By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports
Each week I’ll bring you this week’s NFL schedule with my predictions followed by some great notes and stats directly from the National Football League Communications Department.
Our Sports Animal NFL programming for Week 1:
(Sun) 10am – 12:30pm: The NFL Report with John Wilkerson and two rotating Sports Animal hosts
(Sun) 12:30pm – Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
(Sun) 7:45pm – Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
(Mon) 9:20pm – Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos (NewsTalk 98.7)
NFL KICKOFF 2020 SCHEDULE
THURSDAY, SUNDAY & MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 13-14
(All times Eastern)
*My predicted winners in bold
Thursday, September 10
Houston at Kansas City, 8:20 PM (NBC)
Sunday, September 13
Miami at New England, 1:00 PM
Philadelphia at Washington, 1:00 PM
Seattle at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Cleveland at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
New York Jets at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Las Vegas at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Chicago at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Green Bay at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Indianapolis at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati, 4:05 PM
Tampa Bay at New Orleans, 4:25 PM
Arizona at San Francisco, 4:25 PM
Dallas at Los Angeles Rams, 8:20 PM (NBC)
Monday, September 14
Pittsburgh at New York Giants, 7:10 PM (ESPN)
Tennessee at Denver, 10:20 PM (ESPN)
Vince’s View on Week 1: There are a lot of one-sided matchups on paper, so expect some surprises, like Joe Burrow leading the Bengals to a win in his first career start, fanning the flames of excitement over him right out of the gate. Even if the winners may appear more obvious, in general, we’re just ecstatic to have any football, so no complaints here. The GOTW is definitely Tom Brady and the Bucs at Alvin Kamara, Shy Tuttle and rookie Marquez Callaway and the Saints. No fans in one of the league’s loudest venues will be weird. I’m excited about the Titans at Broncos to close out the week on MNF.
2020 NFL SEASON BEGINS WITH KICKOFF WEEKEND
The NFL returns this week and it’s time to get back to football. Kickoff Weekend signals the start of a 256-game journey, one that promises hope for each of the league’s 32 teams as they set their sights on Super Bowl LV, which will be played on Sunday, February 7, 2021 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. The 101st season of NFL play kicks off on Thursday night (NBC, 8:20 PM ET) as the Super Bowl champion KANSAS CITY CHIEFS host the HOUSTON TEXANS at Arrowhead Stadium in a rematch of the 2019 AFC Divisional Playoffs.
High scoring and close games are a hallmark of the NFL. In 2020, the league is building off one of the most prolific and competitive seasons in league history.
Last year, teams combined to score 1,244 offensive touchdowns (rushing and passing touchdowns combined), the second-most in a single season in NFL history, and 1,332 total touchdowns, the third-highest total in a single season in league annals. Additionally, 68 percent of games (174 of 256) were within one score (eight points) in the fourth quarter last season, tied for the fifth-most such games in a single season in NFL history, while 52.3 percent of games (134 of 256) were decided by eight-or-fewer points, the fifth-most such games in a single season.
Last season, a wave of young stars burst onto the scene, especially at the quarterback position. The 2019 season saw 208 games feature at least one starting quarterback under the age of 27, the most in a single season in NFL history. In total, quarterbacks under the age of 27 started 287 games and recorded 144 wins in those starts last season, both the highest single-season totals since 1970.
Three quarterbacks under the age of 25 – Baltimore’s LAMAR JACKSON (2018 NFL Draft), Kansas City’s PATRICK MAHOMES (2017 NFL Draft) and Houston’s DESHAUN WATSON (2017 NFL Draft) – have led their respective teams to division titles in each of the past two seasons.
The 2020 season will be filled with memorable moments, as young players emerge, familiar faces continue their climb up the record books and teams vie to make their mark in the postseason. Every team enters the season with hope and a trip to Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV in mind. Below are a few reasons why.
- THE FIELD IS OPEN: New in 2020, the NFL adopted a 14-team playoff format, with two additional Wild Card teams – one each in the American and National Football Conferences – qualifying for the postseason. Since 1990, when the NFL adopted the 12-team playoff format, at least four teams every season have qualified for the playoffs after failing to make the postseason the year before. Last season, five teams that missed the postseason in 2018 – Buffalo (10-6), Green Bay (13-3), Minnesota (10-6), San Francisco (13-3) and Tennessee (9-7) – qualified for the playoffs.
