CLEVELAND – If the Browns have their playoff hopes significantly damaged with a loss Sunday to the New York Jets, the COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered as a culprit.
Starting middle linebacker B.J. Goodson was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday after testing positive for the virus.
Then the Browns' top four wide receivers — Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge — and rookie linebacker Jacob Phillips were identified as high-risk close contacts of Goodson.
All six players will be unavailable to play Sunday when the Browns (10-4) are scheduled to face the New York Jets (1-13) at MetLife Stadium.
The Browns can clinch a playoff berth in Week 16 if they defeat the Jets and one of the other teams in the thick of the AFC wild-card race loses. The teams to watch are the Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens. The Browns haven't appeared in the postseason since 2002.
Although the Jets have won just one game this season — 23-20 over the Los Angeles Rams last week — defeating any team in the league should be challenging with a depleted receiving corps.
Meanwhile, the Browns activated rookie starting left tackle Jedrick Wills. He landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday as a close contact of a non-Browns employee who tested positive for the virus.
The Browns also elevated center Javon Patterson from the practice squad to the active roster as a COVID-19 replacement.
The team announced the transactions involving Goodson, Wills and Patterson a few hours after releasing a statement saying a player had tested positive for COVID-19.
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Goodson will be unavailable to face the Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Jan. 3 regular-season finale because of COVID-19 protocols. The protocols were changed Dec. 15 to stipulate all players who test positive for the virus, even symptomatic ones, may not return until 10 days have passed since the specimen that tested positive was collected.
A free-agent acquisition in March, Goodson leads the Browns with 91 tackles and has a half sack, two interceptions, six passes defensed and a fumble recovery.
Other key linebackers who will likely be relied on to fill the void are Sione Takitaki, rookie Jacob Phillips, Mack Wilson and Malcolm Smith, who's questionable to face the Jets because of a hamstring injury.
Coach Kevin Stefanski decided to make Wilson a healthy inactive in last week's 20-6 win over the New York Giants, but defensive coordinator Joe Woods said Thursday Wilson is in the plans to play against the Jets.
Even with Wills back, the Browns will still be down a starter on the offensive line Sunday because they ruled out right guard Wyatt Teller (ankle) for the second consecutive game.
Rookie fifth-round draft pick Nick Harris is expected to start in place of Teller. Chris Hubbard started for Teller against the Giants, but Hubbard suffered a season-ending knee injury on the offense's second play, forcing the Browns to summon Harris from the bench.
— Nate Ulrich, Akron Beacon Journal