By MIKE HERNDON
It’s here. We weren’t sure if it’d even make it this year. But it’s finally here.
The 2020 NFL season is underway. Defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City kicked it off with a 34-20 win over Houston. Tomorrow and Monday, the rest of the league will kick off amid a pandemic.
Bubble? They don’t need no stinkin’ bubble (we hope).
Will they get through a full season with COVID-19 still prevalent around the country? Will games and divisions and playoff races be determined as much by infection rates as completion percentages?
I have no idea, and neither do you. But I’m happy that football is back. And while I can’t predict how much football we’ll get this year, here are a few bets I am willing to make:
The Fountain of Youth will remain stubbornly undiscovered.
Tom Brady’s signing with Tampa Bay may be the biggest storyline of the offseason. It is intriguing for a quarterback who loves his slot receivers to have one as talented as Chris Godwin. And to have other weapons like Mike Evans, O.J. Howard, his old buddy Rob Gronkowski, and now Leonard Fournette at his disposal in a Bruce Arians offense.
But let us not forget that Brady is 43 years old. He had the worst touchdown percentage of his career last season, the second-worst yards-per-attempt, and the third-worst completion percentage.
He has said he wants to play until he’s 45, and he may do it. But as great as he is, his skills are starting to deteriorate. Not even the TB12 Method will hold off the effects of time forever.
I think he’ll have a good season, but not a great one. The Bucs will be a better team, but not a Super Bowl contender.
Dak Prescott won’t run out of money.
Everybody’s getting paid, it seems. Patrick Mahomes got $450 to $503 million over the next 10 years, depending on incentives. Deshaun Watson got $156 million over the next four years. Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook and Cooper Kupp agreed to lucrative extensions just this week.
The one contract situation that still looms large is that of Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, who turned down a five-year, $175 million offer from the Cowboys. He’s playing on a one-year, $31 million deal reportedly in hopes of eventually getting $40 million a year.
If he can actually get the Cowboys to the playoffs this year, he may get it. With the scarcity of true franchise quarterbacks, he may get it anyway. Whether he gets $40 million a year or not, though, he’s going to get paid, and paid extremely well. Quarterbacks are going to get their money.
No matter how many different ways NFL players find to protest, people will find something wrong with all of them.
Many Americans took issue with Colin Kaepernick and other players kneeling for the national anthem to protest police brutality. I can respect both the players’ decision to exercise their freedom of expression and the opinions of many of those who found it disrespectful.
But when the Chiefs and Texans opened the season on Thursday by standing arm in arm together as a sign of unity, there were still boos. If players standing arm in arm offends you, maybe sports aren’t for you. You can always show up or tune in after the game starts to save yourself the irritation. Or just don’t watch at all.
And remember: It’s not an airport. You don’t have to announce your departure, and those of us who are looking forward to the games do not care. If you’re going to go, just go. The league will survive without you.
The Saints will find a new way to break their fans’ hearts.
Hell could never be hot enough for old Boudreaux, the old joke goes. No matter how high the flames got, it felt like summer on the bayou to him. So Satan turned the heat off and tried to freeze him out. “How do you like that?” Satan asked. And Boudreaux, with icicles hanging from his nose, said: “The Saints must have won the Super Bowl.”
The Saints finally made hell freeze over in 2009, but they’ve been driving a stake through poor Boudreaux’s heart ever since. Marshawn Lynch killed them with the Beast Quake in 2010. Stefon Diggs ended their 2017 season with the Minneapolis Miracle. They got shafted the next year with one of the worst no-calls in recent history against the Rams. And Minnesota sent them home again last year with an overtime touchdown by Kyle Rudolph.
The window on Drew Brees’ Hall of Fame career is rapidly closing. They still have a roster that can get there, with plentiful offensive weapons and a defense that looks as good as any Sean Payton has had in New Orleans. But if Saints fans aren’t excited, it’s because they’ve become accustomed to expecting heartbreak.
A new dynasty will emerge.
The New England Patriots’ dynasty seems to finally be on the decline – though Cam Newton will try to prove otherwise – but the rest of the league shouldn’t breathe easy just yet.
The Chiefs have served notice that they’re not satisfied with the franchise’s first championship since the Len Dawson era. They locked up Mahomes for likely the next 10 years. They resigned Chris Jones and kept the rest of their core intact. And they added a weapon in Clyde Edwards-Helaire that sure looked elite on Thursday, rushing for 138 yards and a touchdown in his debut.
There will be challenges in the AFC from Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and others. San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Green Bay or another contender will be waiting in the NFL.
But I think the Chiefs will repeat, beating the Seahawks in Super Bowl LV. And if that happens, it’ll be time to talk about a new dynasty.