More so than most American sports leagues, the N.F.L. makes news all year. But in the final three months of the year, it cranks up a notch. With the 2019 season getting underway this week, we’ll be checking our fantasy teams, speculating if the New England Patriots will win another Super Bowl and waiting to see which players and teams will make the wrong kinds of headlines.
Here are some of the stories, on and off the field, that may be making news during the 2019 season.
No player has higher expectations this season than Baker Mayfield, who threw for 27 touchdowns as a rookie last year and helped the Cleveland Browns improve from (yikes) 0-16 to a respectable 7-8-1. Fans are excited that Coach Freddie Kitchens, who seemed to unlock Mayfield when he took over at midseason, will have a full year with the team. Plenty of people are even talking playoffs for the usually woebegone Browns. Does Mayfield have someone to throw to? How about Odell Beckham Jr., acquired by trade from the Giants?
As usual, a few quarterbacks are potentially on the hot seat, with youngsters ready to take over with any misstep. Eli Manning has been the Giants’ main man forever, but the team used its No. 6 overall draft pick, surprisingly, on Daniel Jones. If things go wrong for Manning, the quarterback of the future could be the quarterback of three weeks from now.
The Miami Dolphins have opted to start 36-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the team is expected to be terrible, and newly acquired Josh Rosen, 22, could take over soon. Case Keenum has been an N.F.L. survivor and has started games for five teams in five seasons. This season brings team No. 6, the Washington Redskins. But how long before they turn to their own first-round pick, Dwayne Haskins?
Betting and Fantasy
More and more American jurisdictions have legalized sports betting, and more and more Americans will have a little something extra riding on the N.F.L. games they watch this season.
Still, the league is not looking to change dramatically to reflect that. “We get great engagement, we don’t need to integrate sports betting directly into that,” said Christopher Halpin, an N.F.L. executive. Television broadcasters are largely discouraged from talking gambling, so don’t expect a rash of comments on spreads or over-unders on Sunday afternoons. But when the guy sitting next to you at the sports bar groans in agony over a late missed extra point, there’s a good chance he just lost a little more than his team pride.
Last year’s fantasy football superstar was the Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley (1,307 yards rushing, 721 yards receiving). After a season like that, he was drafted No. 1 in just about every league this year. But while he is very likely to help fantasy teams, how much can he really help the Giants, who were 3-13 and 5-11 the past two seasons?
Almost every game ends with some fans complaining about a bad call or two. But it was a no-call that got them the most fired up last season. In the National Football Conference championship game, with less than two minutes to go and the New Orleans Saints threatening a touchdown, Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Los Angeles Rams hammered receiver Tommylee Lewis, helmet-to-helmet, before the ball arrived. Yet no whistle was blown. The Rams went on to win.
That play has prompted a trial rule change for this year. Video review will now be used for challenging pass interference calls. Will the new rule satisfyingly resolve disputed calls? Or will it simply fuel more controversy and slow the game, as well?
Nobody prefers off-field football news to the games. But there is still always an awful lot of it, some of it ranging from the unsavory to the downright disturbing.
The signing of running back Kareem Hunt by the Browns drew attention after Hunt was released by the Kansas City Chiefs over a video showing him shoving and kicking a woman. A month after he signed with Cleveland, the league suspended him for the first half of this season.
The league opted not to suspend Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill despite child abuse allegations against him. He should be a big target for Patrick Mahomes, and the Chiefs are generally considered to be strong Super Bowl contenders.
And if you predicted that one of the big stories after last season’s Super Bowl would be accusations that a billionaire team owner received sexual acts at a Florida massage parlor, congratulations. Robert K. Kraft won a vital ruling that prosecutors could not use video of the incident, and his trial has been indefinitely postponed while they appeal. The league has not disciplined Kraft as the case plays out, prompting criticism from some fans.
Kneeling during the national anthem to protest inequality and police brutality was not the hot issue in 2018 that it was the previous two seasons. In part, this was because the league issued a new set of rules barring the practice, though the rules were delayed so league and union officials could discuss them. During the season, the number of players kneeling dwindled significantly.
One player who did kneel last season was receiver Kenny Stills of the Dolphins. Last month Stills said he expected to continue to kneel this season. He also blasted his team’s owner, Stephen Ross, for hosting a fund-raiser for Donald Trump, who has been critical of the players who knelt and of the league for not adequately disciplining them.
Coincidentally or not, Stills was traded to the Houston Texans last week. And by the way, Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who led the protests at their start, remains unsigned for more than two years.