Both Green Bay (NFC North) and San Francisco (NFC West) won their divisions last year after missing the postseason in 2018 and at least two teams have won their divisions the season after missing the playoffs in 16 of the past 17 years.In 15 of the past 17 seasons, at least one team finished in first place in its division the season after finishing in last or tied for last place. In fact, of the 48 teams in league history to go from “worst-to-first,” 25 of them have done so in the past 17 years (2003-19), including an NFL-record three such teams in 2005 and 2006. Two teams during that span, the 2009 New Orleans Saints and the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, won the Super Bowl after finishing in last place in their divisions the season before.
- WILL THE CHIEFS REPEAT AS SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS? Fresh off their first Super Bowl in 50 years, the Chiefs begin their quest to repeat as champions. Only eight teams have repeated as champions since the first Super Bowl in 1967, with the 2004 Patriots (Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX) being the last team to accomplish the feat.
- RECORDS WITHIN REACH: New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES (77,416 passing yards and 547 touchdown passes) enters the 2020 season as the league’s all-time leader in both categories, while Tampa Bay’s TOM BRADY (74,571 passing yards and 541 touchdown passes) ranks second … Brady (283 regular-season starts) can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer BRETT FAVRE (298) for the most starts by a quarterback in NFL history … Indianapolis quarterback PHILIP RIVERS (59,271 passing yards and 397 touchdown passes) can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (61,361 passing yards and 420 touchdown passes) for fifth in each all-time category … Green Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS (46,946 passing yards) can become the 11th player in league annals with 50,000 career passing yards … New York Jets running back FRANK GORE (15,347 rushing yards and 19,243 scrimmage yards) can become the third player in NFL history with 16,000 career rushing yards and fourth player with 20,000 career scrimmage yards … Detroit running back ADRIAN PETERSON (14,216 rushing yards) can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer BARRY SANDERS (15,269 rushing yards) for fourth-most in league annals … Peterson (111 rushing touchdowns) can become the fourth player in NFL history with 120 career rushing touchdowns … Arizona wide receiver LARRY FITZGERALD enters 2020 ranked second all-time in receptions (1,378) and receiving yards (17,083) … Fitzgerald (120 touchdown receptions) can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer MARVIN HARRISON (128) for the fifth-most touchdown receptions in NFL history … Las Vegas tight end JASON WITTEN (1,215 receptions) can become the fourth player in league annals with 1,300 career receptions.
- FAMILIAR FACES IN NEW PLACES: Five teams enter the 2020 season with a new head coach – JOE JUDGE with the New York Giants, MIKE MCCARTHY with Dallas, MATT RHULE with Carolina, RON RIVERA with Washington and KEVIN STEFANKSI with Cleveland.Five rookie head coaches have led their teams to the playoffs over the past three seasons: MATT LAFLEUR (Green Bay) in 2019, MATT NAGY (Chicago) and FRANK REICH (Indianapolis) in 2018, and SEAN MCVAY (L.A. Rams) and SEAN MCDERMOTT (Buffalo) in 2017.Several notable players were on the move during the offseason, including quarterbacks TOM BRADY (Tampa Bay) and PHILIP RIVERS (Indianapolis); running backs MELVIN GORDON (Denver) and TODD GURLEY (Atlanta); wide receivers STEFON DIGGS (Buffalo) and DEANDRE HOPKINS (Arizona); tight ends AUSTIN HOOPER (Cleveland) and JASON WITTEN (Las Vegas); offensive linemen BRIAN BULAGA (L.A. Chargers), JACK CONKLIN (Cleveland) and RUSSELL OKUNG (Carolina); defensive end CALAIS CAMPBELL (Baltimore); defensive tackles DEFOREST BUCKNER (Indianapolis) and JURRELL CASEY (Denver); linebackers CORY LITTLETON (Las Vegas) and KYLE VAN NOY (Miami); cornerbacks BYRON JONES (Miami) and DARIUS SLAY (Philadelphia); and safeties JAMAL ADAMS (Seattle) and MALCOLM JENKINS (New Orleans).
