So, you’ve decided to watch the National Football League. Congratulations! Wash your hands, wear a mask, and say a prayer. Buckle up folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Get ready for the most bizarro NFL season in history. Unlike the other pro sports, this league had plenty of time to put together a comprehensive COVID-19 plan. The good news: very few players have gone on the COVID-19 Reserve List. The bad news: a few weeks ago there were reportedly several false positives. Without a bubble environment, it seems inevitable that some key players are going to test positive.
Heck, 66 have already punted on 2020, opting out of the season due to the pandemic. The New England Patriots were hardest-hit with eight players saying “Nah, I’m good.” And yet, somehow Bill Belichick probably will find a way for another stand-up comedian to score four touchdowns in a game.
The season will start cold turkey with no exhibition games. What’s new?
- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are Bucs. Philip Rivers is a Colt. Cam Newton is a Patriot. Todd Gurley is a Falcon. DeAndre Hopkins is a Cardinal. Stefon Diggs is a Bill. Melvin Gordon is a Bronco. Everson Griffen is a Cowboy. Trent Williams is a 49er. Jamal Adams is a Seahawk. Yannick Ngakoue is a Viking. The Raiders are in Las Vegas.
- These guys have retired: Eli Manning, Luke Kuechly, Marshal Yanda, Joe Staley, and Antonio Gates. Adam Vinatieri might be next.
- The Washington Football Team doesn’t have a name and doesn’t have a clue. Daniel Snyder and company have reportedly engaged in horrible off-the-field behavior. Speaking of embarrassing, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell now cares about Colin Kaepernick. Too bad no owner has the guts to sign Kaepernick.
- Five teams have new coaches. Mike McCarthy, the rare Super Bowl-winning coach that nobody was in a hurry to hire, is back. He landed one of the most glamorous job in sports, coach of the Cowboys. America! What a country!
- The Rams, Chargers, and Raiders all have new stadiums. No fans will be in the stands to see them. Will the Chargers even notice?
- Oh yeah, the playoffs have expanded from 12 to 14 teams because nothing is more exciting than an 8-8 squad in the postseason.
The last stand for the old guard?
There will be four starting quarterbacks who are at least 38 years old: Tom Brady (43), Drew Brees (41), Philip Rivers (38), and Ben Roethlisberger (38). Brady, Brees, and Roethlisberger have combined for 11 Super Bowl trips, nine Super Bowl victories, and five Super Bowl MVPs. Rivers could be the best QB to never reach a Super Bowl. This might be the final shot for all of them. The star QBs are getting younger. 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson is 23. 2018 MVP and reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes will turn 25 in a few weeks.
Last Super Bowl appearance: February 2019
His career started in 2000. Facebook, Air Fryers, iPhones Uber, and Fitbits didn’t even exist then. Brady, who’s friendly with a doctor who’s not an actual doctor and runs his own fitness and nutrition store, has stiff-armed the aging process. TB12, the league’s oldest active player, is in an ideal situation at Tampa Bay with better wide receivers (Chris Godwin, Mike Evans) than he had last year in New England. Plus, he brought along Gronk.
Last Super Bowl appearance: February 2010
The most accurate quarterback in NFL history “completely missed the mark” with his offseason comments on players kneeling during the national anthem. Brees has apologized, and now we can return to focusing on his late-season struggles. His arm strength has diminished, and he hasn’t played well down the stretch. The Saints might have the best roster in the NFL, but can they overcome Brees’ growing limitations?
Fun fact: Brees had a cameo appearance in Entourage.
Last Super Bowl appearance: None
Rivers throws the football like he’s pushing a shopping cart. Now he’s older, more mistaken-prone, and as mobile as a brick building. The Colts think they have upgraded even though Rivers’ passer rating (88.5) last year wasn’t much better than Jacoby Brissett’s (88.0). The fossilized remains of Rivers will be operating behind the best offensive line he’s ever had, and Colts coach Frank Reich was his offensive coordinator with the Chargers (2014-15).
Fun fact: Rivers hasn’t rushed for a TD since 2011.
