The NFL season started on time this last weekend and the league didn't have to delay the start of its season like the rest of the US professional sports leagues - largely benefitting from the timing of the pandemic that we have had 6 months to deal with and plan for. Even though there were no preseason games for the teams to prepare, the play in Week 1 was exciting, competitive, and felt very normal. Here are a few observations and reasons why.
First and foremost, the players in the NFL are truly amazing athletes. The talent and speed from the offenses and defenses is superb, and what these guys can do flying around the field at full speed is incredible. To add to that is the fact that both offenses and defenses are extremely complex and hard to predict, and coaches / teams had a full training camp to properly prepare. Both sides of the ball appeared to be fresh and clicking on all cylinders during the first weekend's games.
Second, the NFL has done a good job at making the in-game experience as normal as possible. There aren't many camera shots of the stadiums, as a vast majority of them are empty, but some of the broadcasts have virtual fans overlayed into the seats that are actually quite convincing. Most of the broadcasts are pumping in celebrations and crowd noise that make the game environment seem normal. For the fan at home, the empty stadiums and other necessary changes are hardly noticable.
Third, and most important, the NFL has emphasized safety and protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID. It is pretty amazing that the NFL hasn't reported any COVID cases in the lead up to Week 1, even though there are nearly 10,000 players and personnel living in their own cities and not self-contained in bubbles. I'm not totally convinced the league isn't covering up some positive test results (there's too much money on the line) but that's just blind speculation. It seems that the players and staffs are taking the mask wearing and protocols seriously, and hopefully that continues to keep the season going as planned.