10 Storylines to Watch Ahead of the 2020 NFL Kickoff
Written by Andrew Goldberg
With the Houston Texans and Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs kicking off the NFL season this Thursday in front of a mostly empty stadium, fans can be sure that this year’s football season will be unlike any other in NFL history. Yet despite the uncertainty, hope springs eternal for 32 franchises hoping to bring glory back to their host cities. Here’s what to watch for in the coming weeks.
- How will the league handle Covid-19 setbacks?
Unlike the highly successful models run by the NBA and NHL, the NFL and its leadership team voted against any plan to form a bubble for the upcoming season. This increases the odds that a player or coach will contract Covid-19 at some point this season and may force the NFL to make some uncomfortable decisions. Major League Baseball was forced to postpone nearly a week’s worth of games when a number of Miami Marlins tested positive. Would the NFL be willing to make the same move? Or will teams be forced to dig deep into their depth chart to replace those who are sick?
- How will the players speak out against social injustice, and how will the NFL respond?
NFL insider Tom Pelissero is already reporting that the Chiefs and Texans players have discussed making a joint statement before kickoff on Thursday that makes a statement on racial injustice, including the possibility of both teams staying in the locker room during the national anthem. After a demonstrative show of unity and power by the NBA players following the death of Jacob Blake, it is now up to the NFL players to determine their own form of social protest. How league owners and the national media responds to said actions may go a long way in determining their future on NFL Sunday’s.
- Can Patrick Mahomes bring the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl?
Returning to the on-field action, all eyes will be on Super Bowl MVP Quarterback Patrick Mahomes as he looks to lead the Chiefs back to Super Bowl glory. After winning the league’s MVP award in his first full season as a starter, Mahomes upped his game again last season by leading Kansas City to multiple comeback wins in last year’s playoffs before eventually winning his first title in dramatic fashion. No team has repeated as champion since the New England Patriots back in 2004-05. Can Mahomes reverse that trend?
- Will the Patriots fall apart without Tom Brady?
For the first time since the turn of the century, the New England Patriots will begin their football season without Tom Brady on their roster. With the six-time champion Quarterback now residing in Tampa Bay (along with former all-pro Tight End Rob Gronkowski), it is up to head coach Bill Belichick to devise a new game plan to get the Pats in the playoffs for the 12th straight season. All is not lost in Foxborough, however, as former MVP Cam Newton will have a chance to fill Brady’s shoes and prove that he is still a premier player.
- Can Lamar Jackson repeat his record-setting season?
After an inconsistent rookie season, Ravens Quarterback Lamar Jackson took the NFL by storm in 2019, throwing a league-leading 36 touchdown passes while adding an additional 7 scores on the ground. The sensational season earned Jackson the league MVP honors and helped earn Baltimore the number one seed in the AFC. The party came to an end in the playoffs, however, when the Tennessee Titans found a way to hold Jackson to a single touchdown in their 28-12 win over the Ravens. Now returning with a chip on his shoulder, the football world is anxiously awaiting Jackson’s response in year 3.
- Which legend will take over the NFC South?
In what looks to be one of the tightest division races this season, the reigning NFC South champion New Orleans Saints will look to hold off a bevy of new challengers in the coming weeks. At the top of the list are the aforementioned Buccaneers, who have become a trendy Super Bowl pick after adding Brady and Gronk to an already potent offense. Not to be outdone are the Falcons and Panthers though, who have added former Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley and former Pro Bowl Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to their respective offenses. Drew Brees and company will have their work cut out for them if they hope to repeat as division champs.
- Which players will stand out in their new homes?
A uniquely different NFL off-season led to a flurry of activity, with aggressive trades and free agent signings across the league. Those with the biggest targets on their back include All-Pro Wide Receiver Deandre Hopkins, who was shockingly moved to Arizona in the spring, elite Safety Jamal Adams, who was traded to Seattle after voicing his displeasure with the New York Jets organization, and of course, Tom Brady. For a player entering his 21st season, Tom Terrific still knows how to hang onto the headlines.
- Which rookies will make an impact right away?
Last season it was the dynamic Quarterback Kyler Murray, physical Running Back Josh Jacobs and athletically gifted Wide Receiver D.K. Metcalf stealing the show as first-year playmakers. This year’s class has the potential for even more promise. Headlined by National Champions Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, this year’s group of rookies will look to bolster their respective franchises and prove their worth at the next level. Look out for Chiefs Running Back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Cowboys Wide Receiver Ceedee Lamb and Washington Defensive End Chase Young to establish themselves as players to be reckoned with.
- Which QB’s are under the most pressure this season?
With only 16 games on the schedule, there is a very little room for error in the National Football League. That leash becomes even shorter when it comes to Quarterbacks, who represent the key to success for nearly every franchise. After a lackluster couple of seasons, the pressure is now on for the Raiders Derek Carr and the Browns Baker Mayfield, who are out to prove the starting job is theirs for years to come. Also on the hot seat: the Jaguars Gardner Minshew, the Jets Sam Darnold, and the Bills Josh Allen, who is looking to deliver Buffalo’s first division title this century.
- Which NFL teams will allow fans in their stands?
Unlike Major League Baseball, the NFL has taken a piecemeal approach with how to handle in-person spectators this season, allowing each team to make its own decision on whether fans are welcomed inside their buildings. So far, the Dolphins, Bengals, Browns, Colts, Jaguars, Broncos, Chiefs, and Cowboys have committed to limited capacity attendance for the first few weeks of the season, while every other franchise will not allow fans until further notice, if at all. While the situation remains fluid, it remains to be seen whether the lack of attendance will alter gameplay or give certain teams more of an advantage.
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