The 2019 NFL season ended with the Kansas City Chiefs, led by Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, capturing the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LIV over the San Francisco 49ers. The subsequent off-season has been unstable and unpredictable and is sure to change the landscape of the NFL for the foreseeable future.
While COVID-19 has instilled discomfort and uncertainty in the months leading up to the restart of the NFL season, the NFL has subsequently addressed several concerns regarding the pandemic. Players, coaches, and team personnel will be tested daily to ensure minimal spread of the virus and are required to wear masks throughout the facilities. In addition, special devices called SafeZone tags must be worn at all times while on NFL property for the purpose of advanced contact tracing. Concerns have arisen that cases could rise when team travel resumes, as was the case with the MLB earlier this summer, but protocols have been put in place in the event of positive tests, with expanded practice squads and future time slots for games that may be cancelled.
Racial injustice has also been a dominant concern regarding the 2020 NFL restart, as players voiced their frustration with institutions throughout the United States. League Stars such as Michael Thomas, Ezekiel Elliot, and Patrick Mahomes, among many others, were vocal during protests this summer, demanding that the NFL support the fight for racial justice. In response, the league has committed $250 million dollars over the next 10 years to help fight “social injustice.” The league has allowed players to put social justice messages on their helmets and has chalked “End Racism” into the back of all endzones.
The American Football Conference has experienced a drastic shift for the first time in almost two decades with increased parity among teams and a new leading title contender for the foreseeable future. The New England Patriots lost quarterback Tom Brady in the offseason, a partnership that won six super bowls, nine AFC championships, and saw sixteen seasons atop the AFC East. The end of the Patriots’ dynasty this season marks the end of an era for the entire league and has subsequently paved the way for the newly-crowned Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs to dominate the field in the coming years. The Baltimore Ravens and 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, however, will be looking to dethrone the Chiefs after a disappointing divisional playoffs loss. Though these two juggernauts will likely lead the conference this season, the Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tennessee Titans are also all talented, proven teams within the conference.
In the past five seasons, the National Football Conference has sent a different team to the Super Bowl each year, demonstrating the and dispersed talent that exists within each division. Unlike the AFC, several teams have a legitimate chance of dethroning the defending conference champion 49ers. San Francisco’s largest threat may be within their own division: The Seattle Seahawks, led by Superbowl Champion quarterback Russell Wilson. In the South, Drew Brees and Tom Brady look to bring New Orleans and Tampa Bay back to the Superbowl. Although neither franchise has gone that far in more than a decade, the two future Hall-of-Fame signal callers and Lombardi Trophy winners are looking to change that. In the East, the Dallas Cowboys are looking for a rebound season with a loaded roster and first-year Head Coach Mike McCarthy. The Philadelphia Eagles also hope to return to championship contention by staying healthy this year, after two disappointing seasons riddled with injuries following their Super Bowl victory in the 2017 season. The lack of a clear favorite for the NFC this season is sure to make for several upsets and an interesting postseason.