Six unique perspectives from NFL Week 1 during a pandemic

Kareem Elgazzar via Imagn Content Services, LLC
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Balancing no crowds and low crowds, policing mask-wearing and social-distancing, with some of the people who made 2020 NFL Week 1 the event that it was.

Clete Blakeman
Referee
Houston at Kansas City

“I don’t know where to begin,” Blakeman said, about the bizarre offseason and the fairly clean opening-night game.

Begin here: Blakeman got a reconfigured crew once the NFL decided to shuffle the eight-man groups (including replay official) into regional crews to limit travel because of COVID-19; all seven officials on the Blakeman crew were new to him from 2019. The first time he saw them in-person was on the bus from the hotel to the stadium Thursday afternoon—all previous meetings were on Zoom. Plus, no preseason work. Blakeman, who lives in Omaha, asked the coach at Westside High in Omaha if he could go to a few practices to visualize football flow. “I probably went to six or seven practices,” Blakeman told me Saturday.

Then there was the rookie field judge, Joe Blubaugh, making his first regular-season appearance. Pretty tough gig, not even meeting the guys on your crew till three hours before the game. “Just work your position,” Blakeman told Blubaugh before the game. “Fall back on what you’ve done. If we need to bail you out, we’ll bail you out. You’ll do fine.”

In the days before the game, Blakeman convened a Zoom meeting with his crew and put up these numbers: “2012.” That was the year the NFL locked out the officials and used replacements for the first three weeks. When refs returned in Week 4, they had to hit the ground running—the same way Blakeman’s crew would have to do in Kansas City. “Think back to 2012,” Blakeman told his veteran (except for Blubaugh) crew. “We performed. This has happened before.”

As for the game, the best thing you can say is the officials—mostly—were not noticed. Two first-half touchdowns were reversed on review, both on plays hard to diagnose in real time. Blubaugh ruled a touchdown on the second, though it was overturned when Sammy Watkins’ elbow was shown to hit the turf about six inches from the goal line as he stretched to score. As Blakeman vowed, Al Riveron bailed out Blubaugh with a reversal from New York. Neither had much to do with the outcome of the game. The crowd of 15,000 felt odd to the crew, which was masked. “It did feel like a game,” said Blakeman, “but there was a different kind of energy. For me, a [tough thing] was, ‘How do I blow this whistle—lift up the mask? Pull it down?’ ” Turns out on sudden needs to blow it, Blakeman pulled the mask down with his left hand and blew, and when he knew he was about to blow, he pulled the whistle up into his mouth, lanyard hanging down.

After the game, in the officials locker room, Blakeman told his crew: This is one of those games where they won’t be talking about us on ESPN tonight, or writing about us tomorrow in USA Today. We controlled it.

The crew gave Blubaugh a game ball.


Rick Peterson, Derrick Norman
Bills Fans
New York Jets at Buffalo

Peterson and Norman, both 54 and Bills’ season-ticket-holders since 2001, missed attending their first Bills home opener in 30 years. Normally, they’d be in line to enter the stadium parking lot in their 35-foot RV by dawn Saturday, and they’d cook, commune, and relax (and maybe sleep a little) for 30 hours before heading to their seats in section 126, row 1, in the corner of the end zone. But this weekend, they met at Peterson’s Buffalo-area home Saturday morning, grilled some ribs and sausages, and then reconvened Sunday at Norman’s home to watch the game on the big screen with a few friends. Norman wore his Tre’Davious White jersey, number 27. Peterson went with a classic—Thurman Thomas, 34.

bills fans in NFL Week 1

“We’re treating it like an away game,” said Peterson, a Buffalo transit worker. “I’ve only missed one game since 2001, but I’m trying to stay even-keel. It’s out of our hands. It’s a pandemic.”

“It’s killing me,” said Norman, a Buffalo firefighter.

Norman got up at 5 (“I couldn’t sleep—too antsy!”) and started cooking with his wife: mac-and-cheese, yams, deep-fried egg rolls, potato salad, fried chicken. It’s the food they’d have feasted on in the parking lot a few miles away; but today, it’s a huge spread in his own house. By halftime, with the home team up 21-3, Peterson and Norman were too giddy to complain about not being in section 126, row 1.

“Can you imagine?” Norman said, gearing up for the second half. “Can you imagine if we were there today, and the place was packed? Pandemonium! We’d be going crazy!”


Jason McCourty
Patriots Cornerback
Miami at New England

No fans in Foxboro. So weird, seeing the empty parking lots, the empty four-lane Route 1 alongside Gillette Stadium on game day (it’s usually packed like a parking lot before and after the game), hearing the silence that welcomed the six-time Super Bowl champs when they came out for pre-game warmups.

“The atmosphere,” McCourty told me after New England opened the post-Brady era with a 21-11 win over Miami, “from the time we came out of the tunnel, was unlike anything any of us have felt . . . You can’t really envision what an NFL game is like without fans. This felt more like a high school scrimmage. Maybe you travel somewhere for a scrimmage, and your parents come, but no other fans. When you play in a stadium with no fans, no noise, you’ve got to bring your own energy for three hours.”

