COVID and Football: Potential Slow and Fast Starters to Begin the New Season

The NFL season is slowly approaching, and there is still a real chance of it not happening, or possibly being delayed. However, all 32 teams are preparing for the new year as best they can with the epidemic going on across the world. Due to COVID-19, NFL and College football teams will undergo a limited version of training camp this year. Typically for the NFL, training camp kicks off in July, then preseason starts in August. With the possibility of missing out on training camp, every team across the league will be dealing with the same disadvantages, and won’t be able to properly prepare for the 2020 season. Training camp is usually how rookies are introduced to their teammates. New players acquired through free agency usually have a great opportunity to start building relationships with their coaches and teammates during this time as well. With the NFL training camps and preseason at risk, teams are going to have limited opportunities to build chemistry amongst each other, which plays a huge part in a team’s success. Communication for the offense needs to be on point so everyone knows what their job is for that certain play. QBs need to throw the ball to their WRs, while learning and building a chemistry with each other in order to play better together on game day. Same can be said for the defense, where communication and camaraderie is the key to having an elite defense in football. Additionally, if rookies don’t have access to training camp or preseason games, their introduction to the league could be a rough one, as it could take them longer to get used to the speed and high level of play at the professional level (which they’ve never played before).

Due to COVID-19, every team across the NFL will struggle in some way, shape, or form. Limited training camp opportunities will mean all teams will struggle out of the gate, and we could be watching some sloppy football play during the first four games of the season. Now, don’t get me wrong, these athletes play in the NFL for a reason. They’re professionals, and some of them have been playing football their entire lives. They’ve done a fantastic job of learning playbooks, building rapport with teammates, and playing at a high level year in, and year out. But, COVID-19 is taking away a very important aspect that athletes hold dearly, which is routine and familiarity. There’s a ton of interviews and articles you can find online of different athletes at all levels and different sports, who say the same things about routine. When their routine is altered, their play is altered. I’m sure most of these guys will figure it out, but due to the coronavirus, it will just take a little longer for players to get back into the groove of things.

For that reason, there will be some teams in the NFL that fare better than others, and vice versa. Every offseason, usually the teams that finish last (or near it) make the most roster and coaching staff changes in preparation for the next year, while teams who finish at the top try to maintain their roster, and reload for another great season. There’s also those teams that were in the middle of the pack, and if they just had a better offense or a better defense, then maybe they would’ve finished at the top. Either way, some NFL teams make a ton of roster moves, while others don’t, and it all depends on what the front office feels is necessary to try and improve the team. There are a few key factors that separate the good teams from the bad ones, and we’ll be able to possibly get a glimpse of which teams will struggle (at least) in the first quarter of the season, as well as teams who could jump ahead from week 1.

Good Team Chemistry Leads to Success

This can be said for all sports. A team is only as good as it’s weakest link, and it all starts in the locker room. Teammates need to work together in order to achieve the goal, and win games. If players don’t mesh well together, all hell can break loose. Leadership plays a huge factor too, as players need that guidance and assistance to make the team stronger. Look at the 2019 Cleveland Browns for example. During that offseason, you couldn’t go a day on ESPN without hearing about how great the Browns were gonna be. Multiple “experts” predicted them going to the Super Bowl, and Browns fans everywhere became unbearable to be around. But there were so many new faces, different egos, and personalities that clashed together, that the Browns ship sank before it could even leave the port. They had a lack of leadership, which ultimately led to their star player Myles Garrett committing assault on live television, Baker Mayfield dressing like a defeated man, and the firing of their GM, HC, OC, and DC. Even Odell Beckham Jr. struggled on his new team, which brought rumors of him leading his teammates and asking other coaching staffs of other teams to take them away from Cleveland (YIKES). The worst part about that, is the Browns had the time to prepare for the season, and still weren’t able to build the chemistry needed in order to garner success.

Success Doesn’t Happen Over Night

The Browns aren’t the only team to gather a new roster in an offseason, get hyped up by the media, then shit the bed once the season starts. In fact, it happens every single year. Remember in 2017, when the Jacksonville Jaguars won the AFC South, then stunned the entire world and made it to the AFC Conference Championship? Now, they ultimately lost that game, which then led Jacksonville’s front office to make adjustments to the roster in the hopes of acquiring players to help put the team over the edge. The Jaguars acquired 9 new starters on the team during that offseason (5 on offense, 4 on defense). At the time, it looked like fantastic decision making, as Jacksonville addressed every hole that needed filled. On paper, they made their team stronger in preparation for the 2018 season. Instead, the Jaguars fell flat on their face and finished the year 5-11, and have been in rebuild mode ever since.

The front office spent a ton of money during the free agency period acquiring a bunch of new talent. In fact, the “experts” said a lot of similar things they were saying about the 2019 Browns. The fact of the matter is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Had the Jaguars kept their roster intact, and instead utilized free agency and the draft to acquire supplemental players and future stars to the team, there’s a possibility the Jaguars would have maintained dominance since 2017. Having only one offseason to build team chemistry simply isn’t enough time, and we see it happen every single year, EVEN when teams have the time to prepare, unlike this season.