- YOUNG STARS TAKE THE STAGE: Last season, four rookies – San Francisco’s NICK BOSA, Jacksonville’s JOSH ALLEN, Kansas City’s MECOLE HARDMAN and New Orleans’ DEONTE HARRIS – earned Pro Bowl honors in their first season. Who could accomplish the feat in 2020?Four quarterbacks – LSU’s JOE BURROW (No. 1 overall, Cincinnati), Alabama’s TUA TAGOVAILOA (No. 5, Miami), Oregon’s JUSTIN HERBERT (No. 6, L.A. Chargers) and Utah State’s JORDAN LOVE (No. 26, Green Bay) – were selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. At least one rookie quarterback has started in Week 1 in 12 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in the NFL since at least 1950.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR – KICKOFF WEEKEND
SUPER STARTERS: History indicates that the best way for a team to start its drive toward a Super Bowl championship is to win in Week 1.
The 54 Super Bowl winners have a 44-9-1 record in the Kickoff Weekend games of their title seasons. The Super Bowl LIV champion KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, who host Houston in the NFL’s annual primetime kickoff game on Thursday (8:20 PM ET, NBC), have won their past five Kickoff Weekend games, the longest active streak in the AFC and tied for the longest active streak in the NFL (Green Bay).
Since 1978 when the NFL went to the 16-game schedule, and excluding the abbreviated season of 1982, teams that are victorious in their season-openers are more than twice as likely to reach the playoffs than losers of an opening game:
- Of the 617 teams that won openers…322 went to the playoffs (196 won division titles).
- Of the 616 teams that lost openers…148 went to the playoffs (86 won division titles).Note: There are a different number of winning and losing teams in season-opening games due to the fact the NFL had 31 teams in each season from 1999-2001, which creates an odd number for the total number of results.In 2019, the 12 playoff teams compiled an 11-1 record on Kickoff Weekend and all four participants in the conference championships – Green Bay, Kansas City, San Francisco and Tennessee – were victorious in Week 1.
— NFL —
STARTING STREAKS: The Chiefs aren’t the only team to have excelled in openers. Below is a sampling of other notable active NFL Kickoff milestones and streaks:
- The defending AFC North champion BALTIMORE RAVENS, who host the CLEVELAND BROWNS on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS), have won their last four Kickoff Weekend games, the AFC’s second-longest active streak.
- The GREEN BAY PACKERS open their season on the road against the MINNESOTA VIKINGS on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). The Packers have won 57 games on Kickoff Weekend, the most in the NFL. Green Bay has won its past five Kickoff Weekend games while the Vikings enter the 2020 season having won their past four openers.
- The DALLAS COWBOYS visit the LOS ANGELES RAMS on Sunday Night Football in Week 1 (8:20 PM ET, NBC). With a winning percentage of .661 (39-20-1), the Cowboys own the best Kickoff Weekend winning percentage in the NFC.
- In the first of two Monday Night Football games on Kickoff Weekend, the NEW YORK GIANTS host the PITTSBURGH STEELERS (7:10 PM ET, ESPN). The Giants have 50 wins on Kickoff Weekend, third-most among all teams, while Pittsburgh’s 43 wins are the most among AFC teams.
- The DENVER BRONCOS, who begin the season by hosting the TENNESSEE TITANS in the second Monday Night Football contest (10:20 PM ET, ESPN), have also posted a .661 winning percentage (39-20-1) on Kickoff Weekend, the top mark in the AFC. Denver has won seven of its past eight Kickoff Weekend games.
*From 1920-71, tie games were not included in winning percentage
— NFL —
START ME UP: Some players have excelled in openers. Below is a sampling of notable individual performances on NFL Kickoff Weekend:
- New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES has 39 touchdown passes in 18 career Week 1 games, while Tampa Bay quarterback TOM BRADY has 37 touchdown passes in 17 career Kickoff Weekend games. The two rank first and second in NFL history, respectively, in career touchdown passes on Kickoff Weekend and face off this Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX).Brees also leads all players with 5,406 career passing yards on Kickoff Weekend, while Brady ranks third with 4,693. With at least 44 passing yards on Sunday, Brady will surpass PEYTON MANNING (4,736) for second place on the all-time list.
