It’s finally time to see how the NFL will tackle the Coronavirus crisis. Among others.
In an offseason that’s seen the U.S. roiled by a pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and devastating natural disasters, the NFL returns to a world that looks very different than it did back on Feb. 2, when Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes hoisted the Lombardi Trophy as MVP of Super Bowl LIV. However, out of the four major professional sports leagues in North America, the NFL has had it comparatively easy, as they had the luxury of six months to prepare for the start of the season under the cloud of coronavirus.
Thus far, the results have been promising. The final testing period before the start of the season — Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 — revealed that just one player tested positive for COVID-19 among 44,510 tests administered to 8,349 players and team personnel, according to the NFL and NFLPA. Last week, the two parties agreed to continue the previously established daily testing regiment, except for game days, which has seen very few positive tests through the preseason.
So with no pointless preseason games to prime us for the real action, we dive right into the 2020 season this Thursday with a Divisional Round rematch between the Houston Texans and Chiefs. Read on for a preview of that game, along with other Week One highlights available on Sling.
|Date||Time (ET)||Away Team||Home Team||Channel|
|Thursday, Sept. 10||8:20 PM||Houston Texans||Kansas City Chiefs||NBC*|
|Sunday, Sept. 13||1:00 PM||Seattle Seahawks||Atlanta Falcons||FOX*|
|Sunday, Sept. 13||1:00 PM||Chicago Bears||Detroit Lions||FOX*|
|Sunday, Sept. 13||1:00 PM||Green Bay Packers||Minnesota Vikings||FOX*|
|Sunday, Sept. 13||1:00 PM||Philadelphia Eagles||Washington||FOX*|
|Sunday, Sept. 13||4:25 PM||Tampa Bay Bucaneers||New Orleans Saints||FOX*|
|Sunday, Sept. 13||4:25 PM||Arizona Cardinals||San Francisco 49ers||FOX*|
|Sunday, Sept. 13||8:20 PM||Dallas Cowboys||Los Angeles Rams||NBC*|
|Monday, Sept. 14||7:15 PM||Pittsburgh Steelers||New York Giants||ESPN|
|Monday, Sept. 14||10:10 PM||Tennessee Titans||Denver Broncos||ESPN|
Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs
Thursday, Sept. 10, 8:20pm ET, NBC
The Chiefs will be the only NFL team playing in front of fans during Week 1. Due to local health regulations, Kansas City will be able to fill 25 percent of seats at Arrowhead Stadium as they welcome back the city’s first Super Bowl winner in over 50 years. But even at a quarter capacity, things will be very different for fans in attendance, as guidelines require facemasks to be worn at all times, movement restricted to specific zones near seats, and enhanced cleaning and sanitation techniques. However, with the opportunity to cheer on the defending champs in person, Chiefs fans will gladly accept whatever restrictions necessary to see the game in person.
In terms of the matchup itself, don’t expect the Texans to assume early control like they did when racing out to a 24-0 lead in last year’s playoff game. In the offseason, Houston traded star wideout D’Andre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals, leaving QB Deshaun Watson without one of his most prized weapons. To balance out his loss, the Texans added receivers Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb, along with running back David Johnson, who came over in the Hopkins trade. Although Houston appears to be in position to repeat last year’s success, so are the Chiefs, and with Mahomes (594 yards passing, 8-to-1 TD to INT ratio in two career games against Houston) guiding KC’s explosive offense, look for the Chiefs to cover the -9 point spread.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Sunday, Sept. 13, 4:25pm, FOX
The Tom-pa Brady era gets underway for the Buccaneers with the former Patriots QB (gonna take a while to get used to typing that) facing off against another future Hall of Fame QB, Drew Brees, in his first game with the Bucs. Brady inherits an offense that features two remarkable wideouts in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, and convinced his old pal Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement and join him as tight end. Add in the recent signing of power running back Leonard Fournette and the Bucs offense looks ridiculously stacked (their defense, led by 2019 sack leader Shaq Barrett, is no slouch either). There’s a good reason why Vegas gave the Bucs the fourth-best odds of winning the Super Bowl.
The Saints are right up there with them. It’s no exaggeration to say that, if it weren’t for a couple of bad bounces (and whistles), the Saints could be playing for their third-straight Super Bowl title this season. ESPN NFL analyst Bill Barnwell has them ranked No. 3 in his preseason Super Bowl odds and claims they have “the deepest roster in all of football.” Both of these teams should make the playoffs, but their two head-to-head contests could go a long way toward deciding NFC seeding, even as early as Week 1.
Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos
Monday, Sept. 14, 10:10pm ET, ESPN
Raise your hand if you had the Titans advancing to one game from the Super Bowl in 2019. Unless you live in Nashville, you’re lying; Tennessee’s shocking playoff run was a massive surprise to all but the most faithful fans. Ryan Tannehill proved to be the perfect quarterback for their system and 2019 rushing leader Derrick Henry has the rare combination of power, speed, and elusiveness to take any of his carries the distance. They’re returning most of their young stars and landed versatile D-lineman Jadeveon Clowney, so this year at least, we shouldn’t be surprised if the Titans continue to make noise.
The Broncos, on the other hand, have the chance to fill their spot as a surprise playoff team. Going 4-1 down the stretch, Drew Lock looked like the franchise QB they’ve been missing since Peyton Manning retired after Denver won Super Bowl 50. They also added star Alabama wideout Jerry Jeudy in the draft, so the Broncos are flush with potential on offense. But with the league’s third most difficult schedule and star pass rusher Von Miller suffering a potentially serious ankle injury just days before the start of the season, fans may have to wait a year or two before the team reaches its potential. A win over the Titans would go a long way toward establishing their ceiling in what’s sure to be a difficult campaign.
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