How does contact tracing work in the NFL? Here are the answers

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One prediction I feel very good about making: Without a significant and advanced system of contact tracing this fall, the NFL would have had to postpone or cancel games by now. Yet here the league is, 14 weeks in, and zero games to make up. “The contact-tracing element is absolutely foundational for us,” the NFL’s medical director, Dr. Allen Sills, told me Friday. “It’s the element that almost nobody is talking about.”

Contact tracing has become increasingly important as the season progresses and COVID-19 increases around the country and in the player population. In September and October, 47 NFL players tested positive for COVID. That number shot up recently. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 5, 111 players were positive. More cases, more chances of spread. And more reason to emphasize the identification and isolation of COVID-positive people. The NFL, as of Friday, had discovered 24 new cases of the coronavirus through tracing of high-risk close-contacts with those NFL employees previously testing positive. That is according to Dr. Christina Mack, an epidemiologist for IQVIA, a long-time NFL partner in health research and technology, and now in contact tracing. She has worked closely with the NFL this season.

Dr. Mack gave an illustration of how the contact-tracing program works. There are a few provisos: Privacy laws prevent the NFL from using an example with names and teams, so for the sake of the exercise, I will use The Team, and Player A and Player B. She would not provide exact dates of the illustration, so I will use Day 1, Day 2, etc. She would only say that this scenario occurred within the last month, as cases around the league have spiked.

Day 1, evening

Player A, driving, carpools home with a teammate from a full day at practice with The Team, having a conversation of about 12 minutes with the teammate when he drops him off. Player A arrives home around 6:30 p.m.

Day 2, morning

At 7:30 a.m., Player A arrives at The Team facility and his nose is swabbed for the daily COVID-19 PCR test. A normal practice day ensues.

Day 3

At 6:30 a.m., when Dr. Mack wakes up, her phone already has text alerts of any positive tests among the players or team employees (coaches, training and equipment staff) with daily player contact. These tests of about 70 players per team (plus coaches and team officials) were swabbed the previous morning. She sees Player A of The Team has tested positive from his test on Day 2. The rest of the NFL’s COVID team, led by Dr. Sills, plus officials of The Team, also get this data. An official of The Team contacts the player and tells him to isolate and not report to the club facility—and to expect to be debriefed by a league contact tracer about all his contacts in the previous three days. “The team will ask, ‘Are you okay? Are you isolated? If you’re at home, make sure you’re isolated from your family,’ “ Dr. Mack said. “And they isolate everyone who is about to get contact traced.”

At 7 a.m., Dr. Mack and a team of four to six tracers meet by conference call to discuss that day’s positives. Dr. Mack and the tracers have to look at results from the player’s tracking device on Day 2, when he was contagious and spent the day at the facility, plus two days prior. They do this because even though the player didn’t test positive on the previous two days, he may have had the ability to spread the virus on those days. Each player while at the team facility wears a Kinexon tracking device from the time he walks in till the time he leaves for the day, and it shows who the player has been closer than six feet to during the time he is at the facility or at practice. In examining the player’s device over the previous three days, Kinexon shows the player had eight contacts on the day he tested positive, seven contacts on the previous day, and two contacts on the previous day to that. Some of those people—depending on the time and area of contact—will be contacted by the tracers. While this is happening, The Team decides to close its facility and work remotely till the tracing has occurred.

At 8:30 a.m., what Dr. Sills calls “the SWAT team,” a group of about 12 doctors, epidemiologists, infectious-disease experts, league officials and tracers, meet by conference call. (This meeting happens seven days a week, an hour earlier on Sundays.) “We go through each case that day, and put together a pod team for that case,” Dr. Mack said. For the pod investigating Player A, there will be an IQVIA tracer, an NFL-employed tracer, and a physician who is an infectious-disease expert.

A big part of the process is interviewing The Team’s Infection Control Officer (each team appointed one to start the 2020 season) to get an overview of Day 2, to see where more questions and interviews might be needed.

“The individual came in at 7:30 a.m.,” Dr. Mack said, referring to the day of the positive test. “There was a team meeting but it was in the bubble, which is a well-ventilated area. They had a lift session so we walked through the map of that lift session. Everyone was spread out. They were more than six feet apart, heavily ventilated room. Everyone had been wearing masks per protocols. The team had a walkthrough [a light practice]. They had lunch. The lunch tables are one chair per 10 feet apart. We went through the walkthrough again. The practice goes from 2:15 to 4:10. Everyone was spaced out and masked during that time. And then they actually had a night meeting which was 45 minutes and the [infected player] was there until 6:15 p.m. We walked through that entire day and asked about contacts at each point, masking at each point. Did you drink coffee or have a snack or eat food at any point? Which suggests the mask would be off.”

