The 101st edition of the NFL is sure to be one to remember. Even before a ball has been kicked, many influential players have opted to not to take part in the forthcoming campaign due to either health reasons or contract negotiations. Onlookers should also factor into the equation that the season will see the roar of the crowd replaced by empty stadiums. How will playing at an empty AT & T or Metlife Stadium change the dynamic of matches? Nobody knows. The “it is the Super Bowl or bust” statements might be like any other year but if ever there were a season to throw predictions out of the window, then it is this one.
The Big Kick Off – Chiefs vs Texans
The opening match will see defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs take on Houston Texans. The Chiefs are NFL odds-on favorites to win the big kick off with an average offering of -110. The Chiefs, who are seeking back to back Vince Lombardi trophies, will want to make a statement of intent in the first match of the new season despite the loss of running back Damian Williams and offensive guard Duvenay Tardif. Fortunately for the champions they have Patrick Mahones, whom many regard as the best quarterback in the world, so scoring shouldn’t be a problem this season. Convincing Travis Kelce to extend his contract without a signing bonus is another huge plus for the Kansas City outfit given the salary cap regulations. The Texans on the other hand have lost two key players during the off season; wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and defensive tackle D.J. Reader. Trying to replicate their 2019 season appears to be the best realistic goal for the Houston outfit.
New Men at the Helm at the Giants and the Cowboys
There are two notable changes among the head coaches. Few were surprised to see Pat Shurmur dismissed after a nine-match losing streak during the 2019 season and certainly Joe Judge, in his first head coach role, has his work cut out with a very young team. Key to his success will be reducing Daniel Jones’ turnovers and the performances of Saquon Barkley and Andrew Thomas. Whereas the Giants have turned to youth, the Cowboys have opted for experience. However, there’s no question that this will be straightforward for the Dallas team as their previous head coach Jason Garrett spent nearly a decade at the club. Mike McCarthy, his replacement, is no stranger to the NFL, having spent 12 years at the Green Bay Packers. Crucially, he has experience of progressing beyond the initial playoff rounds and his CV even boasts a Super Bowl Championship.
The First Ever Match in Las Vegas – Raiders v Saints
It is almost unbelievable that the NFL has enjoyed 100 seasons without having a game in America’s playground. To mark the occasion, the New Orleans Saints are in town and the game’s most recent underachievers will be in no mood to dent their playoff chances this time around. They go into the contest as firm favorites at -205 but not for the first time locals will be backing the outsider. Saints fans in particular are hoping that the 2020 season puts an end to the pain that they have suffered in recent years as they have won more matches than any other side in the last 3 years but have no trophies to show for it. Equally, their star quarterback Drew Brees is 41 years of age and surely doesn’t have many more chances to win with the New Orleans side.
The Raiders have recruited well during the off season with the acquisitions of Henry Ruggs III, Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. The big question for the Las Vegas team is who really their no.1 quarterback choice is. So far they have stuck with Derek Carr despite a limited capacity to change games. However, in March they gave a huge new contract to Marcus Mariota. Clarity in this position will be fundamental for their season.
The Patriots Exodus
It is often said that too many changes and too much tinkering leads to disruption and results can go astray. Well, quite how New England Patriots are going to cope with the quantity of players opting out for the 2020 season is unknown. After the departures of Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy last season, linebacker Dant’a Hightower became a key part of the Patriot’s defence and his decision to opt out could really hurt a team that has lost 5 of its last 9 matches. In addition, safety Patrick Chun and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon have also opted out for the season leaving the Patriots poorly placed. For a club that have won 6 Super Bowl Championships this century and recently boasted Tom Brady in their ranks it could well turn out to be a very different season this time around.
Rarely is the success of an entire team so focused on the progress of one individual, but in this case the Dolphins current rebuild is built around his success. However, the quarterback has recently recovered from a major hip injury and by his own admission does not know how it will feel going into the new season. For the team that was outscored by the largest margin in the NFL last time around, Tua hitting top form alongside Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen will be crucial to changing the Dolphins’ fortunes.
Without a playoff place since 2010, the Jets were looking good at the back end of last season but an off season of change has made predicting their 2020 season somewhat impossible. Critically, the New York outfit have lost superstar linebacker C.J. Mosley, who opted out, and have traded away promising star Jamal Adams. That said, the Jets added hyped first-round tackle Mekhi Becton to the offensive line and intriguing second-round pick Denzel Mims to the receiving corps. In addition, with the expansion of the playoff field and the AFC East seemingly looking like a weaker conference (especially with the anticipated demise of the Patriots), their route to playoffs could be far more achievable than onlookers may think. For sure, Darnold will need to improve on 13 touchdowns and four interceptions in his third season to get there.