The NFL’s 32 teams will begin another memorable season next month, with the longest regular season in history and what some coaches and players believe will be the difference in some games: Vaccination rates for COVID-19.
“We’ve discussed how [vaccination] is a competitive edge,” Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters earlier this offseason.
The NFL season in 2021 begins on September 9. This year, each team will play one more regular-season game and one fewer preseason game.
Unlike last season, each team will allow full stadium capacity. Before entrance, certain teams will require proof of immunisation or a negative COVID-19 test result.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by Tom Brady, and the Kansas City Chiefs, led by Patrick Mahomes, are the favourites to return to the Super Bowl in 2021-22. Other contenders are the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, and Buffalo Bills.
Teams will attempt to get through the longest season in NFL history with limited injuries for star players. The NFL’s adjusted COVID-19 protocols also could impact which players miss games.
Unvaccinated NFL players who are deemed close contacts of a player who tests positive for COVID-19 this coming season are subject to five-day periods in isolation, while vaccinated players are not.
Last week, the NFL told UPI that 91.7 percent of NFL players on 90-man rosters had been completely immunised or have received at least one shot. This means that an estimated 239 of the league’s 2,880 active players are not immunised. More than 95 percent of the 15 teams have been immunised.
According to the Washington Post and The Athletic, the Minnesota Vikings had the league’s lowest immunisation percentage as of last week. Vikings owner Mark Wilf told reporters that the team is “extremely concerned” about the team’s failure to obtain the immunisation and the potential competitive disadvantages.
Last season was marked by several schedule disruptions due to COVID-19 outbreaks, but the NFL told teams it will not extend the 2021 campaign if teams are forced to miss games. Those with the potential outbreak will forfeit and be credited with a loss.
The issue of vaccination sometimes causes friction within teams.
Coach Mike Zimmer recently voiced his frustration with the situation at Vikings training camp when starting quarterback Kirk Cousins was sidelined and designated as a high-risk close contact to backup Kellen Mond, who tested positive. Cousins is not vaccinated.
“[What if] something like this happens the day before a game with a chance to get into the playoffs?” Zimmer asked reporters July 31.
Not all positions are created equal in the NFL when it comes to their impact on winning games. Quarterbacks are regarded as the most important players because they handle the ball most. About half of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks have said they are vaccinated.
In July, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield told reporters, “It’s a competitive edge, but it’s also lot more than that.” “It’s about human life’s safety, health, and well-being.”
Some coaches encourage players to get vaccinated for the sake of safety and success on the field, while others consider immunizations a “personal decision.” Teams and the NFL Players Association are continuing to educate players and coaches about the vaccine and the NFL COVID-19 procedure.
“We must be in charge of close interactions and tracing, as well as tracking who is wearing their mask. That is where I believe the competitive advantage could be gained “Mike Vrabel, head coach of the Tennessee Titans, stated in July.
Quarantines and close contacts aren’t the only obstacles teams face ahead of the 2021 campaign. Players also must stay healthy and work out contract disputes.
Injuries, uncertain player status
The playing status of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is one of the biggest storylines of the NFL off-season and lurks into the preseason.
Watson requested a trade earlier this year. Fewer than two months later, nearly two dozen lawsuits that allege sexual assault and inappropriate behavior were filed against the three-time Pro Bowl selection.
Watson, who is under investigation by the NFL and the Houston Police Department, returned to Texans practice last Monday after a week-long absence.
Outside of other legal matters and contract disputes, injuries already made an impact on several teams this year.
Carson Wentz of the Indianapolis Colts and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson of the Los Angeles Rams both suffered foot injuries last week and are unable to practise. They were initially given recovery timetables ranging from five to twelve weeks, but coach Frank Reich told NFL Network on Wednesday that they could yet be ready for Week 1.
Cam Akers of the Los Angeles Rams suffered one of the most catastrophic injuries this offseason. Akers tore his Achilles in July and will be out for the rest of the season.
This offseason, several wide receivers were injured, including DeVonta Smith of the Philadelphia Eagles, Rashod Bateman of the Baltimore Ravens, and Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings.
Pro Bowl wide receivers Amari Cooper of the Dallas Cowboys and Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints both had injuries when they arrived to training camp.
Cooper, Jefferson, and Smith have resumed light duty. Bateman is likely to be out for several weeks. Thomas is also still out owing to an ankle ailment.
After suffering season-ending injuries in 2020, several prominent players, like Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals, Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers, and Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants, should provide a boost to their teams in 2021.
The 2021 NFL preseason ends Aug. 29.
Week 1 schedule
Times in EDT
Cowboys at Buccaneers at 8:20 p.m.
Seahawks at Colts at 1 p.m.
Jaguars at Texans at 1 p.m.
Eagles at Falcons at 1 p.m.
Chargers at Washington at 1 p.m.
Steelers at Bills at 1 p.m.
49ers at Lions at 1 p.m.
Vikings at Bengals at 1 p.m.
Jets at Panthers at 1 p.m.
Cardinals at Titans at 1 p.m.
Browns at Chiefs at 4:25 p.m.
Dolphins at Patriots at 4:25 p.m.
Broncos at Giants at 4:25 p.m.
Packers at Saints at 4:25 p.m.
Bears at Rams at 8:20 p.m.
Ravens at Raiders at 8:15 p.m.