Expect the unexpected as NFL kicks off season Sept. 10

Fred Jeter | 9/10/2020, 6 p.m.
The NFL is entering uncharted land.

The NFL is entering uncharted land.

Its 101st season, which starts Thursday, Sept. 10, will be noticeably different from the 100 preceding it.

COVID-19 hasn’t stopped the NFL from sprinting forward, but it will change the game-day experience for players and fans.

Most noticeably, games will be played at empty or near empty stadiums. Few or no fans. No vendors. No cheerleaders. No pageantry.

Sloppy play can be expected, especially in the season’s early going, because of the absence of preseason contests and intrasquad scrimmages.

Expected positive virus tests are likely to affect rosters, resulting in individual quaran- tines. Teams may have more trouble than usual with continuity because of virus-induced player turnover.

At least 60 players leaguewide have opted out of the 2020 season because of health concerns.

Still, “The Show”— fueled by lucrative television deals — goes on.

Here are some items to think about in the NFL’s 2020-21 season.

Roll the dice: After many decades in California, the Raiders—formerly of Oakland and Los Angeles — are moving to Allegiant Stadium near Las Vegas.

No more “R word”: Finally, the Washington NFL franchise has buried its racist and offensive moniker. For now, the D.C. franchise will go by the Washington Football Team. The team also has changed its logo.

New digs in L.A.: Both the Rams and the Chargers are moving to Inglewood, Calif., where they will share SoFi Stadium.

Sideline changes: There are five head coaching changes — none involving African-Americans.

Ron Rivera was fired by the Carolina Panthers and hired by Washington. Kevin Stefanski has replaced Freddie Kitchens in Cleveland.

Mike McCarthy has replaced Jason Garrett in Dallas. Joe Judge has replaced Pat Shurmur with the New York Giants. And Matt Rhule has replaced Rivera in Carolina.

Head of the pack: The defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs, led by quarterback sensation Patrick Mahomes II, is the clear front runner.

The more the merrier: The playoffs will expand from 12 to 14 teams with the addition of two wild cards.

Quarterback shuffle: Led by Tom Brady, a few veteran quarterbacks will be tossing spirals in new cities. Brady has gone from the New England Patriots to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Other quarterback moves: Teddy Bridgewater — from the New Orleans Saints to the Carolina Panthers; Andy Dalton – from the Cincinnati Bengals to the Dallas Cowboys; Cam Newton – from the Carolina Panthers to the New England Patriots; Philip Rivers – from the L.A. Chargers to the Indianapolis Colts; and Jameis Winston — from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the New Orleans Saints.

New York, New York: Four-time Pro Bowl pick Eli Manning, who took the New York Giants to two Super Bowl championships, has retired.

Fresh face: The Cincinnati Bengals are hoping rookie quarterback Joe Burrow will turn the franchise’s fortunes around. By virtue of finishing with the worst record a year ago, the Bengals drafted first and took Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Louisiana State University.

R.I.P.: Since the end of the 2019 season, these NFL Hall of Famers have died — players Willie Wood, Willie Davis, Chris Doleman and Bobby Mitchell and Coach Don Shula.

Grand finale: Super Bowl LV will be played Feb. 7, 2021, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Will the incomparable Brady be on the field for the Bucs that day?

Stay tuned: Until the pandemic is more under control, expect the unexpected in the upcoming months.