Last Super Bowl appearance: February 2011
The serial Twitter blocker has had a change of heart. He reportedly has unblocked several people who have in the past said derogatory things about him. (He claims that his social media team runs his Twitter account). It’s a whole new Ben. Will he have a whole new healthy arm after missing most of last season due to an elbow injury? In his last full season, Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards, but the Steelers QB no longer has Antonio Brown.
Fun fact: Roethlisberger is the only player in NFL history with three 500-yard passing games.
Chiefs vs. Ravens AFC Championship game seems inevitable
Kansas City and Baltimore are so far ahead of everyone else. They have the two best quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, and two of the best coaches in Andy Reid and John Harbaugh. Mahomes overcame three straight games of double-digit deficits to win a Super Bowl. Jackson won the MVP with the worst collection of wide receivers he’ll likely have going forward in his career.
The biggest concern for the Chiefs might in the defensive backfield. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland will miss the first four games for violation of substance-abuse policy. And last year’s other starting corner Kendall Fuller signed as a free agent with Washington.
The biggest concern for the Ravens might be replacing Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who was cut following an altercation with a teammate. Thomas might be a pain in the arse, but he’s a Hall of Fame player even at the age of 31.
Other possible AFC contenders include: New England, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh.
Guys with something to prove
Todd Gurley, RB, Atlanta Falcons – The days of Gurley carrying an offense are probably over. His arthritic knee might keep him from a Hall of Fame career. His struggles last year weren’t completely his fault. The Rams went from the best run-blocking offensive line in 2018 to the 19th. Gurley still scored 14 touchdowns, including 12 rushing. Assuming he’s reasonably healthy, he can still be productive in an offense where he’s more of a complementary figure.
Von Miller, DE, Denver Broncos – Miller was the first high-profile NFL player, and second overall, to test positive for COVID-19. According to Miller, he experienced a loss of taste and smell and his lungs felt constricted. Miller considered opting out of 2020, but will attempt to regain his previous form. The former Super Bowl MVP endured the second-worst season of his career with only 8 sacks. While he made the Pro Bowl, he wasn’t the pass-rush terror that wrecked offenses.
Ty Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts –Hilton missed six games last year, including five with a calf injury. Hilton has also battled various other leg problems. The sudden retirement of Andrew Luck last fall didn’t help either. When healthy and with a good quarterback, Hilton is a game-breaker. He averages 15.6 yards per catch for his career. But last year, he set career lows in receptions (45) and yards (501). Perhaps Rivers will make a difference.
Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys coach– Mike McCarthy was blessed to have two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. He made one Super Bowl in 13 seasons. His offense got stale and reportedly didn’t get along with Rodgers. Now, McCarthy has a star-studded offense, led by Dak Preston, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and a defense with a revamped defensive line that added Everson Griffen and Aldon Smith. If the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs, McCarthy will be the one to blame.
Ten things that may happen…
- San Francisco 49ers kicker Robbie Gould will miss a potential game-winning kick and blame it on the wind in an empty stadium.
- The Philadelphia Eagles will have enhanced virtual technology that will allow fans to boo their own players so realistically, you’d swear 70,000 angry people were at Lincoln Financial Field.
- Seattle Seahawks tailback Chris Carson will fumble three times in one game.
- After his first victory with the New England Patriots, Cam Newton will show up to the press conference in a tricorn hat.
- Following a rash of injuries, the Green Bay Packers front office will sign a wheelchair-bound octogenarian and a mannequin to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers.
- Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock will be terrible on the field, but will absolutely kill it at the team’s lip sync battle competition.
- Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow will continue to speak the truth about Skyline Chili.
- Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins will have a 300-yard receiving day against the Raiders as he avoids defenders by slipping in and out of other dimensions.
- After the New York Giants start 0-5, rookie coach Joe Judge will order his team to run more laps, confiscate their phones, and remove Uncrustables from the training table.
- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs will be named as a “person of interest” in connection to a plot to kidnap Josh Allen, the league’s worst deep passer.
MVP: Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs)
Offensive Player of the Year: Miles Sanders (Philadelphia Eagles)
Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Comeback Player of the Year: Odell Beckham Jr. (Cleveland Browns)
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Kansas City)
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Chase Young (Washington)
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs)
A Super Bowl we can all root for
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Dallas Cowboys