By William Vickress | Contributor
In this year of uncertainty, one thing is for certain and that’s the NFL season is returning and is set up to be another explosive and unpredictable season of football.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted several aspects of the season before even beginning, one of which being the cancellation of the scheduled preseason.
Without the chance to test out their rosters, it will be interesting to see how teams that have seen big changes in the offseason, such as the highly talked about new look Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski Buccaneers, will hit the ground running in a league that allows no time for days off.
The lack of a preseason will be particularly devastating for the rookies entering the league, not having the opportunity to feel out and build chemistry with their teammates; especially their receiving and core coaches.
One question will be whether or not the Heisman award winner Joe Burrow will be able to improve on his disappointing initial scrimmages with the Bengals, especially given the backing by his coach Zac Taylor, that he will be the starting quarterback.
The number one pick in the 2020 draft has shown time and time again that he thrives under intense pressure. Coach Oregon at LSU proved by placing faith in Burrow and slotting him into a system that suits his game, he can do great things. This being said, the Bengals have a long way to go and will most probably still struggle this season.
Another potent topic across America and the rest of the world right now is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
The NFL has been perhaps uncommitted and unimpressive with the level of activism and support it has shown for social justice in the past, with the most obvious example being their response to and treatment of Colin Kapernick in 2017 after he elected to take the knee during the national anthem.
As Kapernick was openly criticised by the media and notably US President Donald Trump, the NFL missed the opportunity to show their unity and support for Kapernick and the racial injustice in their country.
However, it feels as though there has been a paradigm shift towards real change in recent months following the death of George Floyd, where protests and a general worldwide outpouring of support for BLM has preceded.
The stance taken in the last week following the shooting of Jacob Blake by other sports has been powerful in sending the message that sport will not tolerate racism. Now is time for the NFL and its owners to show real support for the BLM movement. There is no doubt the players will do their part in publicising their support when the season starts, but it is now time to see those at the top of the league and franchises do their bit, much like the NBA has.
This is lining up to be a highly competitive season, with lots of strong teams as well as some dark horses looking to make the push.
The regular season will be headed once again by Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Lamar Jackson’s 2019/20 MVP season has cemented him as one of the best players in the entire league and his strong supporting cast will ensure they make a deep playoff run.
Regarding the reigning champions Kansas City Chiefs, it would not be a surprise to see them finish with a similar record to last year. They are a team that can drag back wins so easily with their incredible offensive line, and superstar Patrick Mahomes gives them a chance of winning any game.
This goes hand in hand with their Superbowl partners last season, the San Francisco 49ers, who will have a very similar record to them, winning 12 or 13 games as they look to go one better this year and secure their sixth NFL title.
Other teams to watch are the ever-consistent New Orleans Saints led by the reliable Drew Brees, the Green Bay Packers led by the still extremely talented Aaron Rodgers, and finally the Minnesota Vikings who time and time again have proven they have one of the most talented rosters in the whole league.
However, the post season is where the big players prevail. Unlike the NFL Top 100 players of 2020 list released this year, where Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson were ranked ahead of him, Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the league.
He is a generational talent and his team obviously value him as just that, demonstrated with the $503 million ten-year contract they awarded him in the summer. When Mahomes wants to win, it is rare the Chiefs do not. They can pull wins back from large deficits due to their big-time players making big time plays.
None of this was more evident than the Superbowl last year, where Mahomes inspired a late comeback with some magical plays to win the game for the Chiefs. For that reason I expect Mahomes and the Chiefs to go back to back joining only seven other franchises to have won consecutive Super Bowls.
The obvious two contenders are Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, but my pick for the 2020/21 MVP is the highly underappreciated Russell Wilson.
With a weak offensive line protecting him and an arguably even worse defensive line, this season he has to come in and show out as he did last season, possibly even more so. If he rises to the occasion this time it cannot go unrecognised.
It is shaping up to be another big year for Derrick Henry, someone who has proven himself to be one of the best at his position and be a running back that can carry his team and offense to victories.
However, I do not think we will see MVP calibre seasons from the likes of Brady or Rodgers this year. Although it’s always hard to rule players of this quality out, it is hard not to say their best days are behind them.