Quarterbacks Case Keenum #5 and Baker Mayfield #6 of the...

Quarterbacks Case Keenum #5 and Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns walk off the field following the Browns loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland.  Credit: Getty Images/Rob Carr

Three NFL games scheduled for this weekend have been postponed to early next week as the league faces the most significant spike in positive COVID cases among players and coaches since the start of the pandemic.

The league announced Friday that Saturday’s game between Las Vegas and Cleveland will be played Monday and Sunday’s Washington-Philadelphia and Seattle-Los Angeles Rams games have been moved to Tuesday.

"We have made these schedule changes based on medical advice and after discussion with the NFLPA as we are seeing a new, highly transmissible form of the virus this week resulting in a substantial increase in cases across the league," the NFL said in a statement announcing the changes.

In a memo to the 32 teams obtained by Newsday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said: "From the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, our focus has been to play our games in a safe and responsible way . . . The emergence of the Omicron variant is precisely the kind of change that warrants a flexible response."

Goodell also cited his July 22, 2021 memo to teams in which he first outlined the "competitive principles" that would go into such decisions. Among those principles is: "There is no right to postpone a game and games will not be postponed or rescheduled because of roster issues affecting a particular position group or particular number of players."

These are the first changes to the NFL’s schedule this season. One of the primary challenges to moving games this season is the inclusion of fans who were largely absent from in-person attendance in 2020, when 18 games were postponed to later dates.

On Thursday, the NFL announced updated protocols that include fully vaccinated players being allowed to return from quarantine a day after testing positive provided they produce two negative tests within 24 hours and also are asymptomatic, and tighter rules for meetings among personnel in team buildings. Those changes could allow some of the affected players to return in time for their rescheduled games.

Cleveland has more than 20 players on the COVID/reserve list, including quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum. Coach Kevin Stefanski and assistants Ryan Cordell and T.C. McCartney also are currently unavailable because of COVID-19.

The league’s decision to move Cleveland’s game — along with two others — came as the Raiders were preparing for their flight to Cleveland. Before relenting, the league had been adamant that the Browns-Raiders game would be played as scheduled despite the rising number of positive cases in Cleveland and with other teams.

Washington added starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke to its list Friday. He joined backup Kyle Allen among more than 20 players who have tested positive.

Before the league’s announcement, Washington coach Ron Rivera noted that his team’s game against the Steelers last season was bumped because of positive cases in Pittsburgh.

"Would another day help us? Possibly," Rivera said in a radio interview, adding that about 80% of his players on COVID/reserve have "absolutely" no symptoms.

The Los Angeles Rams placed nine players on COVID/reserve Thursday to bring their total of players on the list to 21, plus another four from their practice squad.

Some players on the teams whose games were moved to accommodate COVID spikes on their opponents’ rosters were unhappy with the decision and took to social media to voice their displeasure.

Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright wrote on Twitter that he was angry to see "rules bent" and added: "If it was the other way around I swear we would be playing tomorrow." Others called out the NFLPA as weak for allowing the league to move games to accommodate one team when the other was relatively unscathed.

Most NFL games scheduled for this weekend will go on as planned despite long lists of players and coaches who will be unavailable. League-wide, 32 players were placed on reserve on Friday and more than 150 players have tested positive and been placed on COVID/reserve since Monday.

Those forging forward include the Giants, who will play Dallas at MetLife Stadium on Sunday with nine players on COVID/reserve, and New Orleans, which will play Tampa Bay on Sunday night without coach Sean Payton.

The Saints announced on Friday that Payton had tested positive and will be replaced by defensive coordinator Dennis Allen for the game.

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