The NFL is going to be incredibly different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, football is football.
Sports might be wildly different in the summer and fall. The NFL is no exception.
Maybe we all get lucky. Maybe the coronavirus pandemic has ebbed enough come September to allow fans in the stands, beers in the coolers and brats on the barbecues.
However, there’s a likelihood we will be seeing some stark differences between this season and any in recent memory. Could last through training camp, could go through Super Bowl LV.
Again, the unknown.
Still, beyond the health ramifications of it all, we shouldn’t have such doom and gloom over the potential of fans being barred and other measures taken to provide safety for league personnel.
The NFL has enjoyed 100 seasons, and they’ve all had their own wrinkles. This one is going to stand out because it isn’t a rule change, but a global health crisis.
Goes without saying, but much more serious this time around.
Still, we’ve seen wacky seasons in the past. We’ve seen changes made that were called sacrilegious only to become the norm in the following years. Here’s a few examples:
1974 – The goalposts are moved to the back of the end zones. Suddenly, field goal attempts are less frequent with teams having to drive an extra 10 yards to kick from the same distance as before.
1978 – The schedule is expanded from 14 to 16 games. Suddenly, the season is longer and the playoffs are expanded with the advent of Wild Card weekend.
1982 – A strike and the Super Bowl Tournament. Sixteen teams reached the playoffs after the season was whittled down to nine games.
1994 – The two-point conversion comes into existance. It’s seen as an abomination by some, who believe the play belongs in college, not the professional ranks.
And, of course…
1970 – The AFL-NFL merger. There’s radical realignment and 10 new teams joining the hallowed NFL, now comprised of 26 teams. It’s the biggest change of the last half-century, and although many traditionalists were horrified, it was the best thing to happen for football.
Again, none of this is suggesting changes forced by the coronavirus are on an equal footing to the ones above. They aren’t. We’re talking health crisis on one hand, and football changes in the other. Totally different stratospheres of concern.
The point is we’ve seen the NFL shift and morph into new forms before, and it takes a bit to adjust. Then it’s football and everyone settles in.
The good news? The changes we may see for 2020 are going to be temporary, even if they’re extreme. The important thing is keeping people as healthy as possible. If that’s done, regardless of how the sport changes in the short-term, it’s a successful year.
What will the changes be? It remains to be seen. Again, nobody knows how fan participation will go. We aren’t sure if facemasks will have N-95 mask material built in. Perhaps there are even literal rule changes to help enforce health measures.
And, maybe none of it happens. We should have all learned enough to know this pandemic can change quickly.
Nothing about 2020 has been normal so far. Just keep in mind normal is a relative term, and a flexible one.
Top 10 offensive linemen of all time
1. John Hannah, G, New England Patriots (1973-85)
2. Mel Hein, C, New York Giants (1931-45)
3. Anthony Munoz, T, Cincinnati Bengals (1980-92)
4. Bruce Matthews, C/G/T, Houston Oilers (1983-2001)
5. Larry Allen, G, Dallas Cowboys (1994-2007)
6. Forrest Gregg, G, Green Bay Packers (1956-71)
7. Jonathan Ogden, T, Baltimore Ravens (1996-2007)
8. Jim Parker, G/T, Baltimore Colts (1957-67)
9. Joe Thomas, T, Cleveland Browns (2007-17)
10. Mike Webster, C, Pittsburgh Steelers (1974-90)
“This is my sixth NFL team in 13 seasons, and played for all different types of coaches and in all different types of offenses and methods. So this is, what Coach Patricia has to offer is something that I eagerly look for because I know I’ll get the best version of me.”
– Detroit Lions receiver Danny Amendola on playing for head coach Matt Patricia
Interesting insight from Amendola. Patricia has largely been panned by the national media — yours truly included — for his 9-22-1 record in Detroit. Entering his third season, the former Patriots assistant likely has his last chance to prove he’s worthy of his post.
The Lions have intriguing offensive pieces, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford, running backs Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift, tight end T.J. Hockenson and receiver Kenny Golladay. While the defense is more uncertain, Patricia has a chance to prove his worth with this team.
The largest point spread in Super Bowl history came in 1994, when the San Francisco 49ers were 18.5-point favorites over the San Diego Chargers.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only 10. Super Bowls have seen double-digit spreads.
Info learned this week
1. Potential NFL rule changes are intriguing and in some cases, obvious
The league is reviewing a bevy of proposed rule changes. A few are no-brainers.
The NFL Competition Committee gave two recommendations. The first is protecting returners who gain control of the ball but don’t have time to protect themselves. The other is prevention of teams taking multiple penalties to stop the clock.
It would be surprising if either of those don’t pass with the mandated 75 percent approval from league owners.
Then there were team proposals. The most interesting came from the Philadelphia Eagles, giving the option of taking a 4th and 15 from a team’s own 25-yard line instead of kicking off. Convert and the offensive team retains possession at wherever the success attempt ended. A team could do this twice per game, regardless of score.
