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Week 17 Is One Last Middle Finger From The NFL

11:57 AM EST on January 3, 2021

Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns walks from the field
Sarah Stier/Getty

The National Football League closes its regular season today with the dull, muffled thud you would expect—a showdown between the 6-9 Washingtons and the 4-10-1 Philadelphias to help determine the worst postseason team in league history. Twelve other games have playoff implications but you get WTF-Philly in prime time because HISTORY! The 1988 San Antonio Spurs (an eight-seed at 31-51) kneel in admiration.

It is in some ways the perfect closer. Tony Romo, the new flower of NFL in-game analysis, got caught up in the 'rona and is being replaced on Cardinals-Rams by Boomer Esiason, just as Kirk Herbstreit, who fulfills that role for college football, was drydocked from the CFP semifinal for the same reason. Romo is the 10th NFL-related larynx to miss time to either the disease or its protocols this season, which leaves us to wonder if the networks are minding the masks well enough. But that's the least of football's worries.

This has been a very COVID week in a very COVID year, mainly thanks to the Cleveland Browns. Indeed, ahead of a game the Browns nominally need to make the postseason for the first time in 18 years and second time in their expansion history, the Browns will finish the week with eight players and three coaches making an appearance on the COVID-19 list, included one added late on Saturday. Never fear: The game is still on, apparently because the Browns caught the virus not from each other, but from the community. Because an infected community is BETTER than an infected football office. Because Satan gets to tell jokes too.

The whole NFL year has been a clown convention piefight guided by the league's shut-up-and-punt policy, but today is the crowning jewel of unsightliness. The entire AFC playoff field has been painted all year long with the disease, and the NFL's final response in this hot-tar-and-broken-glass season is not Steelers-Browns, or Dolphins-Bills, or even Packers-Bears on Sunday night. It's WTF-Eagles. The Eagles are already eliminated and sitting some of their best (and we know this is a relative term) players. This is a game that in normal times would have been flexed to three weeks ago at 3 a.m. Wednesday. Comrades McQuade and McKenna might be riveted by this vat of competitive dumpster muck, but the rest of us get our first 2021 reminder that 2020 isn't near done with us yet.

But at least the league isn't bothering to hide it from you anymore. True, they could have given you Jets-Patriots, but sparing us that isn't the same as caring. The customer services department has been replaced by a massive foam middle finger, and you don't even get Tony Romo's voice while you sit on hold. Enjoy the day, suckers.

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