How NFL is responding to Omicron variant of COVID-19 as positives pile up


Twenty days ago, the United States experienced the first case of Omicron. A week ago, NFL cognoscenti, just beginning to see the Covid testing rate increasing, were still adamant no games would be moved or postponed. Four days after that, three games were moved, culminating a week in which 160 positive tests happened. “I don’t think we could have foreseen the magnitude of that increase and how rapidly Omicron would really take over and essentially change the entire game plan,” the NFL’s medical director, Allen Sills, told me Saturday night. “There was some anticipation, but it’s a bit like preparing for a hurricane. You take all the preparations you think you can and then you wait, and then you see how it actually is … Out of the first batch that we’ve been able to test, almost all of the positives were Omicron.”

Sills is pragmatic and studious, and he’s spoken confidently about the virus in the 21 months that it’s plagued the NFL. But I could hear in his voice Saturday night that this one’s got him stumped a bit. “It’s almost like dealing with a different disease,” he said. “I think it’s going to require us to toss out our old game plan and bring a new game plan to bear because we’re dealing with a very different opponent. The most striking thing is the transmissibility and just how quickly it has spread—coming from basically being an unknown entity to now reflecting almost all the cases we’re seeing in a week’s time. It’s unprecedented.”

The league and players agreed to do something counterintuitive this week. They’re going to stop regular testing of players, and begin a “targeted” testing program, focused on players and staff who exhibit symptoms or self-report them. At first glance—and second, too—it seems the league doesn’t want to catch people who test positive for Omicron, which purportedly has been milder in nature than other variants. One club executive, defending the league’s move to cut down regular testing, said if testing was done this week, with the wildfire-type growth of the variant across the country, “250 players would test positive and would be out.”

“If they are positive,” I asked Sills, “shouldn’t they be out?”

“Maybe it will turn out that vaccinated players with Omicron will transmit the virus in practice or in games,” Sills said. “If so, the NFL’s got to change, fast. But so far, there’s zero indication the virus is transmitted on the field. And the vast majority of players aren’t sick at all. I still think players who aren’t feeling well will self-report. They don’t want to get their teammates sick.”

Sills said on a league conference call Saturday that what the league will do starting this week is what practicing doctors (which he is) do now. They don’t routinely test asymptomatic, well-feeling people. He said all but two of the WFT positive-testing players felt fine and had no symptoms.

But there’s so much we don’t know yet about the Omicron variant. If the transmissibility goes wild and sickens people worse than it appears this variant will, the NFL will look like a greedy business that put jamming through the schedule over potential impact on public health. Now that the lack of testing is a done deal, the NFL has to be sure it pivots the moment Omicron gets more dire than it appears now.

For now, I believe the league did the right thing Friday in pushing Raiders-Browns to Monday, and WFT-Philadelphia and Seattle-Rams to Tuesday. At the time the games were moved, the Rams, WFT and Cleveland had 83 player positives, combined, and there was (still is) no guarantee things wouldn’t get worse. Anyone angry about how “unfair” this is to football balance … take a breath. Life intrudes sometimes, the same way it did in the weird start-and-stop-and-start 2020 season. “This is what our planet, country, league, other leagues, schools, everyone, has been dealing with for a while,” Rams GM Les Snead texted to me Sunday afternoon. “This is science, in a nutshell.”

WFT coach Ron Rivera said Sunday he spent lots more time on roster-fortification than coaching during the week. “We spent hours scanning everyone’s practice squad and on the players we’d worked out since training camp,” Rivera told me. “Because we potentially had our top two quarterbacks out with Covid, it was important to find out who fit us. And Garrett Gilbert was on New England’s practice squad. He’d played for Dallas last year and we liked what we saw, and we thought he could fit our offense well. He might have to play in the ballgame Tuesday night in Philadelphia.”

Rivera might have Taylor Heinicke or Kyle Allen back if they test negative before dusk Tuesday in Philly. If they don’t, it’s your team, Garrett Gilbert.

“The last two years, this has gotten wearisome,” Rivera admitted. “Sometimes you get a ‘Now what?’ feeling. But let’s face it. It’s doesn’t look like this is going away anytime soon. We might have to take a booster every year to stay ahead of it.”

The NFL will be on trial here, now that it’s not going to test regularly. All that’s at stake is the completion of the 2021 season.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

NFL quarterback rankings 2023: Chris Simms’ top 40 QB countdown ahead of upcoming NFL season


While the NFL is a league that is ever-changing, some things are set to stay the same in 2023 — like the revealing of Chris Simms’ top 40 QB countdown.

Last year’s list saw Josh Allen take his place atop the quarterback throne, with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Los Angeles’ Justin Herbert not far behind at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. It was, however, Mahomes who would ultimately reign over all NFL quarterbacks at the end of the season, as the 27-year-old collected both the NFL MVP honors and his second Lombardi Trophy.

This NFL offseason, however, has brought some intriguing adjustments that are likely to shake up Simms’ rankings.

