The Cincinnati Bengals will go into their season finale without two above-average Joes.
Running back Joe Mixon tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, per a source. Mixon, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, is currently asymptomatic, Pelissero added.
The Bengals will also be without their starting quarterback against Cleveland, as Joe Burrow told reporters Wednesday that he does not expect to play. Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor later confirmed that Burrow will rest and sit out Week 18.
The MVP candidate said his absence has less to do with his knee, which is "sore but it's not bad," than with taking a mental and physical break before the playoffs.
"Any time you can get a little break at this point in the season," Burrow said. "You know, we played a lot of games. Bodies are starting to wear down a little bit. Rest me this week and get my body back to where it needs to be so I can get back to full strength running around the way I need to be Week 1 of the playoffs."
Burrow added he expects to practice and get some throws during the week.
The timing of Mixon's and Burrow's absences comes as the club, which has clinched a playoff berth, is competing for higher playoff seeding. Cincinnati will have to pursue that without its top RB in Mixon and its starting signal-caller in Burrow, who won't get to finish off the best regular seasons of their respective careers.
Mixon's 1,205 rushing yards, 13 rushing touchdowns, and 314 receiving yards are all career-bests. Mixon's backup, Samaje Perine, figures to step in against the Browns; Perine has rushed for 246 yards on 55 carries this season for an impressive average of 4.5 yards that's even better than Mixon's 4.1.
Burrow has started all 16 games this season after missing six games in his rookie year due to a season-ending knee injury. The QB has completed a league-high 70.4 percent of his passes and has thrown for 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns. Burrow also leads the league in yards per attempt (8.9) and yards per catch (12.6). Backup quarterback Brandon Allen is expected to start in Burrow's place.
Wednesday's news comes on the heels of several other key Bengals hitting the reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday, including safety Vonn Bell, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, guard Quinton Spain and center Trey Hopkins, all of which are starters. Backup linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither was placed on the list, as well. Those players, but not Mixon, could potentially test out of protocols in time to play on Sunday. If two interior offensive linemen in Hopkins and Spain can't play, Perine could find tough sledding in the running game. Other Bengals on the reserve/COVID-19 list include linebacker Jordan Evans, wide receiver Trenton Irwin and cornerback Trae Waynes.
At 10-6, the Bengals are AFC North champions and can do no worse than the No. 4 seed. But they can do better, and still have an outside chance at the No. 1 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it.