Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The NFL postponed two games over the weekend due to multiple players testing positive for COVID-19.

Why it matters: Instead of building a bubble to keep COVID-19 out, the NFL implemented protocols to prevent its spread. That put the onus on teams to be responsible — a risk that has been exposed just a month into the season.

  • Steelers at Titans: Moved to Week 7 (Oct. 25) after 20 members of the Titans' organization tested positive.
  • Patriots at Chiefs: Postponed to tonight (7:05pm ET, CBS) after Patriots QB Cam Newton and Chiefs practice squad QB Jordan Ta'amu tested positive.

Details: Though the Pats and Chiefs have thus far avoided an outbreak, the Titans' situation is far more dire given the sheer volume of positives, which included two before their Week 3 game against Minnesota (no Vikings have tested positive).

  • For six straight days, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 4, the Titans had at least one positive test, pushing the total to 20 (10 players, 10 personnel).
  • On Thursday, when that number had ballooned to 13, the NFL implemented enhanced safety protocols for exposed teams, including two tests per day and daily deep cleanings of team facilities.
  • Now, the NFL and NFLPA are investigating the Titans to determine the cause of the outbreak.

The big picture: The NFL's protocols are not all that dissimilar to MLB's, which makes this outbreak somewhat expected given the latter's early-season struggle to keep COVID out of the sport.

  • The good news: MLB successfully navigated two outbreaks soon after the season began (Marlins, Cardinals) by responding quickly and making necessary changes. They completed the regular season, and round two of the playoffs starts today.
  • Yes, but: While baseball is socially-distanced by nature, football is anything but. Plus, MLB implemented seven-inning doubleheaders to make up its missed games, but football is a brutally punishing sport, making rescheduling far more difficult.

Between the lines: The Chiefs are about to test the limits of a compressed schedule, as tonight's make-up game, plus their scheduled Thursday matchup in Week 6, means they're about to play three games in 11 days. Yikes.

Looking ahead: When the NFL floated mini-bubbles during the season's planning stage, players balked at the idea of living in hotels for four months; but given the current situation, it could reemerge as an option going forward.

  • A simpler solution might be teams increasing their vigilance like the Eagles just did on their trip to San Francisco.

The bottom line: It remains to be seen if the next step will be league or team mandated, but the speed and success of the response could determine what the rest of the season looks like.

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Updated Oct 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

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