NFL 2020 preview: Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Cam Newton Feature in 101st Season

NFL 2020 preview: Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Cam Newton Feature in 101st Season

So much has happened in the world since Super Bowl 54, it feels a lifetime ago.

But seven months after Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to a thrilling comeback win over the San Francisco 49ers, the NFL returns as scheduled on Thursday.

And the league’s 101st season will be like no other after a hugely disrupted off-season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual draft went ahead virtually, players started their training programmes at home, pre-season games were cancelled and 67 players opted out of the season because of health concerns.

And the league’s 101st season will be like no other after a hugely disrupted off-season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

And the league’s 101st season will be like no other after a hugely disrupted off-season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

NFL 2020 preview: Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Cam Newton Feature in 101st Season

Players also used their platform to support the Black Lives Matter movement, with more protests expected during the opening weekend, while the Washington franchise dropped the team name which had long been criticized as a racist slur.

In team news, big-name quarterbacks Tom Brady and Cam Newton changed sides.

After training in ‘ecosystems’ for the past six weeks, players will step back on to the field in empty stadiums. How will they respond? It’ll be a big ask for rookies to hit the ground running, so are the NFL stars set to shine?

“I think it’s going to be a fascinating occurrence in the NFL this year,” said two-time Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora, who joined fellow pundit Jason Bell to discuss what to look out for in 2020.

Fresh Start For Veteran Brady

In 20 seasons together, Brady and Bill Belichick won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots – more than any other player or coach in NFL history.

But their legendary partnership came to an end in March as Brady, 43, left the Pats to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coached by the attack-minded Bruce Arians.

The Bucs then reunited Brady with former Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski, the 31-year-old who had taken a year out of the game to boost his television career – he even fought in WWE.

“Tom Brady is ready to light it up,” said Bell. “He has firepower all around him on offence and I’m really excited to see what he can do for the team. I think he’ll be successful.”

Although Brady’s numbers have declined over the past couple of years, will a fresh start give him a new lease of life?

Newton Given Surprise Shot At Patriots

Arguably the quality of the offensive players around Brady also declined, so Belichick gave them a shot in the arm by signing Newton in a cut-price deal in July. It could be another coaching masterstroke.

After being the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2015, the 31-year-old quarterback struggled with shoulder and foot injuries over the past three years and was released by the Carolina Panthers in March.

“Cam’s called it a match made in heaven, the relationship between him and Bill Belichick,” said Bell. “We’re about to see some dynamic offensive play this year from New England.

“Cam can run with the ball, he can throw it. They’re going to use him in a way he hasn’t been used for years. We thought this would be a down year for New England, but I think Cam has put them right back on top.”

Last season was the first since the 2009 season that the Patriots failed to get past the first round of the play-offs.

“Bill Belichick’s going to get the best out of Cam Newton and he’s going to bring the best out of New England,” said Umenyiora. “They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Magic Mahomes Earns Mega Deal

After being the league’s MVP for 2018 – his first season as a starter – and then Super Bowl MVP in 2020, Mahomes was rewarded with the biggest contract in NFL history in July.

The 24-year-old quarterback signed a 10-year extension with the Chiefs to the end of the 2031 season, which his agents said make him the “first half-billion dollar player in sports history”.

Bell said: “They’re still the best team in the NFL. Why? Because the quarterback position is the number one position on the field and they’ve got the best guy.

“They will be elite; Mahomes will be elite. We’re going to see some exciting offensive play by the highest-paid player in NFL history.”

Umenyiora added: “He has the best wide-receiving corps in football – Sammy Watkins, Tyreek ‘meep meep’ Hill and now Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the backfield. This team is going to be fantastic and, on top of that, defensively they’re very overlooked.”

Can Ravens Come Good When It Matters Most?

Lamar Jackson was dismissed as a run-first quarterback when he came into the league but after throwing for five touchdowns in the Baltimore Ravens’ 2019 opener, he quipped to reporters: “Not bad for a running back.”

The 23-year-old backed that up by steering the Ravens to the best record of the regular season (14-2) before being named the league’s MVP.

But they were dumped straight out of the play-offs, as they were after finishing strongly when Jackson became the starter in 2018.

“This is a team that’s had two very good regular seasons and then been one and done,” said Umenyiora. “They have to be able to go deep into the play-offs and we don’t know if they’ll be able to do that, or if Lamar Jackson has what it takes.”

Bell added: “You still have to win games to get there but can they be focused, week to week, and not think about the future? That’s hard to do when they have that kind of pressure. Let’s see if Lamar Jackson can evolve as a player.”

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Thursday’s season opener is a mouth-watering match-up between the Chiefs and the Houston Texans, who produced arguably the best game of last season as the Chiefs pulled off a thrilling fightback in the play-offs.

Under coronavirus restrictions, the Chiefs are limiting capacity to 22% for their first three home games, but most teams will be playing in empty stadiums – at least at the start of the season.

The Los Angeles Chargers and Rams have moved into SoFi Stadium, the world’s most expensive arena at $5bn, but there will be no fans to see the Rams host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

This year’s other new stadium is in Las Vegas and the Raiders, who have relocated from Oakland, have already confirmed the Allegiant Stadium will be empty all season.

“I’m really interested to see which players can rise to that level without having fans in the stands,” said Bell. “We know the pressure of the fans makes some players not perform well. What happens in reverse? Are some of those prime-time guys not going to be prime-time players without the fans?”

Umenyiora added: “I would hear the fans before the snap but the moment the play took off I wouldn’t hear anything. I think the players are going to be laser focused.”

The NFL Show returns on Saturday, 12 September, on Red Button (21:00 BST), plus One and iPlayer (23:20).

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