2020 'Sunday Night Football' season preview

Tom Brady, Cam Newton among familiar faces in new places this season
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady throws during training camp, Aug. 28, 2020
Posted at 5:40 PM, Sep 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-04 18:29:50-04 takes a game-by-game glance at the complete "Sunday Night Football" lineup for the 2020 NFL season.

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs | Sept. 10 (Thursday)

Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes celebrates after winning Super Bowl LIV
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrates after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The defending Super Bowl champions will host the Houston Texans in the annual Thursday night kickoff game to commemorate the start of the NFL season. Of course, this season is like none before, no thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the NFL to scrap its preseason schedule. That means this will be the first NFL game of any sort since Kansas City beat the San Francisco 49ers in February to win its first Super Bowl in 50 years. COVID-19 concerns have already prompted a pair of Chiefs starters -- offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and running back Damien Williams -- to opt out for the 2020 season. Duvernay-Tardif took every offensive snap in Super Bowl LIV, while Williams led the Chiefs in rushing last season and scored two touchdowns against the 49ers. But as long as star quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes doesn't wind up on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the Chiefs should be OK.

Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams | Sept. 13

SoFi Stadium, new home of Los Angeles Rams
This is a general interior view of SoFi Stadium, the future home of the Los Angeles Rams, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif.

The Rams will open their fifth season since their return to Los Angeles in an opulent new palace. SoFi Stadium is home to both the Rams and Chargers, who have spent the last four years playing at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and a Major League Soccer stadium while their permanent digs were being built. What better way to showcase the $5 billion stadium than pitting two top-10 offenses from last season in its inaugural game?

New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks | Sept. 20

New England Patriots QB Cam Newton at training camp, August 2020
New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton passes the football during training camp practice, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass.

What will life be like for Bill Belichick without Tom Brady? The longtime New England head coach is about to find out with former No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton filling Brady's shoes. Together, Brady and Belichick won 136 games, claimed 17 AFC East Division titles in 18 years and appeared in nine Super Bowls, winning six of them. Newton is 1-1 against Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in the playoffs. Wilson and the Seahawks beat the Carolina Panthers on their way to the Super Bowl after the 2014, but Newton's Panthers clipped the Seahawks in a divisional playoff the next season, eventually reaching the Super Bowl.

Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints | Sept. 27

Jordan Love watches Aaron Rodgers throw in training camp, September 2020
Green Bay Packers rookie quarterback Jordan Love watches Aaron Rodgers throw during practice, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis.

Jordan Love is to Aaron Rodgers what Rodgers was to Brett Favre. Love is the first quarterback selected by Green Bay in the first round of the NFL draft since, well, Rodgers in 2005. Favre held off Rodgers for three seasons before ceding the starting job in 2008. How long will Rodgers keep Love on the bench? Perhaps a better question is whether Rodgers calls it quits before Drew Brees. This could likely be the final season for the savior of New Orleans. But the Saints have some unfinished business to tend to first.

Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers | Oct. 4

Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz scrambles vs San Francisco 49ers in 2017
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz scrambles during a game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, in Philadelphia.

Just three years removed from winning a Super Bowl, Philadelphia acquired Marquise Goodwin from the 49ers during a trade on the last day of the draft, but the veteran receiver opted out for the season. So much for providing quarterback Carson Wentz with a new target. Wentz's last game -- a 17-9 loss to the Seahawks in the playoffs -- lasted just nine snaps before he was sidelined with a concussion. Durability at the position has been a cause of concern for the Eagles, who used a second-round pick on former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts. If Wentz can't stay healthy, Hurts could provide an added threat with his legs.

Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks | Oct. 11

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook scores TD vs Seattle Seahawks in 2019
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook scores a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of a game, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Seattle.

Dalvin Cook wants to get paid. The fourth-year running back for the Vikings has carried the load for Minnesota each of the last three seasons, and general manager Rick Spielman said the team is "working extremely hard" on a new contract for Cook. One guy who knows about contract extensions is quarterback Kirk Cousins, who signed a new three-year, $66 million deal in March. Are the Vikings getting a return on their investment?

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers | Oct. 18

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan reacts to call in Super Bowl LIV
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan reacts to a call during Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The last two NFC representatives to appear in the Super Bowl meet by the San Francisco Bay. Kyle Shanahan, entering his fourth season as head coach of the 49ers, is associated with two of the biggest blown leads in Super Bowl history. The first came when he was offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons held a 28-3 lead on the Patriots in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI before losing 34-28 in overtime. The second came in February after the 49ers blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Chiefs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Las Vegas Raiders | Oct. 25

Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski at training camp, August 2020
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) at training camp, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Tampa, Fla.

