When does the NFL season start in 2020? Complete Week 1 schedule, matchups, COVID-19 impact

For months, as COVID-19 ravaged the plans and schedules of other sports leagues around the world, the NFL insisted it would be able to start its 2020 season on time. And the billionaire team owners who run this operation are not blinking even as football amid a pandemic reveals itself as impossible at the sport’s lower levels.

Thus, the 2020 NFL season is still scheduled to start Sept. 10 with what has become a traditional Thursday night opener. That is, of course, unless a coronavirus outbreak wrecks the NFL’s so-far uninterrupted plans for the regular season.

The NFL Players Association needed to put up a fight, but the NFL eventually agreed to cancel the 2020 preseason in the name of player health and safety. That allowed the league to implement a lengthy acclimation period for teams’ training camps so players could reach conditioning goals prior to full-contact practices.

These schedule tweaks mean Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season will be an unprecedented situation for all involved. It will mark the first live NFL game action since the Chiefs beat the 49ers in Super Bowl 54 about a month before the pandemic shut down sports globally.

So as if Week 1 of a given NFL season wasn’t enough of a crap shoot in terms of what to expect, the start of the 2020 season will be a complete cluster. Really, all we know about Week 1 is that it remains scheduled to start on time with a full slate of 16 games.

Below is all you need to know about the start of the 2020 NFL season, including the COVID-19 line the league is walking into September.

When does the NFL season start in 2020?

After a year of deviation, the NFL is back to its tradition of scheduling the defending Super Bowl champion as the host of the league’s Thursday night season-opener. The Chiefs’ title defense begins against the Texans, one of the teams Kansas City beat in comeback fashion during last year’s AFC playoffs.

There had been rumors that the NFL was considering moving the season-opener to one of its new stadiums in Los Angeles or Las Vegas, especially after it began last season with a classic Packers-Bears matchup in Green Bay to kick off the league’s 100th season. Kansas City, though, remained the play.

The 2020 NFL season-opener will broadcast live Thursday, Sept. 10 on NBC featuring the network’s “Sunday Night Football” crew of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.

NFL schedule Week 1

Per tradition, Week 1 of the NFL season will begin with a Thursday night opener featuring the defending Super Bowl champs and will end with a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader. 

Nestled between those primetime games and serving as the night cap of the first full Sunday of NFL football in 2020 might be the most intriguing game of the weekend. Cowboys at Rams on “Sunday Night Football” is juicy enough on its own, but it doubles as the national TV debut of LA’s SoFi Stadium. (The whole limited-if-any-fans thing is a bit of a bummer.)

Below is the complete Week 1 schedule for the start of the 2020 NFL season.

Thursday, Sept. 10

Sunday, Sept. 13

Monday, Sept. 14

COVID-19 and the start of the NFL season

As of Aug. 5, the NFLPA had reported 56 positive COVID-19 test results league-wide since players reported to training camps in late July. Which was pretty much what the NFL anticipated.

Because the NFL is not implementing a bubble concept like those the NBA and the NHL are using so successfully, the league knows coronavirus cases are all but inevitable. So it’s important for the NFL to avoid the issues Major League Baseball has had, postponing or canceling games because of outbreaks within teams. That will be easier said than done.

Basically, the NFL is operating on the honor system, trusting a couple thousand players and all other team/league personnel to adhere to health and safety guidelines implemented by their local governments. All 32 teams had infections disease emergency response plans for their facilities approved by both the NFL and the NFLPA, but players are still free to live their lives outside of team headquarters.

Based on the terms of the modified collective bargaining agreement the league and the players agreed upon last month, players can be fined for attending potentially hazardous settings like clubs, bars, parties, concerts and even church services. And if they test positive for COVID-19 after doing so, they won’t get paid for whatever games they miss.

Still, with 53-man team rosters during the season and expanded practice squad rosters — and even bigger numbers during training camps — the sheer number of people involved makes the NFL season a risky endeavor.

Which is why testing is key. The league agreed to test players every day for the first two weeks of training camp. It will evaluate its frequency of COVID-19 testing moving forward and into the season depending on the percentage of positives.

According to NBC Sports, when a player tests positive, he falls into one of two categories:

Players who test positive are placed on a new reserve list called “Reserve/COVID-19.” However, players can be placed on the list even if they have not tested positive. The list also includes players who have come in close contact with somebody who did test positive.

The NFL also is implementing contact tracing so it can monitor the interactions of those who test positive.

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