Hurley’s Picks: COVID Predictably Wreaking Havoc On NFL, And It’s Dispiriting

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By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — You know what feels a little bit out of place when you’re covering a football team at the onset of a COVID-19 outbreak? An NFL picks column.

Doesn’t quite feel relevant. You know?

Nevertheless, the NFL remains in Larry Csonka mode, keeping its head down and running through any and everything that stands in its way, never stopping to look around and assess the situation. Head down. Plow ahead. Soldier on.

It’s kind of a football staple, sure, but it seems a little bit short-sighted and ill-advised when it comes to operating a multi-billion dollar business in the midst of a seemingly never-ending pandemic. But I don’t know. That’s just me.

To be honest, the whole thing stinks. It smells. It’s the worst. Obviously, the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on nearly every facet of American life since March. Football hardly ranks highly on the life-or-death scale that this virus has imposed on so many people for so long. It’s incredibly uncouth to whine or cry about the hurdles facing a sports league when the virus has impacted people in much more meaningful ways on a nonstop basis since March.

With that understood, this is still a sports space, where sports are discussed and dissected. So as it goes with the NFL right now, this whole situation is troubling.

The Raiders, a team with players who have been fined for violating coronavirus protocols, had a positive test pop up this week. Cam Newton, who played against the Raiders in Week 3, tested positive during on Friday of Week 4. Two more Patriots have tested positive, so now the Chiefs wait and wonder when or if the positive tests will be coming for them, too. Down in Nashville, despite the facility being shut down for more than a week, positive tests continue to show up, bringing the total number to 19 positive tests since last Tuesday.

In somewhat of an encouraging development, the Vikings haven’t had any positive tests come up. Considering they played a tackle football game against the Titans just before the outbreak began, that has to be considered a major relief — obviously for everybody involved with the Vikings but also for the league as a whole.

At the same time, the league would be wise to not gain too much false confidence from the Vikings averting danger (thus far). The Titans — a team that played in the AFC Championship Game nine months ago — is on the verge of missing a game for the second straight week. According to a new report, some of that may be from their own doing, as the team reportedly held an unsanctioned workout on a high school field for some reason.

(The way to beat COVID is unclear, but it’s surely not holding football workouts when you’re supposed to be quarantined as a team. While the world may throw some rage at the Titans who participated … those players were only following the lead of the NFL.)

The Patriots, who had to play without their starting quarterback, are seemingly at risk of having their game postponed as well. The Chiefs — who were exposed to the virus both from their practice squad QB testing positive and from playing against the Patriots — have to carry on in the meanwhile as if all is well.

This uncertainty really benefits nobody, and it’s casting some serious doubts as to whether the NFL can make it through the entire season. Any speculation in that area is merely a guess, but the situation playing out right now does look a whole lot like the one that most reasonable people expected to see when the league announced its plans for the season.

Remarkably, a foolproof plan like putting all of Cam Newton’s close contacts in one airplane and all other Patriots in another plane doesn’t seem to have magically kept the Patriots safe from a contagious virus.

We’ll see what happens from here. Unsurprisingly, as of this writing, the NFL still wants Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Broncos to be played. Rescheduling a football game as men contract COVID-19 and head home to their families is simply too inconvenient for the NFL to bother with doing. Plow ahead. Move on. Next man up.

It’s really an awful situation and a foolhardy approach to this. Yet given all of the indications that the NFL has shown us over the years, it’s not at all a shock to see Roger Goodell’s league resembling a rudderless ship at a time when inspired and creative leadership is most needed.

Anyways. Here are some picks for Week 5. LOL!

(Home team in caps; Wednesday lines)

Tampa Bay (-3) over CHICAGO
If Tom Brady can single-handedly turn the Buccaneers into a championship organization, then it may be his most miraculous feat yet. Whether it’s committing undisciplined penalties or getting questionable coaching decisions or just in general being the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that team is going to have a hard time transforming into a champion in the coming months.

At the same time … they’re 3-1 … and TB12 looks rejuvenated. Losing O.J. Howard hurts quite a bit, but Brady’s been making it work with a banged-up set of receivers from the get-go.

The Bears, meanwhile, learned that life is not so easy when you’re not playing the Lions or the Giants or the Falcons.

Carolina (+2.5) over ATLANTA
Arthur Blank will just never fire Dan Quinn. It’s not that I’m rooting for it to happen. I’m not a sicko. I don’t revel in glee when someone gets fired. But it’s fair to say that every other NFL coach in NFL history to have as many gaffes/collapses/mistakes as Quinn’s Falcons have had since February of 2017 has been fired. It’s spectacularly wild that Quinn survived 28-3 and then two losing seasons and then The Great Onside Kick Debacle and a litany of other Only-In-Atlanta moments that I don’t want to harp on because I don’t want to pile on.

Dan Quinn, man. That’s some job security right there.

