In the past few weeks we’ve touched on many of the sports that have gotten underway in one form or another, and one that is uncertain in many respects.
The playoffs are in progress in the NBA and the NHL, baseball is moving along in its abbreviated season and golf seems to be flourishing as well.
The big question mark is college football, which really affects more towns and cities in American than any other sport.
We haven’t discussed the NFL, but that’s no longer the case.
Pro football is starting on time, on schedule, beginning with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs against the Texans on the Thursday after Labor Day.
Where it goes from there is anybody’s guess, but the league has been determined to make it happen and so far no obstacles are on the horizon.
Still, there is no getting around the fact that this will be a strange season.
And there are questions.
If COVID becomes an issue, where and who will it strike?
Will there be quarantines of stars, especially star quarterbacks?
Will there be a situation where teams won’t play a scheduled game?
Will games be postponed?
Will the season be curtailed in any way?
How will rosters be affected?
How will the travel go?
And ultimately, will consider it a normal season when it’s over?
That’s a lot of questions.
But they are all valid.
Nevertheless, the teams have been practicing, and preparing for the season.
Personally I am looking forward to beginning my 27th season at Fox Sports, and proud that I remain the most senior network play-by-play broadcaster working college or pro football. I will behind the mike for virtually half the schedule, starting out with the talented Brady Quinn as my partner.
Brady was at my side when he first became an expert-analyst at Fox several years ago and advanced, first as one of the top college analysts working with Joe Davis, then moving on to the studio pre-game show with the likes of Urban Meyer, Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. With the college season in flux, Brady became available to return to the booth.
We will be broadcasting on site from the stadiums. More on that next week.
So the NFL is back and this week, some thoughts on the AFC.
Next week, it’ll be the NFC.
The AFC starts with the Kansas City Chiefs.
As we know, NFL teams live and die with the quarterback position.
The Chiefs, with the unusually brilliant Patrick Mahomes are living high on the hog.
The skills Mahomes brings to the table, as a versatile do-it-all QB are off the charts, and the confidence he has to rally his team from substantial deficits against strong opponents is remarkable.
Taking a step back, isn’t it amazing that the football world can jump from the Greatest-Of-All-Time legacy ofTom Brady to this young whiz so quickly is stunning.
Not to diminish Brady who has earned his legendary status, and is still driving for more, but Mahomes is the talk of the town now.
Can anyone beat the Chiefs? Of course.
I didn’t think anyone would beat the Baltimore Ravens last season, but someone did.
The Ravens were the number 1 seed in the AFC, finishing with a franchise-best 14-2 mark, capturing their last 12 victories in a row.
Their trademark had always been a vicious defense, and while the 2019 edition was not quite the same of the some of their great ones of the past, it was a still a huge asset.
But the attack, led by Lamar Jackson, the regular season MVP, was record-breaking for the Ravens.
Then came the playoffs.
For the second straight year, the Ravens were knocked out of post-season in their first game. A year ago, Jackson showed his inexperience in the loss to the Chargers.
Last January, Jackson did his job, but the defense faltered, and the receivers dropped too many passes.
One man alone can’t win a game, and LamarJackson couldn’t.
The same is true of Patrick Mahomes, as outstanding as he is.
Any team can have an off day. There are no guarantees.
It shows how phenomenal the Patriots have been all these years.
On the subject of the Patriots, they will go into this season with someone other than Tom Brady starting at quarterback for the first time in 19 years.
Cam Newton, who has been fighting injuries, and was a man nobody wanted, was signed by New England and it appears he will start opening day.
It will be fascinating to see how the Patriots evolve with a new and different-style leader under head coach Bill Belichick.
I think Belichick relishes having the opportunity to show everybody how he can adjust without Brady and perhaps not miss a beat.
But the Patriots were not the same team last year, even with Brady, and I believe the new commanding team in the AFC East are the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills played the Pats tough in their two games last year, and they have built a defensively strong club, that is versatile, tough, and possess one of the better young quarterbacks in Josh Allen.
Another contender has to be the Tennessee Titans.
There weren’t many who saw them coming when Ryan Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota at quarterback in October following a 2-3 start.
Tannehill who came up short with the Dolphins and battled back from knee surgery sparked the Titans to a 9-7 campaign and the playoffs.
That’s where they became the surprise team in post-season.
First, a huge road victory ending the Patriots hopes and giving head coach Mike Vrabel a much-satisfying win over his former mentor Bill Belichick, then, another away-from home triumph over the top-seeded Ravens.
Tennessee nearly reached the Super Bowl, leading the Chiefs into the second quarter before their dream ended.
I don’t think they’ll perform that magic again.
And if they face the Ravens in the playoffs, I don’t think Baltimore will be that careless again.
The game itself has become more exciting in my view.
There is no question that the teams who run the ball will still be the most successful.
But running the ball in today’s game is not the same as the running game of past years. There is a lot more trickery, innovation, and deception engineered by quarterbacks who are no longer one-dimensional, with speed being the key element.
It’s fun to watch. And the players like running these plays.
Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are just two of the exciting performers at their position. DeShaun Watson makes the Houston Texans a constant threat. We’ll be closely watching Tua Tagovailoa in Miami, when he takes over leading the Dolphins.
Over in the NFC, Kyler Murray begins his second season with the Arizona Cardinals.
There are, what I call “curiosity teams”. Teams that bear watching for various reasons, but not up to the caliber of the stronger contenders.
We start with the Steelers. Somehow you can never ignore them, especially with veteran
Ben Roethlisberger hoping to return to form after elbow surgery in Week 2 which sidelined him for the season. The club is being cautious with him. But a big comeback season, combined with a dominant defense, would make the Steelers worth following.
Another veteran QB, Philip Rivers moved to Indy after 16 seasons with the Chargers.
The Colts, who have a talented group, are hoping Rivers has something left.
Both Rivers, and Roethlisberger are 38 years old and came out of the same draft in 2004.
The other great, was Eli Manning, who retired after last season.
I’ll be curious about the Raiders, who will now play in Las Vegas. This will be the third year for John Gruden as head coach, and they just may be a surprise.
Gruden has the players he wants, and the speed to go along.
Don’t be shocked if Marcus Mariota makes a comeback, replaces Derek Carr at quarterback and helps make the Vegas boys a winner.
My final curiosity outfit are the Cleveland Browns. Baker Mayfield revived the lowly Clevelanders a couple of years ago, but this constantly changing club is at the crossroads.
This season will be revealing.
One final team will be in the spotlight all season.
They had the worst record in the league last year. But the last pick first, and the Cincinnati Bengals chose Joe Burrow, the national championship quarterback from LSU.
That is what is so refreshing about the NFL.
Teams can get out of the depths by drafting a franchise quarterback who will lead them,not only out of the wilderness, but to a championship.
There were many observers who advised Burrow to make it known he wouldn’t play for the lowly Bengals.
The Ohio native wasn’t listening.
He’s enthused about the opportunity to make the Bengals relevant once more.
And he likely will do just that.
Look back at all the teams in that same position.
There is no need to recount the clubs who turned their fortunes around by being lucky enough to draft that high when a potential franchise quarterback was available.
The Cincinnati Bengals just happen to be the next in line.
So, the AFC, which starts with the Chiefs, may end with the Chiefs once again.
That is, unless the Ravens wake up in the playoffs.
That’s how I see it. The NFC outlook straight ahead.