The start of the 2020 NFL season is one sleep away. I, for one, cannot believe we got here, but now that the regular season will kick off in a day’s time, there will be plenty of storylines to follow.
One of the biggest hurdles this year will be playing football amid the COVID-19 pandemic, how it will affect player health and safety, and the timeline of the season. The league’s new-found voice on social justice issues will be another point of emphasis, and the ongoing quarterback and division battles should continue to be as exciting as any other season.
There may still be plenty of uneasiness surrounding this start of the football year, and a number of unknowns can be faced at any point if rosters are depleted or a coronavirus outbreak occurs. But as we prepare to see the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texas matchup on Thursday, here are 10 things we’re looking forward to this year:
10. What will the NFL look like with no preseason?
Now, I’ve been a strong proponent of no preseason for a while, but we’ve never seen what an NFL season looks like without it until now. There’ll likely be more growing pains than normal, with rookies acclimating to NFL speed and new additions getting comfortable with live football, but most of these storied pros will be shaking off the rust by the second half—or so we hope.
9. When will Tua Tagovailoa suit up for Miami?
The Miami Dolphins’ plan to “Tank for Tua” worked, but now that they landed their prized quarterback, what (if anything) will we see from him this season? Teams had to adjust to a shortened training camp and conditions that are less than ideal for a passer who suffered an injury-shortened final college season like Tua Tagovailoa. I don’t expect to see him any time soon—incumbent Ryan Fitzpatrick was recently named the starting quarterback—and the Dolphins should consider redshirting him this year so he can get back to full form. But we’ve seen rookie quarterbacks take the reins early, and we could see that again in Miami.
8. Will Russell Wilson get control of the offense in Seattle?
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll may still be wondering what, “Let Russ cook” means, but even if he doesn’t catch on, he needs to give Russell Wilson the chance to be great sooner. The late-game heroics and comebacks wouldn’t be necessary if the Seahawks are put in a position to utilize Wilson’s skill set before the fourth quarter.
Another interesting note will be how the rest of the NFC West shapes out. The Arizona Cardinals now have wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to pair with quarterback Kyler Murray, the San Francisco 49ers will hope to make a repeat trip back to the Super Bowl, and the Los Angeles Rams need to just get back to the playoffs.
7. The new-look Patriots debut former MVP quarterback
For the first time in 20 years, we’ll see what the New England Patriots look like without Tom Brady. I would imagine they’re a little bit faster and a lot more fun with Cam Newton under center. This past week, Newton, a late addition after spending most of the offseason on the free-agent market, was named the team’s starting quarterback. Newton offers a skill set that Brady simply doesn’t have. How elusive he is and how much outside-of-the-pocket play he displays will certainly be one of the most exciting things to watch.
6. Tom Brady starts second chapter in Tampa Bay
On that note, Brady will be wearing a different uniform for the first time in 20 years. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now a team to talk about. They’ve added an influx of talent around Brady and are very much in win-now mode. Tampa Bay has since signed traded for Rob Gronkowski and signed running backs Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy, center A.Q. Shipley, and others. It’s not that Brady has to prove his Hall of Fame resume—that was cemented in New England—but he would be able to quiet talk about him being a system quarterback if he can find success with the Buccaneers.
5. The price of quarterbacks balloons with new deals and what Dak Prescott’s will look like
Dak Prescott is on the outside looking in at the most lucrative quarterback deals. After Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson both signed extensions over a combined $660 million, the Dallas Cowboys’ passer is patiently waiting for his turn. Prescott has continually produced each season, but it has yet to manifest itself into a deep playoff run. The Cowboys have brought in long-time Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy to try and right the ship while Prescott’s payday hangs in the balance.
4. Can Kansas City repeat?
This, more than Brady, Wilson, whatever number Prescott brings in, or even what Lamar Jackson does this season with the loaded Baltimore Ravens’ roster, will be one of my favorite storylines throughout the year. Mahomes is doing insurmountable things in Kansas City, and the Chiefs will win multiple Super Bowls because of it. The question becomes, how soon? And more so, how, amid a pandemic?
3. Schedule changes
Some sports have managed to finish, start, and play out their seasons; most notably the WNBA and NBA, which created bubbles in Florida, and the NWSL and MLS, which created tournaments inside their own respective bubbles. The task to do that with the large scale of the NFL, however, isn’t feasible. While the NFL has mitigated the spread of the coronavirus through training camp—with 18 total positive tests from the latest road of tests (including the most recent results of tests)—there’s still a big question mark on the regular season when teams travel and come into contact with each other. Any outbreak would cause a change in schedule and the delay could create a ripple effect league-wide. There’s no telling what will happen; it seems to be a matter of waiting and watching.
2. Social justice
The NFL has never been at the forefront of social justice issues, and writing “end racism” in end zones this season won’t… end racism, but the league has finally decided to say something. Other professional leagues, including the WNBA, NBA, and MLS, have been at the forefront of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and making a sustained effort to bring change, i.e. continuing the conversation with moments like the wildcat strike that spanned across most major sports leagues or turning arenas into voting sites for the upcoming election. The NFL has already launched an initiative, NFL Votes, to encourage league personnel and fans to register to vote and its Inspire Change initiative shows a focused effort in at least doing some of the work. But all too often, the NFL has fumbled when it comes down to taking a stand.
1. A Super Bowl
If there’s anything that’s week-to-week this season, it will be actual play. While scheduling conflicts and changes will likely occur, getting through the entire regular season and postseason en route to a Super Bowl seems like a lofty goal.
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