The NFL season is finally here.
After months of uncertainty, canceled offseason events and preseason games, the league has made it to the season opener between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans on Thursday night without delay.
Here are the three biggest storylines to watch in the Thursday Night Football special:
Mahomes' reign begins
It’s safe to say Patrick Mahomes has had the best 2020 of any player in the NFL.
For starters, he hasn’t lost a game, leading the Chiefs to three playoff wins and a Super Bowl LIV title since the calendar turned over. The Chiefs rewarded his Super Bowl MVP performance with the biggest contract in NFL history: A 10-year deal worth $500 million.
The 24-year-old still plays in a league with six-time champion Tom Brady and two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers, but Mahomes enters this season as the best player in the NFL, no matter what the NFL Top 100 says. He’s the only quarterback in league history to win an MVP and a Super Bowl before turning 25 and he leads one of the most explosive offenses in the league.
Mahomes wasn’t able to follow up his 50-touchdown 2018 MVP campaign with the same insane production last year, but he was still one of the best quarterbacks in the regular season and showed up in the playoffs. Along with Lamar Jackson, he will be at the forefront of the new generation of great quarterbacks now that the 2004 NFL draft class headlined by Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Philip Rivers is fading off.
Chiefs title defense is underway
Somewhat separate from Mahomes' victory lap is the Chiefs' championship defense. Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who spent 14 years leading the Eagles, will raise a championship banner Thursday night for the first time in his 21 years as a head coach. It will be the second championship banner the Chiefs' organization has risen, with the first coming in 1970.
Once the ceremony is over, though, Kansas City will begin its pursuit to repeat, something that’s been done once since 2000, when the Patriots went back-to-back by beating the Panthers in 2004 and the Eagles in 2005.
The campaign starts with a rematch of last year’s AFC division playoff game, which featured the largest comeback in Chiefs history for a 51-31 win. Kansas City was down, 24-0, early in the second quarter before reeling off 41 unanswered points. Mahomes finished the game with five touchdown passes, including three to All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce.
Managing the pandemic
For much of the summer, there was uncertainty about whether this game would be played on time, if at all.
The coronavirus pandemic still rages on in the country, but the NFL and NFLPA protocols to keep players healthy has kept the virus contained to this point.
Time will tell how teams manage once weekly travel and exposure to opponents is introduced to the current routine, but the daily testing, contact tracing, and other safety measures made during training camp led to a positivity rate of 0.017% as of last week.