Same Raiders, different location. The Raiders have been playing hopscotch for decades, from Oakland to Los Angeles and back again, but their gamble may have finally paid off with a move to Las Vegas. The same can't be said of the Buccaneers, who have been in Tampa (where Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was raised) since 1976. Tampa Bay is, however, starting over at quarterback with Brady, who remains the oldest active player at his position. The Bucs currently own the NFC's longest postseason drought, going on 12 years. Gruden was coaching his hometown Bucs the last time they reached the playoffs during the 2007 season. Their last playoff win was in Super Bowl XXXVII against -- who else? -- the Raiders. There are certainly playoff aspirations for Tampa Bay now that Brady is a bona fide Florida man. But that's not all: former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to reunite with Brady in Tampa. Whether they make the playoffs remains to be seen, but the Bucs will certainly be fun to watch.

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles | Nov. 1

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy and QB Dak Prescott at training camp, August 2020
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy talks to quarterback Dak Prescott during training camp, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, in Arlington, Texas.

Mike McCarthy takes over in Dallas after Jason Garrett was fired at the end of last season. McCarthy sat out the 2019 season after being fired in Green Bay, where he led the Packers to a 125-77-2 record in the regular season, nine playoff appearances in 13 seasons and a Super Bowl victory. He inherits the NFL's No. 1 offense from a season ago. The Cowboys have plenty of talent on that side of the football, led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. Running back Ezekiel Elliott finished fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,357 yards. The Cowboys also have a pair of 1,000-plus-yard receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. The goal for McCarthy and his team is to clearly get back to a Super Bowl for the first time since 1995. That starts with winning the division and taking down the reigning champion. The Eagles and Cowboys have split the last four NFC East Division titles, with Dallas winning in 2016 and 2018 and Philadelphia winning in 2017 and 2019.

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Nov. 8

New Orleans Saints QBs Drew Brees and Jameis Winston in training camp, August 2020
New Orleans Saints quarterbacks Jameis Winston (2) amd Drew Brees (9) throw the football during training camp, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Metairie, La.

The road to the NFC South Division title runs through New Orleans or Tampa in 2020. Super Bowl champion quarterbacks Brady, 43, and Brees, 41, are the elder statesmen likely nearing the end of their careers, but now they're both in the same division. Brees and Brady rank first and second, respectively, in NFL history for career touchdown passes, with Brady's 541 just six behind Brees' 547. Talk about championship pedigree. This season will be an arms race like no other. The Saints have won a franchise-record three straight division titles, but that was with Brady in New England. Brady's arrival in Tampa meant former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston was expendable. He was cut and is now the No. 2 quarterback behind Brees in New Orleans. Brees, who is also the NFL's career passing yards leader, missed five games last season after recovering from thumb surgery, so having a seasoned backup like Winston certainly can't hurt. Winston threw 30 touchdowns but also 30 interceptions in 2019. Brady, in his last four seasons, has thrown 29 picks. As a reminder, Super Bowl LV is in Tampa. One of these teams expects to be playing at Raymond James Stadium again in February.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots | Nov. 15

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson throws vs New England Patriots in 2019
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson throws a pass against the New England Patriots during the first half of a game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore.

Boynton Beach Community High School graduate Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens took down the Patriots last November in what became the final season of the Belichick-Brady era. By season's end, Jackson became just the second player in NFL history to win the MVP award by unanimous vote, joining Brady. The South Florida native passed for 3,127 yards and an NFL-high 36 touchdowns, in addition to his 1,206 rushing yards. But as stellar as Jackson was during his MVP season, he is still 0-2 in playoff games. Belichick, on the other hand, has an impressive 31-12 record in the playoffs in his career, including six Super Bowl wins with the Patriots. How different will Belichick's offense look with Panthers outcast Newton behind center? Newton is another accomplished quarterback who won MVP honors in 2015 and is 3-4 in the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders | Nov. 22

Las Vegas Raiders practice at Allegiant Stadium, August 2020
Las Vegas Raiders players warm up during training camp at Allegiant Stadium, Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in Las Vegas.

The crown jewel of Sin City is the new Allegiant Stadium, but will the football team be as shiny? Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there won't be any fans allowed at home games in the Raiders' inaugural season in Las Vegas. Bummer. Here's another bit of bad luck for the Raiders: their "Chief" division rival returns 18 starters from their Super Bowl season, as well as their entire coaching staff. That's not reassuring for a franchise that is 2-12 against the Chiefs since Andy Reid took over in Kansas City.

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers | Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving)

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs Baltimore Ravens in 2018
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks for a receiver in the second half of a game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Baltimore.

