(Reuters) – Five storylines to track during the 2020 National Football League (NFL) season, which kicks off on Thursday.
After all preseason games were wiped from the schedule due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the bulk of the NFL’s 32 teams will start the regular season without fans, and those that allow spectators will do so at a significantly reduced capacity.
Because of the pandemic, the five games that were scheduled to be played in London and Mexico City this year will now be held in the U.S. stadiums of the host teams.
The NFL, which for years has been locked in debate with players over kneeling protests during the pre-game playing of the national anthem, has said it will now support players who protest racial injustice.
The league’s change in attitude came after anti-racism protests and demonstrations against police brutality swept across the United States earlier this year after the death of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis.
The field for the playoffs, which begin in January after a 16-game regular season, will be expanded to 14 teams from 12 after team owners voted this offseason for the new format.
The playoffs will feature the four division winners in each conference as well as three wild card teams in each conference. The new format offers an added incentive to the top seeds, who will be the only teams that will receive a bye.
Tom Brady, who won a record six Super Bowl titles during 20 seasons of excellence with the New England Patriots, begins a new chapter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom he signed as a free agent in March.
The 43-year-old Brady, who is at the helm of a Buccaneers team with an elite receiving corps and top defense, will now aim to join Peyton Manning as the only quarterback to win Super Bowls with two different teams.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
The Raiders, who played in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994 before heading back to Oakland, begin a new era with their first season in Las Vegas where they will play in a brand-new, state-of-the-art domed stadium near the Las Vegas Strip.
The new-look Raiders will bring plenty of confidence into the campaign after an offseason during which they added speed and depth on both sides of the ball in the hope of securing their first playoff birth since the 2016 season.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)