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. 

Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes: All-time QB matchups, records, stats

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Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes have gone head-to-head six times and each matchup has been both high-stakes and high-scoring affairs between the two legendary quarterbacks who have an even 3-3 overall record against each other. See below for a breakdown of the Brady vs. Mahomes rivalry.

Mahomes is currently in his fifth season as the Chiefs starting quarterback. The 2019 Super Bowl MVP signed a 10-year, $450 million extension in July 2020, which was the richest contract in American sports history by total value. Over the last four seasons (2018-2021), Mahomes has led the league in both passing yards (18,707) and touchdown passes (151). The 27-year-old looks to lead the Chiefs to their seventh straight AFC West Title. Kansas City is the only team to ever win six consecutive AFC West titles, which is tied for the 3rd-longest division title streak of any team in NFL history.

At 45 years old Tom Brady, who already holds 7 Super Bowl titles–the most in NFL history, is currently playing in his 23rd NFL season–one that many thought he wouldn’t see after an unpredictable offseason filled with rumorsretirement, and unretirement. But the greatest of all time is back–this time without the comfort of his longtime trusted TE Rob Gronkowski–and is not only facing the challenge of playing with a banged-up offensive line but is also adjusting to the turnover at the WR and TE positions from this offseason.

RELATED: NFL QBs with most Super Bowl wins – Where does Tom Brady rank ahead of Super Bowl 2023

Every past matchup between Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes (3-3 overall record):

  1. Oct. 14, 2018 (Week 6) – Patriots defeated the Chiefs 43-40. Brady threw for 340 yards and 1 TD. Mahomes threw for 352 yards, 4 TD, and 2 INT.
  2. Jan. 20, 2019 (AFC Championship Game) – Patriots defeated the Chiefs 37-31, in overtime. Brady threw 348 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INT. Mahomes finished with 295 YDS, and 3 TD
  3. Dec. 8, 2019 (Week 14) – Chiefs defeated the Patriots 23-16. Mahomes totaled 283 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Brady had 169 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT.
  4. Nov. 29, 2020 (Week 12) – Chiefs beat the Buccaneers 27-24. Mahomes threw for 462 yards with 3 TD. Brady finished with 345 yards, 3 TD, and 2 INT.
  5. Feb. 7, 2021 (Super Bowl 55) – Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 playing on their home field at Raymond James Stadium. Brady threw for 201 yards and 3 TD and was named Super Bowl MVP for a record 5th time.
  6. Oct. 2, 2022 (Week 4) – Chiefs defeated the Buccaneers 41-31 at Raymond James Stadium. Mahomes went 23-of-37 for 249 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

RELATED: NFL QBs with most Super Bowl wins – Where does Tom Brady rank ahead of Super Bowl 2023

In an interview with NBC’s Maria Taylor for Football Night in America, Mahomes discusses the trademarks of a Brady-led team.

“First off, they take advantage of mistakes,” Mahomes said. “If you make a mistake on the field, if I throw an interception or if you fumble, or if something like that happens, he’s going to make you pay and get points on the board and then he’s going to manage the game.”

Mahomes also knows that while Brady has a knack for capitalizing on mistakes, he does not often make many of his own.

“He’s going to make some plays when he needs to make plays, but at the same time he’s not going to make that big mistake. So you have to go out there and play a near perfect football game to win. Another thing, he’s never out of it and I think that’s something I try to pride myself on as well is never being out of the game. So whenever you play against a Tom Brady-led team, you make sure you keep that foot down on the pedal and try to do whatever you can to finish the game off.”

Patrick Mahomes absorbs Tom Brady’s lessons

Despite the difference in age and experience, Brady and Mahomes are alike in their impact on the game.

“You want to not like Tom but he’s just like the best guy,” Mahomes said. “So it’s hard to not like him, but to be able to play in golf tournaments, and him give me kind of advice and stuff like that. I mean, he’s the GOAT. You want to learn from the best and it’s really cool to have that relationship with him.”

Even when Brady and Mahomes have faced off in high-stakes postseason games, the advice continues. The two met in the 2019 AFC Championship game, when Brady was still playing for the New England Patriots. Both quarterbacks delivered stellar performances, but Brady managed to lead the Patriots to an overtime victory.

Following this loss, Mahomes tells Taylor that he is upset and spends a lot of time after the game sitting in the locker room. But when Mahomes finally walks out, Brady is waiting for him.

“He could be celebrating” Mahomes said. “He’s going to the Super Bowl and everything like that, and all he said to me, ‘Hey, just keep doing it how you’re doing it. You’re doing it the right way.’ And as a young quarterback, you just go out there and play and try to have fun and do whatever you can to put your team in the best position to win.

But when the GOAT’s saying that, he’s saying you’re doing it the right way, it shows you that you are doing it the right way. And so that was big for me”

While Brady has not revealed all his football wisdom to Mahomes, the Chiefs’ signal-caller looks forward to learning more.

