges and things of that nature, but I imagine, behind the scenes, that they’re going to disperse Coach Stefanski’s responsibilities,” Tomlin said. “It’s not just Coach Pfiefer. I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about that. I know Coach Stefanski and do have a relationship with him, but [his being out] doesn’t assure you of anything from a preparation standpoint.”