At the beginning of the season, the NFL defined “close contacts” as being within six feet for at least 15 minutes. Not anymore—because the CDC has deemed that too many factors can impact the strict definition of close contact. Tracers now would be concerned with a 5-minute, unmasked and indoor conversation. According to Dr. Mack, “The real art with the contacts is the interview. It has to be thoughtful and thorough.” It can last from 20 to 50 minutes, or longer, with questions like: Was your contact with the infected player inside? Outside? Were you masked? Were you eating? Drinking? Was the mask off for part of your contact?

It turns out, after the interviews conducted by the two tracers doing the investigation into Player A’s contacts, one was deemed a “high-risk close-contact.” That player, Player B, by league rule will have to stay away from The Team facility for 5 days.

When the tracers interviewed Player A, he mentioned a contact with a teammate on the evening of Day 1, driving home. In an interview with one of the contact tracers, Player B’s story matched the details of Player A about the carpool drive.

“It was an estimated 5-minute drive,” Dr. Mack said.

Two problems, per Dr. Mack:

“They had the windows up, and they were unmasked.”

Said Dr. Mack: “When they got home, they went outside and they talked for 12 minutes approximately, and then parted ways. That was the contact on that day that was noted as a high-risk close contact. In this example, at the facility, all of the protocols had been followed, distancing was done, masks were worn. The facility was set up in ways that tables were far apart, chairs were far apart, meeting rooms were well-spaced, they were in well-ventilated areas. We did not have any high-risk close contacts from the day in the facility despite interactions with the team all day. None of those individuals turned positive. But we did detect that high-risk close contact from the shared car ride home.”

Day 4

Player B does not test positive.

Day 5

Player B tests positive, four mornings after the maskless, closed-windows car-ride with Player A.

Epilog

“This has been an evolution, an ongoing learning process,” Dr. Mack said. “So with this team [the prior week], we had gone through the data and we said, ‘You have a really high number of close contacts at 3 o’clock on a Wednesday. What is the team doing at 3 o’clock on a Wednesday?’ And they said, they’re in the locker room. They’re coming in and out of practice at that time and they’re in the locker room. We said okay, let’s go through and look at the schedule. Who’s in the locker room? And as we went through that exercise the week prior, we learned that the position groups had lockers close to each other and talked through with the team that if they changed the placement of the lockers to make it so the position group lockers were very much spaced apart, they aren’t going to be near each other and they’ll reduce their number of close contacts. After that meeting, this team changed the placement of the lockers. It was really well-timed because when this case came up, they had just moved all of the lockers and so they did not have contact in the locker room at that time between these people. It felt like a bullet dodged.”

I wondered if, in this case, limiting the spread to one player through contact tracing was a Eureka! moment for Mack and her three-person pod of tracers.

She paused, and answered it this way: “If there’s a positive case, keep one case to one case.”

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here. 

2023 NFL Playoffs, Conference Championship scores: Final bracket, recaps, results for every AFC and NFC postseason game

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The 2023 NFL Playoffs are finally here as the battle for the Lombardi Trophy continues. After six action-packed games on Wild Card Weekend and all the excitement of the Divisional Round and Conference Championships, the time has almost come for Super Bowl LVII, and the stage is now set.The Philadelphia Eagles routed the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, and the Kansas City Chiefs bested the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC to make it back to the Super Bowl for the third time in the last four seasons. Andy Reid will face his former team and Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts will meet in a battle of young superstar quarterbacks.

RELATED: 2023 NFL Playoffs Schedule

See below for the final scores, results, schedule and bracket for every game through Super Bowl LVII. Check out the full 2023 NFL playoff and Super Bowl schedule here.

2023 NFL Playoff Scores – Wild Card Weekend

Saturday, January 14

Seahawks (7) vs 49ers (2)

Chargers (5) vs Jaguars (4)

Sunday, January 15

Dolphins (7) vs Bills (2) 

Giants (6) vs Vikings (3) 

Ravens (6) vs Bengals (3) 

Monday, January 16

Cowboys (5) vs Buccaneers (4) 

Divisional Round Scores

Saturday, January 21

Jaguars (4) vs Chiefs (1)

Giants (6) vs Eagles (1)

Sunday, January 22nd

Bengals (3) vs Bills (2

Cowboys (5) vs 49ers (2)

Conference Championships Scores

Sunday, January 29

NFC Championship Game: 49ers (2) vs Eagles (1)

AFC Championship: Bengals (3) vs Chiefs (1)

Super Bowl LVII – Philadelphia Eagles vs Kansas City Chiefs

  • Date: Sunday, February 12
  • Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
  • TV Network: Fox

Which teams are still in the 2023 NFL Playoffs?

The Eagles (NFC Champions) will play the Chiefs (AFC Champions) in Super Bowl LVII.

Which teams have been eliminated from the 2023 NFL Playoffs?

The Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals have all been eliminated from the 2023 NFL playoffs.

