The pandemic could not stop the N.F.L. Even as transmission rates surged and team facilities closed, as training camp was restructured and the preseason abandoned and locker rooms reconfigured to diminish the spread of coronavirus, the league pledged that the season would start as scheduled, on Sept. 10.
And it will, after the most challenging off-season in N.F.L. history, before a reduced number of fans on Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium, where the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs will host the Houston Texans.
Whether the season ends as scheduled, in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 7, 2021, with Super Bowl LV — or is interrupted, by a deluge of positive tests or player boycotts in protest of racial injustice — remains a mystery. The answer depends greatly on players’ and coaches’ individual discipline, the caprices of a viral scourge and the power wielded by players, who are using it, across all sports, like never before.
The sport will still be contested on a field measuring 360 by 160 feet, and the football is, same as ever, made of cowhide, but so much else about how football is played this season will look, feel and sound strange and disorienting. Here is a sampling of what that entails:
Will players be tested for the coronavirus?
Building off the encouraging success of training camp, when daily testing confirmed the diligence of players and team personnel in adhering to protocols, the N.F.L. and its players’ union agreed to continue to test players and essential employees every day of the week, except the day of the game.