This is just a good old classic AFC North Division rivalry, but how much longer will Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger be around for it? Roethlisberger isn't just the only quarterback in the division with a playoff win on his resume, but he also has a pair of Super Bowl rings. The starting quarterback for the Steelers since his rookie season in 2004, Roethlisberger missed the final 14 games in 2019 after suffering an elbow injury that required surgery. Baltimore capitalized on his absence, sweeping the Steelers for the first time since 2015. Jackson is 3-0 against Pittsburgh since he became the Ravens' starting quarterback. Defense is still Pittsburgh's calling card. The Steelers led the NFL last season in turnovers and sacks and ranked among the top five in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers | Nov. 29

Chicago Bears QBs Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles in training camp, August 2020
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, left, and quarterback Nick Foles walk on the field during training camp, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Lake Forest, Ill.

This could be the make-or-break year for Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Fans likely haven't forgotten that Chicago passed on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft to select Trubisky in the first round. The Bears did not pick up Trubisky's fifth-year contract option. They did, however, negotiate a trade with the Jaguars for former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, who was injured in the first game of his only season in Jacksonville. Foles may be new to Chicago, but he isn't new to head coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor or quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. Nagy was Kansas City's offensive coordinator when Foles was there in 2016, Lazor was his position coach in Philadelphia in 2013 and DeFilippo was his offensive coordinator in Jacksonville last season. The Bears didn't bring Foles to Chicago just to have him ride the bench.

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs | Dec. 6

Denver Broncos QB Drew Lock vs Kansas City Chiefs in snow in 2019
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock is chased by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens during the first half of a game, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo.

The Broncos and Chiefs are the last two AFC West Division teams to win a Super Bowl. Since Peyton Manning helped Denver win the Vince Lombardi Trophy to conclude the 2015 season, the Broncos have burned through starting quarterbacks: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen and, most recently, Drew Lock. Have the Broncos finally found their next franchise quarterback? Denver was 3-8 when Lock assumed control of the offense, but the 4-1 finish in 2019 gave general manager John Elway (who knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a Super Bowl-winning franchise quarterback) confidence that Lock can be the guy. The trip to Arrowhead Stadium will be a homecoming game of sorts for Lock, who was a four-year starter at Missouri and spent the offseason wearing an elevation mask while training in Kansas City, not far from his hometown of Lee's Summit.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills | Dec. 13

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary vs Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary carries the football during the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, in Pittsburgh.

It wasn't too long ago that the Buffalo Bills had the longest playoff drought in the NFL, missing the postseason for 17 consecutive years from 2000 to 2016. But Buffalo seems to have found a winning tandem in general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott. For the second time in three seasons, the Bills earned a wild-card berth in the playoffs. Now they just have to find a way to win. Buffalo hasn't won a playoff game since the 1995 season. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen enters his third year with playoff experience and a new target to throw to in Stefon Diggs, who came to the Bills in an offseason trade with the Vikings. Former Florida Atlantic star Devin Singletary became the No. 1 running back in the second half of last season, leading the Bills with 775 rushing yards and finishing with a 5.1-yard-per-carry average.

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys | Dec. 20

San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo vs Dallas Cowboys in 2018
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, left, passes as offensive tackle Joe Staley blocks Dallas Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford during a preseason game, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Santa Clara, Calif.

San Francisco and Dallas have combined for 15 NFC championships and 10 Super Bowl victories. They've also met seven times with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, though not since the 1994 playoffs. Could this be the season that changes? Jimmy Garoppolo rebounded from a September 2018 knee injury to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl last season, but his final performance was marred by an unimpressive fourth quarter in which he went 3-of-11 with an interception as San Francisco blew a 10-point lead in the last 15 minutes. The Cowboys own a slight 18-17-1 lead in the all-time series but have yet to beat the 49ers at AT&T Stadium.

Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers | Dec. 27

Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill in training camp, August 2020
Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill passes during training camp, Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.

The Titans and Packers were the surprise stories of the 2019 season. Tennessee and Green Bay were one game shy of reaching the Super Bowl. Veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill, traded to Tennessee by the Miami Dolphins in March 2019, took over for a struggling Marcus Mariota after a 2-4 start and led the Titans to the AFC title game. Tannehill was rewarded with a four-year, $118 million contract that sent Mariota packing. The Titans also return running back Derrick Henry, who won the rushing title with 1,540 yards. Meanwhile, the Packers won the NFC North Division with a 13-3 record and advanced to the NFC title game under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur, who had been the Titans offensive coordinator in 2018. The Packers expect more from LaFleur and the offense (Green Bay finished 18th in total offense and 15th in scoring) in year two.