A Look Back on An Unprecedented NFL Season

The 2020 NFL season has been one like no other. Whether it’s been the unexpected rise of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the not-so-unexpected collapse of the New York Jets, or the number of players who have contracted COVID-19, it’s fair to say that the 2020 NFL season has been one to remember. As teams head into Week 15 and approach the start of playoffs, there’s still a lot more football to be played. 

This past week in the National Football Conference (NFC), the New Orleans Saints became the first team in their conference to clinch a playoff berth, after backup quarterback Taysom Hill led the Saints to a 21-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The New York Giants also triumphed, managing to pull off a huge upset win over the Seattle Seahawks, despite missing second-year quarterback Daniel Jones to a hamstring injury. Defensive stars Leonard Williams and Jabrill Peppers shone in the victory, combining for a total of three and a half sacks. 

In other news, the Minnesota Vikings crept into the third NFC wildcard spot, after an overtime win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Rookie Justin Jefferson, who is in the running for offensive rookie of the year, led the way with 121 receiving yards, further staking his claim as the number one wide receiver on the Vikings over veteran Adam Theilen. Jefferson and Theilen will play crucial roles in the coming weeks as the Vikings must hold off both the Arizona Cardinals and last year’s Super Bowl runner-ups, the San Francisco 49ers, if they’re to keep their spot in the playoffs. 

In the American Football Conference (AFC), the Kansas City Chiefs unsurprisingly clinched a playoff spot. The reigning Super Bowl champions are still the team to beat, though that will certainly be a challenge with the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill running their offense. 

The Baltimore Ravens remain on the outside looking in, with a 7-5 record – a letdown for a team led by the reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, who missed several weeks with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. On a team whose roster has been decimated by COVID-19, Jackson joined over 20 of his teammates, including 10 starters on the bench, as they recovered from the virus. 

The Ravens aren’t the only team that has experienced the devastating impact of COVID-19. The Denver Broncos went into its Week 12 game with no quarterback, after starter Jeff Driskel tested positive on November 26 and all three backups were deemed close contacts. 

As the playoffs approach, league executives must begin to think about how best to manage the virus. The league rejected the idea of an NBA-style bubble, claiming that the size of rosters and the thousands of league employees would make such a scenario impossible. Their proposal to create fourteen, individual bubbles for each team has yet to be officially approved by NFL officials or the NFL Players Association. NFL Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Allen Sills, argued that play should continue as long as social-distancing and mask-wearing is enforced off the field. In a November interview with Sports Illustrated, Sills said, “We have seen zero evidence of transmission player-to-player on the field.” 

Many fans hope play does continue, as football has been a bright spot in their lives during an otherwise dark time. Theodore Loescher ’24, who plays on the Hotchkiss football team and is an avid New England Patriots fan, said, “You’re able to play fantasy football with your friends, which is fun, and watching is a great way to relieve stress.” 

Whether or not fans will get their wish remains in question as cases spike across the nation. As of right now, however, the playoffs are set to begin in early January of next year. 

Author Analysis:

The Chiefs and the Steelers will most likely head into the playoffs with the best regular-season records in the AFC. However, with an inconsistent offense and a once-superb defense slowly being unraveled by injury, the Steelers are not as untouchable as the scoresheet implies. Their weakness opens the door for the Buffalo Bills, who currently sit atop the AFC East, led by a young, steadily improving quarterback in Josh Allen. This was put on display in the much-anticipated Week 14 clash between the two teams, with the Bills emerging on top. Their strong, dynamic offense proved too much for the tattered Steelers defense to handle, and now the Bills head into the playoffs much more equipped to take on the Chiefs in the AFC Division Final.

The dark horse in the NFC has been the New York Giants. Although the team currently stands with a losing record, the Giants have proved they can win with and without quarterback Daniel Jones, and their defense has been phenomenal – something neither the NFC-topping New Orlean Saints nor Greenbay Packers can claim. However, despite the Saints’ and Packers’ defensive woes, their consistency and offensive star power more than make up for it. They’ll face each other in the NFC Division Final.