The NFL 2020-2021 Season: How This Year’s Game Will Be Different
Following a great 2019 football season, the NFL and its teams have been busy developing COVID-19 protocols that allow for game-day changes and implementing protocols for rigorous testing.
We know you’re ready to watch, so here’s everything you need to know about the NFL’s 2020 season, from player safety to fan attendance to where to catch every kick-off.
The NFL and NFLPA agreed to a new set of rules related to the coronavirus pandemic in early August. One of the most urgent pieces of this agreement was imposing a deadline of August 6 for players to opt out of the 2020 season. In total, 66 players opted out of the season, although others will be allowed to opt out in emergency situations going forward.
Moving into training camps, teams were permitted to have up to 16 players on their practice squad, including six without any NFL experience limit. Teams will be allowed to designate four practice squad players after 4 p.m. on Tuesdays that another team cannot sign until after their next game.
As we begin the season, teams will be allowed to bring back an unlimited number of Injured Reserve players after September 6. They must sit out a minimum of three games, and once a player has is designated to return to practice, the team will have three weeks to activate him. Additionally, game-day changes include allowing teams to promote a player from the practice squad until up to 90 minutes before kickoff if a player is forced onto the Reserve/COVID-19 list after 4 p.m. the day before the game.
Currently, the NFL is engaging in a daily testing protocol of players for COVID-19. The league also uses Proximity Recording Devices, which alerts players when they break social distancing rules and monitors who they are in close contact with for contact tracing purposes. These devices are mandatory for players and club personnel when at a team facility, during practices and during team travel.
The new NFL rules state that any player testing positive or showing symptoms of COVID-19 must wait at least ten days before returning to the field. Teams also can fine players if they engage in high-risk conduct, such as: being in an indoor night club or bar—unless the player is wearing PPE and there are no more than ten people inside; being at house gatherings of more than 15 people—unless all guests are wearing masks or PPE and there are no more than ten people inside where social distancing is impossible; or attending any events prohibited by state or local regulations.
Some teams are going even further and providing additional protections. For example, the Denver Broncos are misting players in a sanitation booth prior to practice.
NFL team owners proposed seven rules changes for the 2020 season, three of which were ultimately approved:
- Expansion of automatic replay reviews: This rule change makes permanent the expansion of automatic replay reviews for scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul and any successful or unsuccessful try.
- Play Safety: The second rule change approved goes to play safety. This amendment “expands defenseless player protection to a kickoff or punt returner who is in possession of the ball but who has not had time to avoid or ward off the impending contact of an opponent.”
- Game Clock Manipulation: This change prevents teams from manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running.
One of the three proposed changes to the bylaws was also approved. The new rule submitted by the league office increases the number of players who may be designated on the Injured Reserve list from two to three. Additionally, a player on the IR is not eligible to return until after eight games (instead of weeks) since he was placed on the IR.
Whether fans are allowed in the stadium on game day—and at what capacity—varies from one team to the next. Although teams haven’t made final decisions, only a few have announced proposed capacity limits.
The Cleveland Browns want to allow 20% capacity, but the state has yet to sign off. The New England Patriots had similar plans, but the state rejected them. The Baltimore Ravens were another team whose plans to allow 7,500 fans was rejected by state officials.
Meanwhile, other teams are moving forward with plans to allow fans in limited numbers. The Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars both intend to proceed at 25% capacity, and the Kansas City Chiefs are going with 22% as of now. The Miami Dolphins have announced they will allow a maximum of 13,000 fans for their home opener, which is approximately 20% of Hard Rock Stadium’s capacity.
A few teams appear to have decided that no fans will be in the stands this season, including the Chicago Bears, Las Vegas Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington team. Additionally, the New York Giants and New York Jets are under an indefinite shutdown in New Jersey.
Where to Watch
Thankfully, not much has changed from where you could stream the NFL in 2019.
CBS: carries 6-7 games every Sunday. Watch your live local game on your television or through your TV provider’s streaming app on mobile devices and tablets.
FOX Sports: carries 6-7 games every Sunday. Watch your live local game on your television or through your TV provider’s streaming app on mobile devices and tablets.
NBC Sports: will air a total of 18 Sunday Night Football games. Watch live on your television or through your TV provider’s streaming app on mobile devices and tablets.
ESPN: will air 17 Monday Night Football games. Watch live on your television or through your TV provider’s streaming app on mobile devices and tablets.
NFL Network: will air 15 Thursday Night Football games, preseason games and more. Watch live on your television or through your TV provider’s streaming app on mobile devices and tablets. YouTube TV now also carries NFL Network.
NFL Sunday Ticket on DIRECTV: access to all out-of-market games on Sunday afternoons.
NFL RedZone: watch every touchdown from every game on Sunday afternoons. NFL RedZone is available as an add-on to your TV subscription or in a mobile-only format via subscription (no screencasting).
NFL Live on Yahoo! Sports app: watch live local and primetime NFL games on your phone or tablet with no cable sign-in required (no screencasting).
NFL app: watch live local and primetime games on your phone or tablet with no cable sign-in required (no screencasting).