By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — I, for one, did not think we would get here, at Week 1 of an NFL season in the calendar year of 2020. No siree. Playing tackle football in a country in the unrelenting grips of a pandemic seemed like such a pipe dream in April, May, and June, that it frankly wasn’t even worth fantasizing about.
Yet here we are, a week into September, getting ready for the usual routine of settling in to the indented spots on our overworked couches for three-plus hours on a Thursday night, for 10-plus hours on a Sunday, and another few hours on a Monday evening.
When you lay it all out like that … we all do kind of have a pretty bad sickness here, don’t we? Yeah.
But also — also! — that’s quite an incredible feat for the NFL.
While we surely know that motivations one, two, three and four were to make money, we still must give credit to the NFL powers that be for forging ahead during an extremely unpredictable and unprecedented period of history and enforcing the necessary rules, regulations and restrictions to make this happen. Credit goes to the players and coaches for following the necessary guidelines to prevent outbreaks from wreaking havoc on training camps and thus threatening the season.
Will this entire thing get played? It feels like the answer is … probably. While the virus is an obnoxious and inconsiderate beast, it does feel as though the testing protocols and contact tracing should create environments where entire facilities won’t need to be shut down in the event of a positive test. There are sure to be some hiccups and hurdles along the way, but an MLB-type scenario where one team just stops playing for a stretch of time just won’t work in the NFL, and it doesn’t appear as though the NFL will get hit the same way MLB was.
Everything’s a maybe (extreme TV commercial voice-over voice) in these uncertain times, as you know. But for now, it’s Week 1. Patrick Mahomes and Al Michaels will be in your living room in prime time, and a full-as-all-heck slate of football games will mesmerize you with RedZone on Sunday, Jerry Jones will be uncomfortably smirking at you on Sunday night, and then you’ll get the famed Week 1 double-decker on Monday night.
Whether this whole season can carry on without interruption from now until the Super Bowl kicks off in Tompa Bay in early February is still technically a question mark. But now’s not the time to worry about that. Not for us, anyway. Now’s a time to sit back and marvel that we’re even getting what we’re getting right now.
As a country we may not have everything figured out. There’s an issue or two that needs a little ironing. But we do have football. And that’s more than a little bit incredible.
We also have picks … which, given the lack of preseason and bizarre nature of evvvverything in the world right now … well, the picks might not be all that incredible. But we’ll give it a whirl.
(Home team in CAPS; Tuesday lines)
KANSAS CITY (-9) over Houston
It’s kind of appropriate that the first game of the season will be an absolute party. The Chiefs will raise a Super Bowl banner for the first time in 50 years, football will return, and there will actually be fans in the stadium. No, it won’t be the usual 76,000 crazed lunatic filling the seats, but the 16,000 or so fans who are allowed in should make for a triumphant scene for the return of football.
Given all of that, you can’t possibly even fathom picking against the home team in this scenario. The banner-raising home team is always a good bet in Week 1, but this year? Forget about it.
ATLANTA (+2.5) over Seattle
Chicago (+3) over DETROIT
MINNESOTA (-2.5) over Green Bay
Couldn’t tell ya.
BALTIMORE (-7.5) over Cleveland
I think teams with continuity on offense are going to be at a major advantage this year, especially early. Defenses that haven’t worked together and reacted to on-the-fly adjustments will get beaten for big plays by offenses like Baltimore’s. Now you add that you’ve got a team working under a new head coach, and it’ll be even tougher.
Baltimore by a hundred, is what I’m trying to say.
Las Vegas (-3.5) over CAROLINA
I’m not going to make a big deal out of it, per se. But the Panthers rushing out to sign Matt Rhule is still strange to me. I know he kind of built up Temple and kind of built up Baylor, but I frankly didn’t understand the rush.
That’s not the reason for this pick, though, as I remain doubly puzzled as to why the Raiders guaranteed a billion dollars to Jon Gruden. Nevertheless! Gotta pick a winner here, don’t we?
Indianapolis (-7.5) over JACKSONVILLE
My poor, poor Jags. If they had a coach with even the slightest bit of creativity and/or conviction, they would have made the G-D Super Bowl three years ago. But they didn’t … and now they have … nothing. Quite literally. Guys get traded or released from the Jaguars and then throw themselves huge parties. People can’t leave that place fast enough.
Very sad. My poor, poor Jags.
BUFFALO (-6.5) over New York Jets
There’s a whole lot of uncertainty out there in the world, but one thing that feels safe to say is that the New York Jets will stink at football. They’re like the spinning top in Inception. If the Jets don’t stink, you know that you’re stuck in the wrong universe.
Miami (+6.5) over NEW ENGLAND
I think the Patriots win the game, because Bill Belichick has probably been banging his head off his desk in anger since losing to the Dolphins in Week 17 for no reason at all last season. But the Patriots lost almost half of their starting defense, and their QB hasn’t run a live rep with tackling with the offense, so I’m going to go ahead and hold off on picking them to win by a touchdown at this point in time, if that’s OK with you all.
WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM (+6) over Philadelphia
New year. No name. New attitude. Gotta love it, people.
Los Angeles Chargers (-3) over CINCINNATI
Hey, did they ever get around to throwing a parade through the streets of Cincinnati for that security worker guy who acted like he caught Frank Abagnale filming some random game action in the press box last year? What a hero that guy is. The damage is done, my friend.
Anyways. Not sure about this one either!!
Tampa Bay (+3.5) over NEW ORLEANS
There’s a whole lot of “WILL TOM BRADY MAKE THE BUCS GOOD” debating going on around the country, and I am here to say this: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh … duh.
Tom Brady is working with Mike Evans. That’s the same Mike Evans who averaged like 1,100 yards a year* despite having quarterbacks named Ryan, Mike, Josh and Jameis. Now he’s got Tom Brady? With Rob Gronkowski drawing attention over the middle? Folks … the Tompa Bay Buccaneers are good. Get on that train early.
(*Evans’ actual averages: 77 receptions, 1,210 yards, 8 TDs. That’s silly.)
Arizona (+7) over SAN FRANCISCO
Quite frankly, if Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t have the world’s greatest game plan devised after that check out-my-sexy-as-all-hell-bachelor-pad stunt on draft night, then he’s gonna have to leave the league forever. I’m sorry but those are the rules.
Dallas (-3) over LOS ANGELES RAMS
Empty stadiums are going to be weird. Empty new stadiums are going to be the weirdest.
NEW YORK GIANTS (+5.5) over Pittsburgh
I may have strayed from this philosophy at times this week, but generally I might lean toward home dogs, given the weirdness of travel and everything else. I recognize that perhaps the New York Giants, with a new football coach, may not be the best test case for this theory. But it’s Week 1 in a pandemic, baby. Letting it fly.
Tennessee (-1) over DENVER
I feel like the most overlooked story in sports in the past few years is how quickly and aggressively the Broncos faded from perennial contender into complete irrelevance. From Peyton Manning to Trevor Siemian to a checked-out Joe Flacco. From Gary Kubiak to Vance Joseph to Vic Fangio. Just a steep, steep decline. I guess it’s an unwritten story because it’s very, very boring.
Anyways. With zero NFL defenders having tackled opponents in a live setting since last year, I’m going to give an absolutely massive advantage to the team in Week 1 that gives the football to Derrick Henry. People don’t like tackling that behemoth of a man even in the middle of a season. Good luck to the Denver defenders this time around.
(*Runs quick Google search to make sure that Derrick Henry will indeed be playing for the Tennessee Titans in Week 1. … OK, yup, we got it. We’re good.*)
Football is back, baby!
Last year: 122-140-5
This year: Going to be better for sure!!