“He won’t give me all the secrets yet,” Mahomes said. “But hopefully one day I’ll get the secrets and can put those into my game.”

Patrick Mahomes embraces the Tom Brady mindset

While Brady and Mahomes are competitors, their respect from one another extends beyond the football field into their personal lives. Mahomes and his wife Brittany, have a young girl, Sterling, and are expecting a baby boy.

“You want to be able to be a family man and be with your family and you want to be able to do these different things, where you’re going into businesses and then helping out and shooting commercials and, at the same time, keeping football first.”

One of the biggest lessons Mahomes has taken from Brady is the importance of prioritizing football in addition to consistently improving at the game.

“That’s the greatness in Tom Brady is no matter how much off the field stuff he does, football is always the main priority and he makes sure to keep it that way,” Mahomes said. “And so you watch that and then at the same time you go back to him on the field and he’s always getting better. I feel like every single year he finds something he can get better at. And that’s what I want to do, is I want to keep getting better as my career goes on so that I can play hopefully, maybe not as long as him, but pretty long as well.”

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

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How to watch 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.

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.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


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What are the longest field goals in NFL history and when were they kicked?

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The 2022 NFL season is upon us, and at a time when every point matters, field goals take on an added significance. Last season, Baltimore Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker converted the longest field goal in NFL history at 66 yards. Trailing 17-16 to the Detroit Lions in Week 3, Tucker successfully kicked a field goal that bounced off the cross bar and through the uprights to give the Ravens the victory as time expired.

Tucker’s kick broke the previous record that was set back in 2013. Cardinals kicker Matt Prater was the previous record holder with a kick of 64 yards against the Tennessee Titans. Prater, who played for the Denver Broncos at the time, converted the kick at the end of the first half to pull the Broncos within one point heading into the locker room.

RELATED: How to watch Cincinnati Bengals vs Baltimore Ravens: TV, live stream info, preview for Sunday Night Football game

The next field goal record is 63 yards and it has been achieved six different times in NFL history, most recently by Brett Maher in 2019 when the Cowboys were hosting the Philadelphia Eagles. In his three NFL seasons, Maher has kicked one 63-yard field goal and two 62-yarders. The first kick in NFL history of 63 yards happened in 1970 when Tom Dempsey of New Orleans sent a 63-yard kick through the uprights.

There are another five kickers throughout NFL history who have converted a kick of 62 yards. Earlier this season, Prater kicked a 62-yard kick against the Minnesota Vikings that had room to spare. The field goal was kicked from the center of the Cardinals’ mid-field logo and put Arizona up, 24-23, at halftime. With two of the kicking records in NFL history, Prater has established himself as a kicking legend in the NFL.

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

What are the longest field goals in regular season history?

66 yards – Justin Tucker, Detroit vs. Baltimore, Sept. 26, 2021

64 yards – Matt Prater, Denver vs. Tennessee, Dec. 8, 2013

63 yards – Tom Dempsey, New Orleans vs. Detroit, Nov. 8, 1970

Jason Elam, Denver vs. Jacksonville, Oct. 25, 1998
Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland vs. Denver, Sept. 12, 2011
David Akers, San Francisco vs. Green Bay, Sept. 9, 2012
Graham Gano, Carolina vs. N.Y. Giants, Oct. 7, 2018
Brett Maher, Dallas vs. Philadelphia, Oct. 20, 2019

62 yards – Matt Prater, Arizona vs. Minnesota, Sept. 19, 2021

Matt Bryant, Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia, Oct. 22, 2006
Stephen Gostkowski, New England vs. Oakland, Nov. 19, 2017
Brett Maher, Dallas vs. Philadelphia, Dec. 9, 2018 (OT)
Brett Maher, Dallas vs. N.Y. Jets, Oct. 13, 2019

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups

The longest field goals in playoff history do not quite match those of the regular season, but they are not far off. The longest kick in the postseason is 58 yards and two kickers have achieved the feat: Pete Stoyanovich of the Chiefs in the team’s 1990 Wild Card game against the Dolphins and Graham Gano of the Panthers before halftime of the team’s Wild Card game vs. the Saints.

What are the longest field goals in playoff history?

58 yardsPete Stoyanovich, AFC-FR: Miami vs. Kansas City, 1990
Graham Gano, NFC-FR: Carolina vs. New Orleans, 2017

57 yards –  Mike Nugent, AFC-FR: Cincinnati vs. Indianapolis, 2014
Wil Lutz, NFC-FR: New Orleans vs. Carolina, 2017
Greg Zuerlein, NFC: L.A. Rams vs. New Orleans, 2018

56 yards – Mason Crosby, NFC-D: Green Bay vs. Dallas, 2016


How to watch 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.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube