On Wednesday afternoon, with just under a month until Training Camp is set to begin, it was announced that the NFL Preseason was reduced down to two games. Odds are that this is only the first announcement that will come amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
With that said, the shortened NFL Preseason will benefit some more than others.
NFL Preseason Winners
New England Patriots
More time in practice is never a bad thing for a Bill Belichick-led team. After signing Cam Newton on June 28th, the Patriots now have options at the quarterback position. Jarrett Stidham seemed destined to be the starter, until New England shocked the NFL by inking Newton to a one-year deal. Now, a true quarterback competition is brewing in Foxborough.
A lack of game reps could harm Stidham from winning the job early on, but more practice reps in a controlled setting should definitely help. Newton also gets more time to acclimate to the new setting and fewer game reps could help Cam stay healthy and potentially return to MVP form.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After landing Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the Buccaneers are instant contenders in the NFC. Much like the Patriots, time in practice will greatly help one of the most potentially potent offenses gel together. Brady and Gronkowski already have chemistry and will have plenty to time to adjust to Bruce Arians’ offense. Further, Arians may be able to get lightning to strike twice with Renaissance seasons out of aging quarterbacks, especially without the pressure to play in the NFL Preseason.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are another veteran team that really doesn’t need too many game reps to figure things out, despite many thinking Green Bay would make another big splash in free agency and/or the NFL Draft. Instead, the Packers signed a solid role player in Devin Funchess and are hoping that Christian Kirksey can replace the production of Blake Martinez. In the draft, Green Bay focused on the future, building depth rather than immediate impact players. That said, Kirksey, Funchess and fellow free agent signee Rick Wagner are all coming off injury-riddled seasons. Controlled practice reps should help these guys return to form.
The only downside to limited NFL Preseason reps will be fewer game reps to figure out the wide receiver depth chart. That said, with much of the 13-3 team returning, Matt LaFleur won’t have to pretend that preseason game reps matter with guys like Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Za’Darius Smith.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are in rare air. Coming off its Super Bowl win, the Chiefs really didn’t lose anyone in free agency. Kansas City had a solid draft to reload its already stacked roster. The core guys are as cohesive as any team in the NFL. As with the other teams on this list, the biggest win from less game reps is less injury potential. The Chiefs roster is built on speed and they should come into the season even fresher and hungry to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
NFL Preseason Losers
While more practice reps and fewer game reps are generally a good thing, the opposite is true for the Bengals and rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. The rookie had one of the most successful college seasons in history and capped it off with a National Championship for LSU. While Burrow was the consensus first overall pick, it goes without saying that there is a learning curve when transitioning to the NFL. While NFL Preseason games generally have vanilla defenses and second/third string guys getting most of the reps, four games to get used to game speed definitely wouldn’t hurt the young team.
The Bears find themselves in an odd position going into 2020. After a dominant 2018 campaign, Chicago found itself finishing third in the stacked NFC North last season. Like the Patriots above, the Bears have a true quarterback competition going into camp, with an established veteran being brought in to challenge the unproven young gun. However, unlike New England, a Week 1 starter is going to be hard to crown without game reps.
Trubisky is the incumbent, but he has been aggressively average in his time as the starter. Meanwhile, the newly-acquired Nick Foles has had trouble fitting in outside of Philadelphia. Foles is coming off a broken collarbone and subsequent benching by the Jaguars. A good offense would put the Bears right back in the picture in the NFC. However, in such a stacked division, Chicago needs to have its quarterback situation figured out quickly.
Cleveland came into 2019 as one of the trendiest picks to breakout. Last season was a disaster, when you factor in the expectations set for the team. Since then, the Browns fired head coach Freddie Kitchens and hired Kevin Stefanski as the new head man. Normally, more time in practice with a new head coach would be a good thing, but the Browns are very much in a prove-it year. They have lots of talent, especially on offense, but something was clearly missing last season. Whatever it was, Baker Mayfield and Co. really need to find it in a hurry, or risk being replaced. The only way to find it is to capitalize and perform on the field.
Coming off an AFC Championship appearance, one would think that keeping the roster consistent would be a good thing. Most often, you’d be right. However, Tennessee may be the exception. In 2019, Derrick Henry was the star of the offense, breaking out and leading the league in rushing yards. While fewer preseason reps is good for him, it doesn’t necessarily bode well for the rest of the team.
The Titans are relying heavily on Ryan Tannehill to carry the momentum he had at the end of 2019 and not revert back to how he played with Miami. Last season, that would have been a decent gamble for Tennessee, who still had Marcus Mariota on roster. However, with Mariota gone to the Raiders, the Titans are lacking any sort of solid backup option. The same can be said for a top-heavy receiving group. A lack of preseason games hinders the team to develop depth. Based on that, there could be a serious reversion in Tennessee.