Consistency in Coaching is Important Too

Not only is team chemistry salient, but familiarity with the coaching staff is incredibly important to the success of a football franchise as well. Just look at the Patriots the last 20 years. They’ve had very minimal changes in the coaching staff, they also seem to always promote from within, rather than go after an outside hire. They’ve consistently kept the same system in place for two decades, which has equated to six Super Bowl rings. So familiarity goes a long way too. During this offseason, 14 teams have made substantial changes to their coaching staff. Four of which have hit the trifecta (new HC, OC, and DC), being the Browns (who also hired a new GM), Giants, Panthers, and the Redskins. These four teams are entering a limited training camp, and won’t have full access to the players. That means, the players will be expected to learn the new playbook on their own. They won’t have as many opportunities to learn the plays together and build that familiarity with a new coaching staff, which is so critical for a team to succeed.

Who Has the Most New Faces?

After conducting research on all 32 NFL franchises, i’ve found that this offseason, on average, each team has gained between 6-7 potentially new starters (3 on offense, 3-4 on defense) in comparison to last year’s starting lineups. As it turns out, if your favorite team acquired less than 6-7 new starters, then they will have the team chemistry advantage over teams who have over 6-7 new starters. There were four teams that obtained 10 new starters, which was the highest number amongst the league. Those four teams are, the LA Rams, the Washington Redskins, the Carolina Panthers, and the Miami Dolphins. The team that has the most new starters on offense are the Denver Broncos, who gained six new starters through free agency and the draft (they also have a new OC as well). There were two teams that acquired seven new defensive starters, which was the most in the league. Those two teams are the LA Rams, and the Las Vegas Raiders.

Here are the list of teams that are over the average (8+): Seattle Seahawks(9), LA Rams(10), Detroit Lions(8), Philadelphia Eagles(9), Washington Redskins(10), Carolina Panthers(10), Denver Broncos(9), Las Vegas Raiders(9), Miami Dolphins(10), Jacksonville Jaguars(9).

Who Has the Most Familiarity?

According to my research (thank you Google), there are 12 teams that picked up less than six potentially new starters. These 12 franchises will have a majority of their starters returning, which could give them that competitive advantage out of the gate. The defending Super Bowl Champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, have the lowest number of new starters with only two. For the most part, the Chiefs will be starting the 2020 season with the same roster that just won them the title. On offense, there were only four teams that obtained only one new potential starter on offense, which are the Chiefs, the Ravens, the Bills, and the Titans. On defense, there were three teams that only acquired one new potential defensive starter, those teams being the Chiefs (again), the Packers, and the Steelers.

Here are the list of teams that acquired less than the average (5-): Green Bay Packers(3), Minnesota Vikings(4), New York Giants(5), Atlanta Falcons(5), New Orleans Saints(5), Kansas City Chiefs(2), Baltimore Ravens(5), Cleveland Browns(5), Pittsburgh Steelers(4), Buffalo Bills(5), New England Patriots(4), Tennessee Titans(4).

It’s important to point out, that 8 of the 11 teams that are on this list made the playoffs last year. And the Browns and the Giants are the only two teams who have made critical changes to the coaching staff. So, although Cleveland and NY did a great job of keeping their player acquisitions low, their new coaching staffs could prevent them from having a fast start this season.

Struggle Bus VS Hot Out of the Gate

So, finally, after hours of research and analysis, I’ve created a list of teams who I think could start the season on the rocks, and a separate list of teams who have the potential to start the season on fire. I’ve taken everything into consideration from new potential starters, the strength of the roster, new changes to the coaching staff, and strength of schedule. Keep in mind as you go through this list, that these teams are not guaranteed to have winning or losing seasons. In fact, a lot of these franchises will either right the ship, or will have a long season. As for the teams who will be hot out of the gate, there’s a possibility of them falling off the top of the mountain and never climbing back up. So, take this list with a grain of salt.

12 Teams who could struggle the first half of the season due to COVID-19: LA Rams (Defense won’t be able to keep up with opposing offenses), Washington Redskins (New coaching staff and 10 new starters), Carolina Panthers (Same as the Redskins), Miami Dolphins (10 new starters, and a bunch of rookies), Las Vegas Raiders (Offense should be fine, but defense may struggle hard), Denver Broncos (Defense will keep them competitive, but the offense is basically brand new), Jacksonville Jaguars (9 new starters, with a potential 2-4 more as they still haven’t traded Yannick Ngakoue), Philadelphia Eagles (9 new starters, and who knows what’s going on with Carson Wentz), LA Chargers (Extremely questionable at the QB position, along with 7 new starters), Cleveland Browns (Love their roster, but the new coaching staff could be the downfall of the team to start the year), New York Giants (Great, young, exciting talent on the roster, but the new coaching staff could really slow them down).

9 teams who could start the year hot out of the gate, as they maintained a ton of familiarity in the roster and the coaching staff: Green Bay Packers (Lost in the draft, but you can never count out Aaron Rogers), Minnesota Vikings (Have a majority of the team coming back), New Orleans Saints (Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, the defense is good too), Kansas City Chiefs (20 of 22 returning starters who just won the Super Bowl), Baltimore Ravens (made only 1 new potential starter on offense. Lamar is poised for another MVP run), Pittsburgh Steelers (Big Ben is back and the defense is solid), Buffalo Bills (They were dangerous last year, expect more of the same in 2020), New England Patriots (That defense is nasty, and you can never count out Bill Belichick), Tennessee Titans (18 returning starters, and Derrick Henry seems to be a man on a mission).

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