- Detroit running back ADRIAN PETERSON has 999 rushing yards in 12 career season-opening games and needs one rushing yard on Sunday against Chicago (1:00 PM ET, FOX) to become the fifth player with at least 1,000 rushing yards in season-opening games, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers EMMITT SMITH (1,247), WALTER PAYTON (1,067), EDGERRIN JAMES (1,062) and JIM BROWN (1,043).Peterson also enters the season with nine career rushing touchdowns on Kickoff Weekend and needs one more to join Pro Football Hall of Famer MARCUS ALLEN (12), CHUCK MUNCIE (11) and PRIEST HOLMES (10) as the only players in NFL history with at least 10 rushing touchdowns in season-opening games.
- Arizona wide receiver LARRY FITZGERALD, who recorded eight catches for 113 yards and a touchdown on Kickoff Weekend in 2019, has 92 receptions in 16 career Kickoff Weekend games, tied for the most all-time. With at least one reception on Sunday at San Francisco (4:25 PM ET, FOX), Fitzgerald will surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE (92 receptions) for the most career receptions in season-opening games in NFL history.Fitzgerald has 1,181 receiving yards in Week 1 games and with at least 45 receiving yards on Sunday can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famers RANDY MOSS (1,194) and ANDRE REED (1,225) for the second-most in NFL history. Rice has the most receiving yards on Kickoff Weekend with 1,385.
- Philadelphia wide receiver DESEAN JACKSON, who had 154 receiving yards on Kickoff Weekend in 2019, has six career games with at least 100 yards receiving in Week 1, tied for the most all-time. With at least 100 receiving yards against Washington on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX), Jackson would surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer MICHAEL IRVIN (six) for the most 100-yard receiving games on Kickoff Weekend in NFL history.
— NFL —
START ’EM EARLY: Cincinnati rookie quarterback JOE BURROW, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, is expected to make his first career start against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday (4:05 PM ET, CBS). With a start by Burrow, at least one rookie quarterback will have started in Week 1 in 13 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in the NFL since at least 1950.
The rookie quarterbacks to start in Week 1 since 2008:
|SEASON||QUARTERBACK||TEAM||STARTING RECORD AS ROOKIE|
|2009||Mark Sanchez||New York Jets||8-7|
|2010||Sam Bradford*||St. Louis Rams||7-9|
|2012||Robert Griffin III||Washington||9-6|
|2013||Geno Smith||New York Jets||8-8|
|2014||Derek Carr||Oakland Raiders||3-13|
|2015||Jameis Winston*||Tampa Bay||6-10|
|2018||Sam Darnold||New York Jets||4-9|
|*No. 1 overall pick|
|^Expected to start Week 1|
— NFL —
BRADY & BREES: Quarterbacks TOM BRADY and DREW BREES will face off as division rivals for the first time, as Tampa Bay travels to New Orleans on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX). Brady (age 43) and Brees (41) are the two oldest active players in the NFL, and Sunday’s meeting will be the first in league history between two starting quarterbacks both age 40 or older.
The pair enter the 2020 season as the league’s top-two all-time leaders in passing yards and touchdown passes. Their Week 1 meeting marks the first game since at least 1950 between the league’s top-two all-time leaders in touchdown passes.
The players with the most career passing yards in NFL history:
|Drew Brees||San Diego, New Orleans||77,416|
|Tom Brady||New England||74,517|
|Peyton Manning||Indianapolis, Denver||71,940|
The players with the most career touchdown passes in NFL history:
|Drew Brees||San Diego, New Orleans||547|
|Tom Brady||New England||541|
|Peyton Manning||Indianapolis, Denver||539|
With at least two touchdown passes on Sunday, Brees (165 games) will surpass PEYTON MANNING for the second-most such games in NFL history, trailing only Brady (173). With at least three touchdown passes, Brees (93 games) will surpass Manning for the most such games in league annals. Brady enters the season third on the all-time list with 86 games with at least three touchdown passes.
The players with the most career games with at least two touchdown passes in NFL history:
|Tom Brady||New England||173|
|Drew Brees||San Diego, New Orleans||165|
|Peyton Manning||Indianapolis, Denver||165|
The players with the most career games with at least three touchdown passes in NFL history:
|Drew Brees||San Diego, New Orleans||93|
|Peyton Manning||Denver, Indianapolis||93|
|Tom Brady||New England||86|
If Brees records a passer rating of 125 or higher, he would also surpass Manning (50 games) for the most such games in NFL history.
