The Cincinnati Bengals announced Tuesday that safety Vonn Bell, linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, center Trey Hopkins and guard Quinton Spain have all been placed on the NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list.
That comes ahead of a crucial matchup with their in-state rivals, the Cleveland Browns, on Sunday. While the 10-6 Bengals have clinched both the AFC North title and a playoff berth—and the 7-9 Browns have been eliminated from postseason contention—they still have a small chance to earn the top overall seed in the conference.
Per ESPN's Kevin Seifert, the Bengals "can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC in Week 18 with a win over the Browns and losses by the Titans, Chiefs and Patriots or a win and a Bills win plus losses by the Titans and Chiefs."
So they need a lot of help. It all starts with beating the Browns, however, and they may be short-handed in those efforts.
Granted, the new coronavirus protocols agreed upon by the NFL and NFLPA make it easier for players to return in a short window. Namely, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network noted the new protocols reportedly cut "the standard isolation period after a positive test for asymptomatic individuals from 10 days to five days regardless of vaccination status."
Additionally, a player "must clear at least 24 hours since their last fever without the aid of fever-reducing medication; other symptoms must be 'resolved or improved'; individual must be cleared by team doctor in consultation with ICS and NFL; and any local regulations or requirements have been satisfied."
So, it's possible that the Bengals could have many of their players back. Otherwise, they'll be without several key starters.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bell, 27, has started all 16 games for the Bengals this season, registering 97 tackles and an interception. The 27-year-old Hendrickson has emerged as a star for the Bengals in the past two seasons, with 27.5 sacks in his last 31 games.
And Davis-Gaither, 24, is a reserve linebacker with 28 tackles in nine appearances this year.
As for the offensive lineman, Hopkins, 29, has largely served as the team's starting center since 2017 and missed just two games over the past three seasons. Spain, 30, has started all 16 games at guard this season.