While some signal-callers such as Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson found their prolonged home with massive contract signings, others will be venturing to a new franchise in search of a fresh start. Aaron Rodgers‘ trade to the New York Jets is unquestionably the most staggering shift, but other quarterbacks on the move such as Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo cannot be forgotten.

RELATED: Mike Florio gives an inside look into the Lamar Jackson deal

And with three of the first four picks in the 2023 NFL Draft being spent on a quarterback, emerging talent will likely turn the tides for some franchises this upcoming season.

See below for Chris Simms’ top 40 QB countdown ahead of the upcoming season. Be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for more on the 2023 NFL season as well as an unfiltered look at the NFL featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown and stories from a life in and around football.

RELATED: Peter King’s latest offseason NFL power rankings

Chris Simms’ 2023 Top 40 QB Countdown:

40. Desmond Ridder (ATL)

39. Sam Howell (WAS)

38. Bryce Young (CAR)

37. CJ Stroud (HOU)

36. Anthony Richardson (IND)

35. Mike White (MIA)

34. Gardner Minshew (IND)

33. Taylor Heinicke (ATL)

32. Jarrett Stidham (DEN)

31. Jordan Love (GB)

30. Davis Mills (HOU)

29. Tyler Huntley (BAL)

28. Andy Dalton (CAR)

27. Sam Darnold (SF)

26. Brock Purdy (SF)

25. Kenny Pickett (PIT)

24. Baker Mayfield (TB)

23. Justin Fields (CHI)

22. Jimmy Garoppolo (LV)

21. Tua Tagovailoa (MIA)

20. Mac Jones (NE)

19. Kyler Murray (AZ)

18. Derek Carr (NO)

17. Jared Goff (DET)

16. Ryan Tannehill (TEN)

15. Geno Smith (SEA)

14. Russell Wilson (DEN)

13. Dak Prescott (DAL)

12. Kirk Cousins (MIN)

11. Daniel Jones (NYG)

10. Matthew Stafford (LAR)

9. Deshaun Watson (CLE)

8. Aaron Rodgers (NYJ)

7. Jalen Hurts (PHI)

6. Trevor Lawrence (JAX)

5. Lamar Jackson (BAL)

4. Justin Herbert (LAC)

3. Josh Allen (BUF)

2. Joe Burrow (CLE)

1. Patrick Mahomes (KC)

2023 NFL Schedule Release: Start time, how to watch, live stream, channel


With another exciting NFL Draft in the books, teams can now turn their gaze toward the road to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. The path to Super Bowl glory, however, is about to become abundantly more clear with the 2023 NFL season schedule release.

This year’s NFL season schedule release is nearly here, with the entirety of the 2023 NFL schedule being unveiled on Thursday, May 11 at 8 p.m. ET on both Peacock and NFL Network. See below for everything you need to know for one of the offseason’s most anticipated events.

RELATED: Click here for full analysis on Rounds 1-7 of the 2023 NFL Draft

When will the 2023 NFL season schedule be released?

While all 272 matchups have been known since the conclusion of the 2022 regular season, the order and dates for these games have remained a mystery. The secret is nearly out, however, with every NFL game on the brink of revelation.

The full 2023 NFL schedule will be released on Thursday, May 11 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

How can I watch the 2023 NFL season schedule release?

The 2023 NFL season schedule release will take place Thursday, May 11 on Peacock, NFL Network, and the NFL app at 8 p.m. ET.

While the entirety of the schedule will be unveiled at that time, select games have already been and will continue to be released prior to the official event. Ahead of the 2023 NFL season schedule release, the following games will be announced:

Who will play in the 2023 NFL Kickoff game?

The first game of the 2023-24 NFL season will see the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs take the field in Arrowhead Stadium.

The opponent that will meet Patrick Mahomes and company in Kansas City, however, remains to be revealed.

Which NFL teams have international games in 2023?

While the majority of the matchups set to take place next season have yet to be announced, the league has already revealed which teams will head overseas for international showdowns.

Below is the full list of international NFL games for the 2023-24 season, with three in London, U.K., and two in Frankfurt, Germany.

Falcons vs. Jaguars: Week 4, Oct. 1 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Wembley Stadium in London, U.K.

Jaguars vs. Bills: Week 5, Oct. 8 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, U.K.

Ravens vs. Titans: Week 6, Oct. 15 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, U.K.

Dolphins vs. Chiefs: Week 9, Nov. 5 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Frankfurt Stadium in Frankfurt, Germany

Colts vs. Patriots: Week 10, Nov. 12 at 9:30 a.m. ET | Frankfurt Stadium in Frankfurt, Germany

RELATED: NFL’s 2023 international games full of “star power”

When is the Super Bowl and where will it be taking place?

Stars will be shining bright in Las Vegas, Nevada, for Super Bowl LVIII, set to take place on Feb. 11, 2024, at the home of the Raiders in Allegiant Stadium.

This will be the first Super Bowl to ever take place in Las Vegas, which hosted the 2023 Pro Bowl and 2022 NFL Draft.

Be sure to follow ProFootballTalk for the latest news, updates, and storylines about the upcoming NFL season!