SportsPulse: The games are finally here. And we are here to help you place the smartest bets for kickoff weekend. Lorenzo Reyes provides his locks for Week 1 in the NFL.
The NFL is poised to return with the first of many football-filled Sundays, but the series of openers is sure to be anything but routine.
The majority of stadiums playing host to games in Week 1 won’t have fans in the stands amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, and many players could be looking to amplify their voices on social justice with protests or demonstrations during the national anthem. In all, there will be plenty of important developments that take place beyond the games themselves — though those will bear watching, too.
With that in mind, we asked USA TODAY Sports’ NFL reporters and columnists: What will be the biggest story coming out of Sunday’s games?
Tom Brady’s debut. For all that is uncertain and dramatic about the NFL’s 2020 season, the sight of TB12 playing quarterback in anything other than a New England Patriots uniform is so startling. After two decades (and six Super Bowl championship rings) in Foxborough, all eyes will be on the first glance at Brady with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s Week 1, which means the over-reactions — whether Brady sparkles or fizzles — will be at a premium. Then again, the stage is surely set for Brady to make a bold statement from an empty Louisiana Superdome … which, incidentally, was site of his first Super Bowl triumph. Funny, but Brady and the Bucs are an underdog against the defending NFC South champion New Orleans Saints, which, for a Brady team, is the NFL version of a solar eclipse in that it only comes around so often in the regular season. Then again, it’s a fitting matchup with Drew Brees in the building, too. Once again, the Saints are among the Super Bowl favorites. For Brady and the Bucs, it will be the first of multiple opportunities to see how they measure up.
Duh … what happened in New Orleans? The “football” story of this wildest of NFL offseasons was Tom Brady’s surprise move to Tampa Bay, which led to a reunion with briefly retired Rob Gronkowski. Can’t wait to see how the Bucs mix their new ingredients into recipe that already had the potential to be zesty. And, not for nothing, I’m also looking forward to seeing the Saints — my preseason Super Bowl LV pick. Is Alvin Kamara back to his old form? Do they hit a new level with the arrivals of Emmanuel Sanders and Malcolm Jenkins? And will there really be much of an advantage with the Superdome devoid of fans? Can’t wait to see what just might be the first of three meetings between these teams this season …
Aaron Rodgers enters Vikings territory coming off an NFC Championship-appearing, 13-win campaign in which he protected the ball to the tune of 26 touchdowns to four interceptions. Even so, his front office spurned him by drafting Utah State quarterback product Jordan Love in the first round. Will that fire fuel Rodgers to light up division-rival Minnesota and remind his front office why he’s no washed-up 36-year-old? If Rodgers falters, will the noise — warranted or not — rise above the 70-decibel caliber piped into fanless stadia across the league this weekend? Rodgers might be safe inside the building, where he insists he and head coach Matt LaFleur are “hashtag friend goals.” But outside Wisconsin, there will be rumbles.
I think the biggest story will involve both the atmospheres at these empty — or mostly empty — stadiums, and how the lack of crowd noise impacts home teams that normally capitalize on this advantage. Another big story line will involve the preparedness of these squads without a usual offseason and training camp and no preseason games. I imagine we’re going to see a good deal of kinks still being worked out. There could be some ugly and disjointed performances in Week 1.
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