RELATED: Giants hold off Vikings 31-24 to advance to Philadelphia next weekend

2023 NFL Playoff Bracket:

RELATED: NFL overtime rules and procedures


2023 NFL Playoff Picture:

AFC:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)
  2. Buffalo Bills (13-3)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8)
  5. LA Chargers (10-7)
  6. Baltimore Ravens (10-7)
  7. Miami Dolphins (9-8)

NFC:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)
  2. San Francisco 49ers (13-4)
  3. Minnesota Vikings (13-4)
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)
  5. Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
  6. New York Giants (9-7-1)
  7. Seattle Seahawks (9-8)

How to watch 2023 NFL Playoffs and Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

What devices are compatible with Peacock?

Peacock is available on a variety of devices. See the full list here.

In addition to Sunday Night Football, what else can I watch with Peacock Premium?

Premium is your key to unlocking everything Peacock has to offer. You’ll get access to all the live sports and events we have, including Premier League and WWE Premium Live Events like WrestleMania. You’ll also get full seasons of exclusive Peacock Original series, next-day airings of current NBC and Telemundo hits, plus every movie and show available on Peacock. There is always something new to discover on Peacock Premium.


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2023 NFL Playoffs, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!

2023 NFL postseason overtime rules: How OT works in the playoffs & Super Bowl, difference from regular season

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The 2023 NFL Playoffs are underway and this year’s slate of games have already brought some thrilling action leading up to tonight’s Conference Championship matchup between the Bengals and Chiefs. 

Unlike the regular season, playoff games cannot end in a tie so the rules are a bit different. But some very important things are exactly the same. This year will also mark the first playoffs with new overtime rules in place, spurred in large part by the showdown between the Bills and Chiefs in last season’s Divisional Round that saw the Chiefs score a game-winning OT TD on the opening possession without Josh Allen and the Bills offense ever getting to touch the ball. See below to find out how overtime works in the NFL playoffs according to the league’s official rulebook, as well as what’s different in 2023. 

 RELATED: Click here for the complete 2023 NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl schedule 

What has changed in NFL playoff overtime rules in 2023? 

That 42-36 Kansas City Chiefs overtime win over the Buffalo Bills in last year’s AFC Divisional Round was one of the greatest playoff games of all time, but also one of the most controversial. The 2023 playoffs will feature guaranteed possession for both teams, rather than the receiving team being able to take the win on the opening possession. Here’s the full breakdown from ProFootballTalk:  

Now if a team scores a touchdown on the first possession of overtime, it will line up to kick an extra point or attempt a two-point conversion. Then that team will kick off, and the other team will get a chance to score a touchdown. If that team does score a touchdown, it will line up for an extra point or two-point conversion of its own. It’s possible that the game can end at that point: For instance, if the first team kicked an extra point, the second team can try a game-ending two-point conversion attempt. But if the score remains tied after both teams’ touchdowns, at that point the team that scored the second touchdown would kick off again, and from there on it would be sudden-death overtime.

How does Overtime work in the NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl? 

  • In the regular season, overtime periods last 10 minutes. In the playoffs, OT periods are 15 minutes long, and with a tie game not an option, action continues until there is a winner. 
  • If the score is still tied at the end of an overtime period — or if the second team’s initial possession has not ended — the teams will play another overtime period. Play will continue regardless of how many overtime periods are needed for a winner to be determined.
  • There will be a two-minute intermission between each overtime period. There will not be a halftime intermission after the second period. 
  • The captain who lost the first overtime coin toss will either choose to possess the ball or select which goal his team will defend, unless the team that won the coin toss deferred that choice. 
  • Each team will have an opportunity to possess the ball in overtime. 
  • Each team gets three timeouts during a half. 
  • The same timing rules that apply at the end of the second and fourth regulation periods also apply at the end of a second or fourth overtime period. 
  • If there is still no winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, there will be another coin toss, and play will continue until a winner is declared. 

RELATED: PFT– What do NFL’s new postseason overtime rules mean? 

Why did the NFL overtime rules change? 

Last year’s Divisional Round proved to be one of the best weekends of football in the history of the sport, capped off with Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomesdueling it out in a saga for the ages. 

The Chiefs and Bills combined for 25 points in the final two minutes, and after Mahomes led an incredible drive down the field in the final seconds of the game, Harrison Butker tied the game on a 49-yard field goal to send it to OT. The Chiefs won the coin toss, and on the opening drive of bonus football, Mahomes connected with Travis Kelcefor an 8-yard TD to cap off an eight-play, 75-yard game-winning drive. Allen and the Bills’ offense never touched the ball in overtime. 

The result reignited the conversation on why these rules might need to change, and in the ensuing offseason, they did. In March 2022, NFL owners approved a proposal that gives both teams (in the postseason) a guaranteed possession in overtime before the game becomes sudden death. 

It’s not clear how long these changes will stay in effect but for now, at least, this is how all NFL postseason games will be played out. 

RELATED: Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk was among those to weigh in on the OT conversation. Click here for more. 

Click here to see the full 2023 NFL playoff schedule and be sure to check out ProFootballTalk for more on the 2022 NFL Playoffs as well as game previews, predictions, recaps, news, rumors, and more.