After seeing his the onside kick was virtually neutered last season, this is a fun alternative. However, the league is wary of major changes, especially ones which can be classified as gimmicky. We’ll see how the owners vote, but considering this reporter in favor.
2. Seahawks add Hyde to backfield after 1,000-yard season
Nobody loves running the ball more than the Seahawks. Now they can do so with Carlos Hyde.
Seattle agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with Hyde on Friday, giving him his sixth team in four years. Hyde played his first four seasons with the 49ers before spending 2018 with the Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars. Hyde signed in 2019 with the Kansas City Chiefs but was traded to the Houston Texans after training camp.
Hyde proved a good decision by head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien, rushing for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns.
In Seattle, Hyde will compete with Chris Carson and former first-round pick Rashaad Penny for carries. The Seahawks couldn’t find a healthy rotation last year, eventually having Marshawn Lynch come out of retirement to split carries with Travis Homer in the postseason.
If general manager John Schneider has his way, Carson, Penny and Hyde will prove a formidable trio. Of course, Penny has to earn his time, only notching 150 carries in two seasons.
3. Steelers selling 50 percent of tickets tells of coronavirus thoughts
The Steelers put individual game tickets on sale last week. In doing so, they only made 50 percent of their inventory available to the general public.
This means a few things. For starters, there appears to be a belief fans will be able to attend games at some point, and at some capacity. Is that Week 1? Maybe.
Regardless, if you’ve been to an NFL stadium, you know social distancing isn’t occurring with people in every other seat. At 25 percent, perhaps, but not half-full.
Later in the week, the NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent openly talked about planning to have full stadiums come September until it’s told otherwise by medical professionals. While things change rapidly with the coronavirus, it’s telling how the league has acted so far, and how it’s saying — and inferring — it will act in the coming weeks and months.
4. New York opening for pro sports amid COVID-19 is big boost
Another step in the right direction for football — and other sports — was New York’s announcement on Sunday of allowing pro teams to hold training camps effective immediately.
While this only impacts the Buffalo Bills on the surface, the Empire State has significant sway. New York was hit hardest in there United States during this pandemic. If it begins to allow for sports to return, and paves the way for regular-season play, other states are quite likely to take notice and follow suit.
Keep an eye out for other larger states which have been hesitant to open up, such as California, to consider making similar moves in the near future.
5. Betting on NFL MVPs is usually a bad move if not on quarterbacks
The NFL MVP award is almost always won by a quarterback in recent times. Dating back to 2007, only one non-quarterback have taken home the award. Who was it? Adrian Peterson in 2012 when he returned from a torn ACL to rush for more than 2,000 yards.
The 2020 MVP odds are out, and the lines reflect the times. The first 10 names on the list are signal-callers. Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey comes in 11th-overall at +2500, tied with New Orleans Saints backup quarterback Jameis Winston. Seriously.
If you’re really looking for a long shot, how about Giants running back Saquon Barkley. At +8000, he could be intriguing. If Big Blue makes the playoffs, it’s likely because Barkley has an unbelievable campaign. Combined with the New York type machine behind him, it’s not the worst play.
The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs are the most underrated defense in pro football history.
In their championship season, the Chiefs’ defense ranked tops among American Football League teams in points allowed, yards per game, first downs, passing yards against, rushing yards against, yards allowed per play, rushing touchdowns, passing touchdowns, passing YPA, rushing YPA, QB rating, interceptions and turnovers.
In the playoffs, Kansas City stifled the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, holding the league’s most explosive offenses to a combined 13 points. In Super Bowl IV, the Chiefs overwhelmed NFL MVP Joe Kapp and the heavily-favored Minnesota Vikings, winning 23-7. Across three postseason games, Kansas City’s defense forced 13 turnovers.
The Chiefs also have six defensive Hall of Famers from the unit (Buck Buchanan, Curley Culp, Willie Lanier, Bobby Bell, Emmitt Thomas and Johnny Robinson). No group has ever boasted more.
The Vikings have been the forgotten contenders this offseason.
Everyone is talking about Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Drew Brees’ likely last year with the Saints and the drama of Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love and the Packers. Of course, the Cowboys and Dak Prescott are garnering headlines (including this column last week) while the Seahawks are embroiled in these weirds rumors about Russell Wilson having been on the block two years ago.
Then there’s Minnesota.
The Vikings have endured a ton of player movement over the past few months. General manager Rick Spielman said goodbye to cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes, defensive linemen Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen, and receiver Stefon Diggs.
To replace them, Minnesota added a trio of high-profile rookies in receiver Justin Jefferson, cornerback Jeff Gladney and tackle Ezra Cleveland. The Vikings did little in free agency, only retaining star safety Anthony Harris on the franchise tag.
But what does it all mean?
Depending on perspective, Minnesota lost a ton key contributors to a borderline playoff team. Or, the Vikings got younger anymore athletic in a wide-open NFC North with a quarterback who finally tasted playoff, primetime success.
Of all the NFC heavyweights, Minnesota might be the hardest to figure, and the looming giant.