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The Tennessee Titans have the NFL’s worst COVID-19 outbreak: What we know

The Tennessee Titans have been dealing with the NFL's worst COVID-19 outbreak of the 2020 season, one that is still ongoing after two more players tested positive on Wednesday.

It has forced the league to postpone just one game, but more may be coming, as the team will continue to face quarantine measures until it produces a series of negative test results to show that transmission has waned. The NFL is moving along with its 2020 season amid a global pandemic that has infected more than 7.5 million Americans and has killed more than 211,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Head coach Mike Vrabel says the Titans have asked their players not to gather. (Photo: The Associated Press)

Here's a breakdown of what we know about the Titans, and how their outbreak affects the rest of the NFL.

What happened?

In the middle of last week, several Titans players and staffers began testing positive for COVID-19, forcing the league to closely monitor the situation. Eventually, their scheduled Week 4 game against the Steelers was postponed.

It was thought that the initial wave of positive tests could have potentially affected the Minnesota Vikings, the team Tennessee played in Week 3.

Both the Vikings and the Titans closed their team facilities last Tuesday, as the league awaited the test results. Minnesota, after there were no new positive test results in the subsequent round of testing, reopened their facility and played their Week 4 game against the Texans as scheduled Sunday, winning 31-23.

As of Wednesday afternoon, at least 22 confirmed infections have been reported within the Titans organization, leaving their Week 5 game scheduled for Sunday against the Bills in Nashville in doubt. The Titans have not yet returned to their team facility since it closed last Tuesday.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, it was reported that several Titans players worked out at a local school on Sept. 30, one day after the team reported eight positive cases in the organization.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association are investigating whether the Titans violated the league's collectively bargained protocols.

On Wednesday, offensive lineman Rodger Saffold defended his teammates as news of the workout at the school spread on Wednesday.

Guys just don’t work out for fun this is for their lively hood, their family, their opportunity. Say what you want but I’m standing up for my team always. https://t.co/wRmlIOT4ww

How is the rest of the league affected?

Because of Sunday's Titans-Steelers game being postponed, Pittsburgh was forced to take its bye week four weeks earlier after it had been scheduled for Week 8. That means that the Steelers will now be forced to play 13 consecutive weeks in the regular season. If the team qualifies for the postseason and doesn't qualify for a first-round bye, which only the top seed in each conference earns, that number could be extended.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, responding to a question about the possibility of the NFL forcing the Titans to forfeit their Week 5 game against the Bills, said Wednesday morning: "I don’t think they will consider forfeiting our game (against the Titans), and of course, we got the short end of the stick."

Pittsburgh is now scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens on Week 8, when the Steelers and Ravens' bye had originally been set. The Steelers and Titans are scheduled to make up their postponed game in Week 7.

The Bills, meanwhile, are left to wait for the league to announce any potential changes to their schedule.

"That's a real situation," Bills coach Sean McDermott said Wednesday. "We are monitoring it as closely as we can from here. We have to be responsible and gather information so we can put the health and well being of the people in our building at the top of our list."

Would Titans have to forfeit?

Because the outbreak is lingering, the NFL may have to get creative with its scheduling toward the end of the season. Tennessee also used its bye during Week 4, as it hoped to reduce transmission before Week 5's games.

That means that the team no longer has flexibility in terms of rescheduling games for later in the season. One possible solution could be to push back the playoffs by one week, and eliminate a previously scheduled week off between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, using it instead as a Week 18 that would allow for games that need to be made up.

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