Buffalo (COVID-19) at TENNESSEE
Is this game happening? Who knows? But whether it’s real or imagined, I’m taking Buffalo. Or maybe Tennessee? Guess what: It doesn’t matter who I pick because this game cannot happen.

(If the Titans end up forfeiting for holding their ill-advised workouts, I am MARKING THIS DOWN AS A WIN AND YOU CANNOT STOP ME.)

Las Vegas (+13.5) over KANSAS CITY
The Chiefs are a mighty impressive team, but they’re also kind of getting distracted with the whole playing-full-games thing. After barely squeaking by the Chargers in Week 2, they looked like the best team ever in the first half vs. Baltimore, then got outscored 10-7 in the second half. Against the Patriots’ JV quarterback duo, the Chiefs were locked in a three-point game all night before finally pouring it on a bit late, though even that was thanks to a gift-wrapped pick-six.

Given their talent level and the genius-level at which Andy Reid is operating the offense, the Chiefs are liable to go off and win by 40 on any given week. They just don’t seem willing to stay locked into that top gear for full games just yet.

Arizona (-7) over NEW YORK JETS
The Jets rank 31st in points scored and 30th in points against.

Don’t worry, though. Joseph Vincent Flacco is here to save the day.

PITTSBURGH (-7) over Philadelphia
Hard to have a feel for a team that looked so-so en route to building a 3-0 record before missing a COVID game. But when in doubt, just go against the 2020 Eagles. It’s easier that way.

I guess shame on me for getting too distracted by the comical name of Washington’s football team, thus causing me to miss out on how bad Dwayne Haskins is.

I guess “bad” isn’t the correct word so much as “not outstanding” is. Four touchdowns and three interceptions this year bring his career totals to a neat and tidy 11 TDs, 11 INTs. He’s upped his completion percentage a tick, but overall is not the spectacular passer that … Kyle Allen is?

Wait, is that a typo? Kyle Allen? The 15th overall pick from a year ago is getting dumped to third-string duty for Kyle Allen and … oh … dear God … and ALEX SMITH?!

I uhh … I thought Ron Rivera was supposed to bring order to the Washington FOOTBALL TEAM.

Going to be frank with you all: I am just not seeing it.

BALTIMORE (-12.5) over Cincinnati
It’s legitimately awesome that Joe Burrow looks like the real deal. Now we just need to get him out of Cincy and we’ll be cooking with gas.

Unfortunately for the Bengals, they’re getting an extra-angry Ravens team. I don’t actually know that for certain, but I generally just assume the Ravens are angry. It’s kind of their thing.

In any event, we’ll see if the infusion of a competent, much-ballyhooed quarterback can breathe some new life into what used to be an awfully spirited rivalry between these two teams.

Jacksonville (+6.5) over HOUSTON
I’m not going to sit here and argue that Bill O’Brien got a raw deal, but the Texans did have the most absurd schedule of all time to start the year. Their opponents thus far have a combined winning percentage of .733, and two of those four teams are undefeated. Tough stuff.

Anyways. I don’t quite follow the logic in replacing O’Brien with the 73-year-old Romeo Crennel, who has a career record of 28-55 as a head coach. I also don’t quite follow the logic in elevating the Patriots’ former team chaplain to the head of football operations. From leading Bible readings to leading the job search for a new head coach, The Rise Of Jack Easterby is a true American tale of … just randomly continuing to rise up organizational charts for some reason or another.

What I’m trying to say it that the Houston Texans are a mess. I yield my time.

Miami (+8.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
Feels like we’ve got a few too many injuries going on out there in the Bay Area.

Indianapolis (-2) over CLEVELAND
Pick your poison on what you want to believe in more: That the 3-1 Cleveland Browns are pretty good, or that the Indianapolis Colts have the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

Really a tough call.

DALLAS (-9.5) over New York Giants
The Jets and Giants should just play each other every week and stay out of everyone’s way. Cut down on travel. Stop wasting everyone’s time. Gives opponents extra byes that they can then use to play their COVID-postponed games. Plus, the Jets and Giants would actually get some wins.

Why am I not commissioner?


NEW ENGLAND (COVID-19) over Denver
I likewise don’t imagine this game gets played but if it does, I don’t care if Steve Belichick starts at quarterback and Brian Belichick starts at tackle. The Patriots aren’t losing to that Broncos team.

SEATTLE (-7) over Minnesota
Riding the Seahawks train until it falls off the rails, baby. Hop aboard!

Los Angeles Chargers (+8) over NEW ORLEANS
Just going to level with you here: I don’t know. Given the state of everything right now, it’s hard to look ahead to Monday night. Each day feels like a year. And apparently a hurricane might move this game to … Indianapolis? Sure. Why not?

Are we all really going to make it to Monday? Bless us. This feels like a lot of work.

Go Chargers. Or don’t. Whatever.

Last week: 8-6-1
Season: 34-27-2

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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