Restrictions raise questions about a return to normalcy, writes sports analyst Nathan Fahland.
After a year of navigating through newly instituted protocols concerning Covid-19 infections, the National Football League is prepared to return to a normal season. While the NFL is anticipating opening up stadiums
for full fan attendance again, this upcoming season will still look drastically different than the 2019 season. There have been several new rules instituted prior to the first kickoff this fall. These adaptations range from what number a player can wear to what new Covid policies are put into place, even how many games are being played. The only things left unchanged are the teams projected to have the best odds of winning the Superbowl.
One new rule concerns players’ jerseys and the numbers that each position is allowed to wear. In previous years, each position group was only allowed to wear a certain range of numbers. Linebackers used to be limited to a number between 40-59 or 90-99 and defensive backs were limited to a number within the range of 20-49. However, since teams’ practice rosters have been expanded from 10 players to 16 due to Covid precautions, the Kansas City Chiefs proposed to end some of the number limitations. Now linebackers can wear any number within the ranges 1-59 or 90-99 and defensive backs can wear any number less than 50.
This may seem like a trivial matter, but some quarterbacks have voiced their displeasure concerning this rule change. Tom Brady, a quarterback at the center of several cheating scandals over the past two decades,
claims that with positions using different numbers and overlapping more often it will give defenses an unfair advantage. The players attempting to stop Brady’s offense will now have a slight advantage when it comes
to Brady calling out protection plans. This is because when linebackers and defensive backs crowd the line of scrimmage it will now be more difficult to determine who is who, adding to the confusion for a quarterback and posing a greater threat.
Another thing that will look different this year is the amount of regular season games played. In previous years, not counting playoffs, teams participated in 20 games. This included 16 regular season contests, and four preseason contests. However, this year the league decided to get rid of one preseason game and replace it with a 17th regular season game. This decision was made because it will generate an extra week of revenue for each team. This new rule is expected to have the fallout of shattering several regular season records. Offenses are already scoring at a higher rate than ever before, but adding another game is expected to help quarterbacks break every passing and
touchdown record held for a single season.
While the new number rules and extra regular season game deal directly with on the field aspects of football, another set of guidelines that have evolved since the 2020 season are the Covid-19 policies. The NFL did not technically mandate a vaccine, but in 2021 the entity is enforcing severe punishments on those not vaccinated. Vaccinated players that contract the virus need only two negative tests taken 24 hours apart in order
to be readmitted to the team; unvaccinated players that contract the virus are required to isolate for 10 days before being allowed back into the team’s facilities. Furthermore, if teams cannot play because too many unvaccinated players are ineligible to participate, then the team dealing with the infections will be forced to forfeit the contest. Players will also not be paid for these forfeited contests. By putting these policies in place, the NFL is putting as much pressure as they can on the unvaccinated to receive a vaccine without actually mandating it.
While there are several rule changes for the 2021 season, the same top teams from last year are favored to win the Superbowl this year. The top three NFC teams are projected to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers. The three AFC teams with the highest likelihood to win the Superbowl are the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens. While these are the top six teams, the Chiefs are still the favorites to win it all this year. No matter who wins the final game or how many rules have changed, there is optimism from a general perspective of returning to a normal season with fans in full attendance.