Strict COVID-19 rules as 2021-22 NFL season gets underway
Teams could risk forfeiting a game if it is called off due to an outbreak among unvaccinated playersFriday, September 10, 2021
BY MARK ARCHER
The National Football League (NFL) kicked off its 102nd season last night clouded by the shadow of the novel coronavirus pandemic for the second-straight season. But this time around, unlike last season, there were preseason games and fans will be in attendance, thereby providing the invaluable “twelfth-man” component. However, the pandemic presence could not be ignored, and some teams required spectators to have either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entrance to preseason games.
Last season, the league did not cancel a single game over its 17 weeks, despite several postponements that saw games being played on Tuesdays and one on a Wednesday. This year, however, should teams report a COVID-19 outbreak, a new policy implemented during the off season means teams could risk forfeiting a game if it is called off due to an outbreak among unvaccinated players.
As at the end of August, the league stated that 93 per cent of players are vaccinated, and teams like the Atlanta Falcons have reached a 100 per cent vaccination rate. While players are currently not mandated to get the vaccine, unvaccinated players must follow stricter protocols than their vaccinated counterparts — unvaccinated players are subject to daily coronavirus testing and the contact-tracing quarantines that were in effect last season. The NFL did mandate vaccinations for coaches and team staff members for them to be permitted to work closely with players, while vaccinated players are exempt from contact-tracing quarantines but will be tested on a weekly basis during the season.
The NFL implemented strict protocols to facilitate a full (but disrupted) season last year, where stadiums were empty or sparingly filled. While it remains to be seen how the pandemic will impact this season, all 32 teams have prepared as best as possible to compete in this edition of their hunt for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. A year that will feature a first-ever 18-week, 272-game regular season.
Week 1 will be jam-packed with action and all teams kick-off with a clean slate with the hope of sending a clear message to all comers. Last season's beaten finalist, the Kansas City Chiefs, are early JustBet favourites, edging out the reigning champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, by reason of their youthful exuberance and recent impressive track record.
The Chiefs have enjoyed a winning season every year since head coach Andy Reid joined the franchise in 2013. What started as a solid offence under the direction of quarterback (QB) Alex Smith expanded ten-fold with the arrival of QB Patrick Mahomes, who has both a regular season and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player (MVP) award to his name. Mahomes has plenty of ways to throw and plenty of people to throw to — Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill being his favourite targets — and the path to avenge their Super Bowl loss begins this Sunday afternoon against the Cleveland Browns.
Mahomes and Reid have never won less than 12 regular season games during the QB's three years as a starter, and they are expected to start registering wins this weekend. The Browns are no longer an NFL-walkover, but the game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium and, according to Guinness World Records, it is the loudest sports stadium in the world.
The game is expected to be close, but the Chiefs are expected to be that much better, especially at home, and will start their march to a third-straight Super Bowl this weekend.
The Buffalo Bills are third down in the JustBet pecking order (along with the Green Bay Packers) and for good reason. They have been slowly building a winning culture since hiring head coach Sean McDermott in 2017 and drafting quarterback Josh Allen the following year. Allen had a breakthrough season in 2020, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns while running for over 400 yards.
The Bills tackle the Pittsburgh Steelers at midday on Sunday and are expected to open their campaign with a win. They looked unstoppable last year until the Chiefs ruined their season in the conference championship game. The Bills have elevated themselves to an elite team and will look to regroup for a potential rematch with the Chiefs near the end of the season — Sunday should be the first step in that direction.
The Packers, who round off the top-3 JustBet favourites, never led in the championship game against the Buccaneers last season, but they were just one score away from a win. It was the second-straight season losing in the conference finals for Green Bay and another missed opportunity for the legacy of QB Aaron Rodgers. The 17-year NFL veteran is hunting for an elusive second title to add to his 2010 victory and will again suit up for Green Bay after off-season rumours that he had requested a trade.
Rodgers is on the back-end of his career (despite winning his third league MVP last season) but is still one of the premier QBs in the NFL. The opener against the New Orleans Saints this Sunday will be relocated to Jacksonville, Florida, due to the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Ida in New Orleans, and Rodgers will look to set his path towards another topplaced finish in the National Football Conference (NFC) North for a third-straight year. The Saints are heading into an era minus QB Drew Brees and may not find their footing this early in the season (especially playing at home, away from home).
Here's hoping that this season will be a lot closer to normal. Let the games begin.
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Super Bowl LVI Champion
Kansas City Chiefs 5.40
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7.00
Buffalo Bills 12.00
Green Bay Packers 12.00
Baltimore Ravens 13.00
Los Angeles Rams 13.00
San Francisco 49ers 13.00
Cleveland Browns 15.00
Seattle Seahawks 24.00
Tennessee Titans 24.00
*Only Top 10 odds shown (see website for full list)