Other career passing milestones that can be reached in Week 1:
- With at least three touchdown passes on Sunday at Jacksonville (1:00 PM ET, CBS), Indianapolis quarterback PHILIP RIVERS (397 career touchdown passes) can become the sixth player with 400 career touchdown passes in NFL history.
- With at least 290 passing yards on Sunday against Seattle (1:00 PM ET, FOX), Atlanta quarterback MATT RYAN (51,186 career passing yards) can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHN ELWAY (51,475) for ninth place on the league’s all-time list.
- With at least 58 passing yards on Sunday at Minnesota (1:00 PM ET, FOX), Green Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS (46,946 career passing yards) can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer FRAN TARKENTON (47,003) for 12th place on the all-time list.
- With at least 266 passing yards on Sunday at Atlanta (1:00 PM ET, FOX), Seattle quarterback RUSSELL WILSON can reach 30,000 career passing yards, becoming the 11th player to do so in his first nine seasons in league history.
— NFL —
RUSHING INTO THE RECORD BOOKS: Baltimore quarterback LAMAR JACKSON became the youngest quarterback to win league MVP in NFL history last season after leading the league with 36 touchdown passes and rushing for 1,206 yards, the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season in NFL history.
Jackson had five games with at least 100 rushing yards last season, the most by a quarterback in a single season in NFL history, and enters 2020 with 1,901 career rushing yards through his first two seasons.
With at least 132 rushing yards on Sunday against Cleveland (1:00 PM ET, CBS), Jackson can surpass CAM NEWTON (2,032 rushing yards) for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in his first three seasons in NFL history.
The quarterbacks with the most rushing yards in their first three seasons in NFL history:
|*Entering third season|
– NFL –
RECEPTIONS LEADER: New Orleans wide receiver MICHAEL THOMAS led the NFL with 149 receptions for 1,725 receiving yards last season, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer MARVIN HARRISON (143 receptions in 2002) for the most receptions in a single season in NFL history. He also registered nine games with at least 10 receptions, the most in a single season in league annals.
Thomas enters his fifth NFL season with 470 career receptions and needs at least 12 receptions on Sunday against Tampa Bay (4:25 ET, FOX) to surpass JARVIS LANDRY (481 receptions) for the most receptions by a player in his first five seasons in NFL history.
The players with the most receptions in their first five seasons in NFL history:
|Jarvis Landry||Miami, Cleveland||481|
|Michael Thomas||New Orleans||470*|
|*Entering fifth season|
— NFL —
CLOSING IN ON 800: Atlanta wide receiver JULIO JONES has 797 receptions for 12,125 yards and 57 touchdowns in 126 career games.
Jones needs three receptions on Sunday against Seattle (1:00 PM ET, FOX) to become the second-fastest player to reach 800 receptions in NFL history.
The players to reach 800 career receptions in the fewest games in NFL history:
|PLAYER||TEAM||GAMES TO REACH 800 RECEPTIONS|
|*Has 797 receptions entering Sunday|
— NFL —
ROOKIES NO MORE: The 2019 Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year, Arizona quarterback KYLER MURRAY, and the 2019 Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year, San Francisco defensive lineman NICK BOSA, will meet each other in Week 1, when the 49ers host the Cardinals onSunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX).
It will mark the third time in NFL history that the two reigning Rookies of the Year will meet on Kickoff Weekend. New England running back JOHN STEPHENS and New York Jets defensive back ERIK MCMILLAN met in Week 1 of the 1989 season, while San Diego Chargers running back DON WOODS and Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker JACK LAMBERT met in the season opening game in 1975.
The Kickoff Weekend matchups featuring the reigning Associated Press Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year in NFL history:
|SEASON||REIGNING OROY (TEAM)||REIGNING DROY (TEAM)||WEEK 1 RESULT|
|2020||QB Kyler Murray (Arizona)||DL Nick Bosa (San Francisco)||???|
|1989||RB John Stephens (New England)||DB Erik McMillan (NY Jets)||NE 27, NYJ 24|
|1975||RB Don Woods (San Diego)||LB Jack LambertHOF (Pittsburgh)||PIT 37, SD 0|