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How will COVID-19 impact the 2020 NFL season? Our staff gives their predictions

It’s likely to be a different game for fans this season.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Atlanta United FC Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

That whole pandemic thing isn’t dominating the headlines like it once did, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away. On the contrary, given the way more and more people are going out to shop, eat, and in some cases return to their offices, it’s a safe bet we’ll be hearing more about it this summer and fall.

In light of that, our staff came together to given our thoughts on how the NFL might be impacted by the virus this fall. Here’s our thoughts, and we hope you’ll share yours.

There will be no fans in stadiums

Changes at stadiums impact the average fan, generally speaking, and I expect COVID-19 to ultimately force the NFL to play with fans in the stands. A significant chunk of the U.S. population seems to have gotten fed up with quarantining and not going out, whether for very good reasons (protesting system injustice) or pretty lousy reasons (hitting up Applebee’s), and it’s a fair expectation that a virus that thrives in cooler weather is going to be resurgent by late summer at the latest.

The NFL will try to tackle that problem in various ways, from soliciting direct fan participation from home to piping in noise, but obviously the experience is going to be drastically different for those fans who are used to being at games, and for the rest of us who traditionally watch from home. The question is whether they can create a gameday experience that’s workable for everyone, and whether they can keep the players healthy enough to pull the season off without a hitch. I feel pretty strongly that regardless of their solutions, fans won’t be in NFL stadiums this year. -Dave Choate

The season will start with no fans in stadiums

I do think there’s a remote chance the back end of the season could see a limited number of fans in seats - particularly for the playoffs. Right now, the world as we see it has few answers for this virus. We don’t have a particularly effective treatment and no one knows when a vaccine will hit. That said, there are a few things that could happen between now and the end of the year that could make attending a game a possibility.

If overall cases in the US drops to an incredibly low number or even zero in some cities, that would be an inflection point. If a rapid, inexpensive and reliable test comes to market - which several companies are working on - it could provide a path for ensuring no one enters a stadium without mandatory testing for infection. Finally, if a vaccine is miraculously delivered this year, that would certainly set the stage for fans in seats again. These are a lot of ifs, but they do leave open a sliver of hope that games could be played in the 2020 season with fans seeing it live. - David Walker

A true test for coaching staffs and front offices

My two colleagues selected the likely favorable outcome for the NFL and it’s games with a lack of fan presence. That will most definitely change the imagery of the league both in-person and on the television screen.

But as we have seen during this offseason, NFL front offices have had to adjust greatly when it came to preparing for the NFL Draft as well as conducting offseason workouts. It already had a great effect on the NFL Draft as teams had to rely on film more than ever. But also teams will have to have limited workouts/training programs as well as likely limited player-to-coach interaction as the regular season nears. The offseason is an annual occurrence where teams and coaching staffs get better. The regular season will show us how much these unfavorable circumstances robbed a team to truly prepare. - Eric Robinson

An abbreviated offseason program, followed by fan-less games

I was admittedly pessimistic about the possibility of any NFL football in 2020, but with state-wide re-openings taking place all across the country and personnel slowly returning to team facilities, I feel much better about the prospect of football this season. It will definitely impact the offseason and training camp, however, with teams potentially adjusting their traditional programs to limit player capacity and usual day-to-day operations.

Once the season gets underway, I don’t believe you will have fans in stadiums — even in states where governors have announced that sports leagues are permitted to host fans. All it will take is one COVID-19 outbreak traced back to an NFL game to throw the season into chaos, and I don’t feel the league is willing to take that risk. - Carter Breazeale

A bumpy ride

The NFL season will very likely commence this fall, but it’s going to be messy. COVID-19 is a dangerous virus that easily spreads, and football is one of the most high-contact sports around. Entire teams could be quarantined at any given moment of a breakout happens within a locker room; star players could be on the inactive list at the last minute with a positive test.

The competitive edge of home field advantage will be hard with no fans, and the level of the game itself could be altered with a staggered offseason. A major outbreak in the fall could hypothetically stop the season altogether, too. There are too many unknown variables at play, but at the least, we know it’ll be a bumpy ride to the Super Bow for the NFL - Cory Woodroof