The Arizona Cardinals are the best and worst team in the NFL regarding their record and the coronavirus.
Nobody expected them to be the NFL's best team in mid-October with an undefeated 6-0 record and enter the Super Bowl contender conversation.
The only people who knew the Cardinals would be this strong entering Week 7 are themselves.
"I think it's something that we expected to do. I think we expect to win each and every game," Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray said during Week 5. "That's the type of talent that we have on this team, that's the type of maturity that we have. We've come a long way."
They've certainly come a long way after last season being 8-8, and 5-11 the previous year with Murray as a rookie and head coach Kliff Kingsbury entering his first year with the team.
But as the Cardinals move toward their first playoff berth in six seasons, COVID-19 has impacted the team's players, coaching, and front office personnel almost as bad as their piling injuries.
And based on their latest outbreak and continued issues, the undefeated pandemic might hand them their first loss this year.
The Cardinals have had an NFL-high 24 coronavirus cases within the organization entering Week 7.
Since training camp began on July 23, the Cardinals have had 21 players test positive, six last week.
That's three defensive players including All-Pro outside linebacker Chandler Jones, DT Zach Allen and nose tackle Corey Peters, quarterbacks coach Cam Turner, head coach Kliff Kingsbury and General Manager Steve Keim.
"Guys just try to mask up and we have the test to make sure that guys are good to go," starting right tackle Kelvin Beachum said about Jones. "We just try to do everything to make sure we're safe. It's unfortunate to have somebody of his caliber test positive at this junction in the season, having the type of season that he's having, but as a team we've just got to find a way to stay safe and make sure that we don't have any spreading going on in the locker room and in the building."
Their defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said to reporters on Monday their positive test count made the league put the Cardinals on high alert to go from one test per week to a mandated daily testing after Jones was positive on Wednesday.
"Once you get four or five (positive) tests in a week, they make everyone on Tier 1 and 2 test daily until you get through a four or five day period," Joseph said. "Once the positive test happened on Wednesday, everyone tested on Thursday, stress, Friday, more stress, Saturday, more stress, and obviously Sunday, more stress. Hopefully after this week, we get back to normal protocols, which is testing once a week for the players and once a week for the coaches."
Stress is the appropriate repeated word as the Cardinals deal with players and coaching being quarantined as they're crafting their plan. However, Joseph said Zoom conference calls is keeping the coaching staff and players on track in their practice prep and game-planning.
Joseph also said the team normally tests coaches on Mondays and players on Tuesdays.
"Once you get past Tuesday, you feel good about the week," Joseph said. "But last week, having positive in the building on Wednesday, they put everyone back to those testing protocols and we kind of knew that someone was going to be positive. We had no idea who it was going to be. That added to the stress. Last year, we tested everyday, so we knew every single day who was positive and who was negative."
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The NFL sent a league-wide memo that cracked the whip on vaccinations in July, without mandating teams to get them.
The memo basically incentivized players to either get vaccinated, or risk having their games forfeited and their paychecks withheld if there is a COVID outbreak on their team roster that isn't fully vaccinated.
The Cardinals were under 50% vaccinated in mid-July, but revealed they were fully vaccinated by September.
In the case of fully vaccinated teams who experience a COVID outbreak, the memo states if there is a "spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams."
If more positive tests continue to pop up for the Cardinals during the positive-tested individuals' 10-day minimum to stay away from their training facility in Tempe, or if those individuals who tested positive don't have two subsequent negative tests 24 hours apart, that might lead to a cancelled game and loss on the Cardinals record.
So, even though they have the "next man-up" mentality when players go down with injury, a COVID-related loss could be their reality if the Cardinals keep trending downward in that way.
"I hope not. That would be the worst case scenario for us," Joseph said. "We have a huge practice squad and guys available to play. Most of our players are obviously vaccinated and wearing masks with the new protocols we have in place.
"We're hoping our players take it serious and wear their masks. With the stuff we have in place in the building, with the tests right now being daily, I hope it never becomes that. But, obviously, it's a long season. We got 11 more games to go and COVID's not going away, so we have to go a good job of staying with the protocols, wearing our masks, keeping the hygiene up and doing the best we can with COVID because it's not going anywhere."
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: CCOVID-19 could hand undefeated Arizona Cardinals their first loss