Courtesy of Acclaim Images; Daniel A. Barker

NFL struggles to find footing during pandemic

The offseason has carried a large amount of unknowns for the NFL due to COVID-19. While the NBA, MLB and college football had drastic changes to the structure of the season, the NFL has escaped relatively unscathed. The only major change was the removal of the pre-season games. While the pre-season has never been super important, it could have the indirect effect of more rust and injury concerns.

Despite the question mark that COVID-19 put on the NFL season, it was still an NFL off-season and teams still had to get ready for the upcoming season. The predicted top two teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens, kept the core of their teams together. The Chiefs are led by Patrick Mahomes, who signed a 10-year, $503 million extension over the offseason that will keep the Chiefs in Super Bowl contention for the next decade. The Chiefs had one of the best passing offenses last year, and bolstered their running game by picking running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with their first round pick. For the Ravens, Quarterback Lamar Jackson will keep them in the Super Bowl discussion with his duel-threat ability. With Tom Brady leaving the Patriots, the AFC is more open than it has been in a long time and the Chiefs and Ravens are both in prime positions to become the next great NFL dynasty.

With the Chiefs and Ravens both in the AFC, the NFC is wide open. The San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers were in the NFC Championship last season. The 49ers are expected to still be competitive this season after retaining their key players and trading for Offensive Tackle Trent Williams. However, the Packers are expected to have a tougher road back to the NFC championship after not improving their receiving unit that was near the bottom of the league. They were also universally criticized for picking Jordan Love with their first round pick since Aaron Rodgers most likely has several years left before retirement, and Love isn’t viewed as having the potential to be a franchise Quarterback. Not making any big improvements over the offseason leaves the door open for several other teams.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys are the most likely contenders to take the Packers spot in the championship game after both made big moves in the off-season. Dallas fired head coach Jason Garrett, and hired former Packers coach Mike McCarthy. McCarthy had nine playoff appearances and a Super Bowl victory in his 12-year-stint with the Packers. The Cowboys had an impressive draft that included picking wide receiver Ceedee Lamb in the first round after he surprisingly fell to their pick. Past the first round, they filled key defensive needs and added depth. With the impressive draft and replacing Garrett, this might be the year the Cowboys get over the hump they could never get over with Garrett.

The Buccaneers had the biggest offseason shake-up in the NFL with the signing of Tom Brady to replace Jameis Winston at quarterback. Signing with Tampa Bay gives Tom Brady an elite receiving corps that includes 3-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans and Chris Godwin who was 3rd in receiving yards last year. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s former teammate in New England, came out of retirement to join Brady in Tampa Bay. Gronkowski is an impressive addition to an already great receiving corps. The Buccaneers also recently signed running back Leonard Fournette, who was a surprise cut from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Fournette adds an extra dimension to the Buccaneers offense that could make them tough to stop this season.

It seems the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens are destined for a matchup in the AFC Championship game, however nothing can be written off, especially after last season when the 6th seeded Tennessee Titans made a surprise run to the AFC championship led by running back Derrick Henry. The NFC is a much more wide open race this season as the 49ers, Saints, Packers, Buccaneers and Cowboys all have legitimate shots at winning the NFC championship. With the Patriots dynasty seemingly on the decline, and how wide open the NFC is, this NFL season could be one of the more entertaining seasons in recent history.

Post Author: Ethan Worley