The NFL race down the homestretch began Thursday night. And it could have an unusual twist.
The 32 teams head into the final four games of the regular season now that there are no byes left, and it appears that the road to the Super Bowl may be decided by which teams can find ways to stay a step ahead of the virus.
The NFL switched three games Friday because teams were hit by so many positive tests.
Saturday’s game between the Browns and Raiders was moved to Monday, while the Washington-Philadelphia and the Seattle-Rams games were moved to Tuesday.
There will now be just one game on Saturday, the night game featuring the Patriots at Indianapolis in what was once a great rivalry in the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady era.
The Raiders-Browns game will be shown Monday at 5 p.m.on NFL Network, while the Washington-Philadelphia and Seahawks-Rams games will be shown at 7 p.m. on FOX.
The big question is how many quarterbacks will be affected by the positive tests. For example, Cleveland’s two quarterbacks — Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum – have tested positive. If they aren’t back, the Browns will have to go with Nick Mullens, who was activated Thursday.
Cleveland at 7-6 can stay in midst of the wild card race with a win and even tie the Ravens for the lead if they win and Ravens lose to the Packers. Cleveland, Baltimore and Cincinnati could all be tied at 8-6 if the Ravens lose and Cleveland and Cincinnati win. The Bengals play Denver. The Raiders at 6-7 need a victory to stay in the wild card hunt and Raider owned Mark Davis was unhappy his game was switched.
The New England-Indianapolis game on Saturday night will be one of the two best games of the weekend. New England goes to Indianapolis and a victory would keep the Patriots at least two games in front of the Bills going into their rematch the day after Christmas.
The Bills are playing Carolina Sunday. Indianapolis needs a victory to go to 8-6 and stay within striking distance of Tennessee and remain in wild card race. Tennessee goes to 6-6-1 Pittsburgh, which is desperate for a win to stay in wild card race.
The other key game is Green Bay at Baltimore Sunday. If the Packers win their next six games – four in regular season and two playoff games – they will be in the Super Bowl. But since Tampa Bay figures to beat New Orleans and Arizona is likely to beat Detroit, the Packers need to win to stay in the lead in the battle for the bye.
Denver’s game against Cincinnati is critical for the Broncos, who are 7-6 and can remain in the wild card race with a victory over the Bengals.
Kansas City took control of the AFC West Thursday nightwith the overtime win over San Diego, which three times went for it on fourth down in field goal range and missed it all three times.
The Chiefs now have 10-4 record and a two game lead over the 8-6 Chargers.
Dallas, which plays the Giants, and Green Bay, which plays Baltimore, and Tampa Bay, which plays New Orleans Sunday night, have virtually locked up three of the four NFC division races.
The only undecided NFC race is in the West where Arizona, which has a two game lead over the Rams, figures to beat Detroit. The Rams are playing Seattle.San Francisco at 7-6 figures to beat Atlanta to stay in the wild card race.
Then there are five 6-7 teams fighting for the final NFC wild card spot — Philadelphia, Washington, Minnesota, Atlanta and the Saints. Two of them – Washington and Philadelphia – play each other in the game switched to Tuesday so one will fall to 6-8.
Atlanta, which plays San Francisco, and the Saints, who play Tampa Bay, also figures to lose to also fall to 6-8. Minnesota figures to beat Chicago to go to 7-7.
So by the end of the 15th week, the Rams, 49ers and Vikings should be in place to get the three NFC wild card spots with three games left. There is only one game – the 49ers at the Rams in the finale — left involving those three teams the rest of the way..