The NFL's season starts tonight, even though the preseason was canceled in response to COVID-19.
The GIST: How time flies! One day you’re watching Shakira and JLo rock the Super Bowl halftime show, and the next, a whole new NFL season is starting.
Okay, that snuck up on me: Honestly, same. Despite canceling the preseason due to the pandemic, the NFL was steadfast about not delaying its regular-season start. As it does every year on the first Thursday after Labor Day, the season kicks off today, with the defending champs Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans.
Refresh me on how the league’s organized: There are 32 teams split into two conferences, the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). Those conferences are further divided into four divisions: North, South, East and West.
- After 16 regular season games, 14 teams (extended from last year’s 12) will head into the playoffs to vie for a chance to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy. For more, check out The GIST’s Guide to Football.
And how is COVID-19 affecting the NFL?: The NFL had the unique opportunity to see how other major leagues adapted to the pandemic, and based on that, they made...very few significant changes.
- Sure, they canceled preseason, but they kept the regular-season schedule as is. No regionalized pods like the NWSL and MLS, no bubbles like the NBA, WNBA or NHL. The NFL is just going for it. And six teams have announced they’ll allow at least some spectators at their first home games. Yikes.
- That said, the league is introducing some new protocols to help keep COVID-19 at bay: players and personnel will be tested daily, a new injured reserve list has been designated for any player who tests positive or is exposed to the virus and the league has released a list of forbidden activities (i.e., no sneaking Tinder hook-ups into hotel rooms).
What are the big stories this season?: Besides COVID-19, quarterback (QB) Tom Brady is stealing headlines, as usual. In March, Brady broke the hearts of true fans and bandwagoners alike by leaving the New England Patriots (where he won an NFL record six Super Bowls) for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Paging Tompa Tom.
- Elsewhere in the league, Kansas City has retained most of their Super Bowl–winning team, including QB and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, making them the heavy favorites to win another championship. And the battle of the rookie QBs — featuring Miami Dolphin Tua Tagovailoa and Cincinnati Bengal Joe Burrow — is already heating up.
Tell me more about your pick’em pool: Gladly! We’re biased, but we think it’s the best way to stay in the know on the latest NFL news, learn about each matchup and enjoy the game. All you have to do is pick a winner for each matchup for a chance to win a sweet weekly prize. Click here for a good time.