Top 10 storylines for 2020 NFL season

We have known for months this will be an NFL season unlike any other. We spent the summer hoping there was a season at all.

With less than a month to go before the regular-season opener, the NFL is still on schedule, albeit without preseason games, amid a lot of trepidation about how the league will avoid some of the pitfalls that Major League Baseball has seen in its season.

But still, as of today it appears football is coming, and not soon enough.

There’s a lot to track with the league on and off the field this season, and here are the top 10 of many storylines we can look forward to in the 2020 NFL season:

10. How will no preseason games affect the regular season?

When the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans (hopefully) kick off on Sept. 10, it’ll be the first time we’ve seen NFL football since the Super Bowl. We all want to know how the lack of a preseason will affect the quality of early games and rookies being able to contribute early. We probably don’t give these elite professional athletes enough credit for getting themselves ready to play regardless of circumstances, but it’s still something entirely new.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, left, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes will try to repeat as Super Bowl champs. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

9. The uneasy Aaron Rodgers-Packers relationship

It’s unavoidable: The rest of Aaron Rodgers’ time in Green Bay will be a little weird. The Packers ignored a glaring need at receiver all offseason, and instead traded up to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round. Instead of trying to go for another ring with Rodgers aging, they looked for Rodgers’ replacement. The Packers have invited endless questions about how many more years Rodgers has with the Packers, how the Packers will move on, Rodgers’ relationship with Love and not being aggressive chasing a title after a 13-3 season. It will be annoying, but Green Bay volunteered for it with the Love pick.

8. All eyes on Tua Tagovailoa

With apologies to top pick Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa is the most interesting rookie in the league this season. Tagovailoa was supposed to be the No. 1 pick, but Burrow’s emergence and a nasty hip injury for Tagovailoa pushed him down to No. 5. The Miami Dolphins, who were linked to Tagovailoa for more than a year, took him. Not having a preseason means we won’t have a clear idea where Tagovailoa is, in regard to his health or development. That means the date of his first start is really a mystery.

7. What can Lamar Jackson do for an encore?

Let’s be clear: Nothing Lamar Jackson did last season was a fluke. He’s remarkably talented and no, opposing defenses won’t just “figure out” the Ravens’ offense. The only question is what Jackson can do to follow up a season in which he was unanimously voted MVP. There’s some regression coming because some of Jackson’s numbers from 2019 are historically unsustainable, but the Ravens have their minds on more than just individual awards.

6. Dak Prescott aims for big things on franchise tag

There hasn’t been another quarterback in a contract year like this. Not even Kirk Cousins. Dak Prescott is on the franchise tag, and the Cowboys’ offense is loaded around him. It’s not crazy to think he could be an MVP candidate. If he plays to that level and the Cowboys do well, can Jerry Jones afford to not pay him?

(Graphic by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

5. Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes chase more history

The Chiefs brought back most of their Super Bowl LIV team, and even added a big piece for their offense when it drafted running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round. Patrick Mahomes is already doing Hall of Fame things after just two years as a starter. If he wins another ring, another MVP or both this season, his (young) legacy will go to another level.

4. The new-look New England Patriots

Will we even recognize these Patriots? It was going to be a shock seeing anyone but Tom Brady at quarterback. It’ll be really weird seeing Cam Newton under center. With numerous departures in free agency and COVID-19 opt outs, this Patriots team won’t resemble the one we saw last season. Bill Belichick is the greatest coach ever, but he’ll be tested this season.

3. Tom Brady in another uniform

In any other year, Tom Brady playing on another team after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl wins with the New England Patriots would be the runaway No. 1 option. And when the games start, we’ll still be baffled and amazed by the sight of Brady in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform. Rob Gronkowski, too. If Brady can win big in Tampa Bay, he’ll add to a resume that is already unmatched in NFL history.

It's already weird to see Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet and gear.. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

2. Social justice and racial equality

It’ll feel like 2016 again, hopefully without any grandstanding events that cost taxpayers a lot of money that could have been used better elsewhere.

A lot of attention will be paid to what happens before the games. The killing of George Floyd ignited a social justice movement this summer and that has been a big part of the sports world since leagues restarted. Players have said they will be kneeling or have another demonstration to bring attention to racial injustice. The NFL did not support Colin Kaepernick and others when they kneeled during the national anthem four years ago, worrying instead about mean tweets from Donald Trump and bots on social media saying they’d boycott. It feels different this time, with commissioner Roger Goodell saying the league was wrong not listening to players in 2016.

Still, there will probably be team owners who aren’t on board and more political ridiculousness in an election year. Perhaps this time around, the NFL won’t be worried about the few who loudly complain they won’t watch games if players kneel.

1. Playing in a pandemic

The NFL’s best-case scenario is the NBA’s restart. Aside from Lou Williams’ trip to get chicken wings at Magic City, the focus for the NBA has mostly been on the games and not COVID-19. There haven’t been new positive tests. It’s going as well as the league could have hoped.

Of course, the NBA is in a bubble at Disney World.

Major League Baseball is not in a bubble, and it couldn’t get through one game without a star player having to sit out due to the coronavirus. The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals have had huge outbreaks, and the Cleveland Indians showed that any players breaking the rules puts everyone at risk.

We don’t know how the NFL is going to go, though the small number of positive tests so far is encouraging. Traveling, having players hitting each other for hours and the hope that about 1,700 players will follow all the rules makes it a high-wire act. Even if the season goes mostly as planned, it’s hard to believe there will be no disruptions or cluster of positive tests that put the NFL in an impossible spot.

We’re all going through this first-of-its-kind season together. Let’s hope we get through it.

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