The National Football League will kickoff their 101st season tonight with hopes that nothing will interrupt the playing of this campaign that is scheduled to conclude with Super Bowl LV on February 7, 2021.
Never before have the odds of a season being played to completion been so uncertain … but this is simply a sign of the times. Two other major sports in America had their seasons interrupted and then rescheduled, which leaves us today with professional baseball and basketball sharing the stage with the start of the football season. The National Basketball Association conducted the end of their abbreviated regular season, eight games, and their playoffs staged in a bubble … and that has worked out quite nicely.
Major League Baseball is the model the NFL is following, having teams fly around the country to play in empty stadiums, or severely restricted fans in the stands as is the case in Cleveland, Dallas, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami and tonight’s venue, Kansas City. Four baseball teams have had to be sidelined for periods of time due to outbreaks in their organizations, something that could be more debilitating if that happens in the NFL.
Because baseball is playing a 60 game season and are going to determine their playoff seedings based on winning percentage. In other words, if a team only plays 56 of their scheduled 60 games the league is set to accept their winning percentage as the basis for division standings and playoffs slots.
In the NFL, where teams are scheduled to play 16 regular season games, the league can’t have one team playing a dozen games and winning ten be considered ahead of a team that played 16 games and won 12 … although the percentage would be higher for the team with the shortened season.
So, the NFL is headed into the season with protocol on how to handle a player who tests positive, but with no plans on having an entire team quarantined like they did in baseball.
All this leads us to opening an NFL season without the benefit of teams preparing for games that count with the benefit of preseason games. The players union has been vying for a reduction in preseason games in their most recent bargaining sessions, and now have a situation that may strengthen their case for shortening the preseason schedule.
When I was in the Oakland Raiders front office during the 1970’s, we played six preseason games and that seemed to put us in great position to open the regular season closer to mid-season form than the four preseason schedule now provides. Two games just doesn’t seem like enough to get ready in the way I view the game, but no preseason, nobody believes this is the best situation.
What that means, is we can expect some ragged play during September while teams are getting up to the efficiency that they would normally possess with the benefit of preseason action. I would also expect the defenses to be a step ahead of the offenses, as quarterbacks, receivers, running backs and offensive linemen get their units in sync.
Tonight, could have been an easy play from a wagering standpoint in normal times. The NFL adopted the defending Super Bowl Champion hosting the Thursday night season opener in 2004. This has been a sweet spot for the Super Bowl Champs, as hosts they have won the game 12 times in 14 meetings and have a point spread record of 8-3-3.
Those numbers reflect two games that did not have the Super Bowl winner hosting the season opener. In 2013, the Baltimore Ravens were forced to open on the road because they share a parking lot with baseball’s Baltimore Orioles and the MLB team would not change their schedule to allow the Ravens to open at home. Last year, for the 100th season kickoff, the league didn’t have the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots host the opener, but instead featured the oldest rivalry in league history, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
Based on history, and talent, the Chiefs are the play tonight. But, the Houston Texans come to town after playing the Chiefs twice last year at Arrowhead Stadium and pinning them with a home loss in the regular season and bolting to a 24-0 lead in the playoffs. That game, won by Kansas City, marked the first of three consecutive games the Chiefs overcame a double-digit deficit enroute to their Super Bowl LIV victory.
Without the benefit of a preseason to get their offense in high gear, and given the fact that the Texans also rely more on offense than defense, this game comes up with an edge to the Chiefs straight-up but no advantage in laying a nearly double-digit point spread.