On the sidelines, it was a constant topic of conversation. “Guys were like, ‘This ain’t it,’“ McCourty said. “And you win, nobody to high-five, no kid to throw your gloves to. You come to the realization that we’re going to have to do a lot of this ourselves, generate a lot of the energy ourselves.”


Ian Eagle
CBS play-by-play announcer
Cleveland at Baltimore

Eagle’s broadcast partner changed last spring, from Dan Fouts to Charles Davis. Usually, new partners meet a few times in the offseason, get to know each other, talk about how they like to work. Not in a pandemic. CBS had 16 weekly Zoom calls for the Eagle/Davis broadcast team in the spring and early summer. “It was like 12 hours of speed-dating for me and Charles,” Eagle said. Their first face-to-face? Saturday afternoon, sitting outside at a deli in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, socially distant, for 45 minutes.

Ian eagle and Charles Davis
CBS play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle, left, and color analyst Charles Davis. (CBS Sports)
On an average weekend, the broadcast team watches home team practice Friday; interviews home team coach and players in person Friday; interviews visiting team coach and players in person Saturday. Lots of time to be social with the crew at dinner Friday or Saturday, lots of time to study or nap. Now, everything is done virtually. Eagle lives in north Jersey, 193 miles from downtown Baltimore, and so he did his Ravens interviews Friday before driving to the hotel. Then a COVID test Saturday morning at the hotel, then virtual interviews with the Browns late Saturday afternoon. Then the game.

The first weird thing: the plexiglass partition between Eagle and Davis. “Sometimes you want to touch your broadcast partner,” he said Sunday evening. “Today, we made eye contact instead.” Usually there’s a procession of friends and well-wishers streaming through the booth. Not Sunday. The door closed before the game and didn’t open till the end of the game, with Eagle, Davis, audio tech Al Boleau and spotter Jim Stamos the only ones in the booth; statman Butch Baird was in the empty stands, three rows ahead of the booth, per league rule.

“It’s a little eerie,” Eagle said. “Usually in Baltimore there’s 70,000 juiced-up fans in one of the unique venues in the NFL, just a great atmosphere for a game. Like, Lamar Jackson does something in the moment, and if I miss a little something, the crowd picks it up and draws my attention to it. But today, obviously, not there. They’re keeping score, though, and so you do get into it.”

Eagle said this is one of the stadiums that broadcasters have to walk into “the teeming masses of people” around the stadium to get to the parking lot at the end of the game. Last year, after a game in Baltimore, it took him one hour to inch his car onto I-95 for the trip home to north Jersey. “Today, no one. Took me 90 seconds to get to 95,” he said. Thank God the New Jersey state troopers weren’t out around dinnertime Sunday. Eagle made it home at 7:03, in time for the dying moments of Bucs-Saints.


Anthony Lynn
Coach, Los Angeles Chargers
L.A at Cincinnati

The Chargers traveled Friday, arriving at their Cincinnati hotel at 11 p.m. Players were advised to not leave the hotel, but they weren’t banned from taking a walk. But in the 38 hours before they took buses to the stadium on Sunday in Cincinnati for the late-afternoon game, well, Lynn didn’t want his players to be prisoners.

“To me, travel is the real test this year,” Lynn told me from the bus on the way to the airport Sunday evening after the Chargers edged the Bengals 16-13. “How disciplined can we be? How patient? How understanding of the inconveniences? So we’re not going to have many in-person meetings when we travel. Here, the offense had a 15, 20-minute meeting in the meeting room at the hotel Saturday night, then the defense had one. Specials teams were on Zoom. The other meetings, Zoom. Coaches want to have their hands on the player. I get that. But these are different times.”

Anthony Lynn in NFL Week 1
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn. (USA Today)
As for the game: “Just different. Really different. I had to watch what I was saying, and be careful how loud I was, because I didn’t want their guys [the Bengals] to hear me, obviously. Being on the sideline, I felt like I could hear every word guys were saying on the field. The other thing is the fans. Without the fans and the noise, it was such a different feeling. Fans are a big part of the game, and I think we’re starting to realize just how big after seeing a stadium without fans. It has an impact.”

I asked Lynn: “What do you think of the NFL testing 3,600 people from 30 teams, players and staff, on Saturday, and not a single person testing positive?”

Lynn was blunt. “It’s pretty simple: We want to play football.”


Bob Condotta
Seahawks beat writer, Seattle Times
Seattle at Atlanta

I don’t know how many beat writers did what Condotta did Sunday morning in Seattle—set up in his living room, laptop on his lap, watching the team he covers play on his 55-inch TV—but it was more than a few. Welcome to NFL coverage 2020, the same as MLB and NBA and NHL coverage for many media outlets in the pandemic. With reporters now cut off from locker-room access at home and on the road, and cut off from sidling up to players and coaches to get little tidbits to make or break stories, Condotta, for the time being, is covering road games from his home in Auburn, Wash. He’ll be in the Seahawks’ press box for home games. Most access to players and coach Pete Carroll will come via videconference. After covering the team home and away weekly since 2013, this is Condotta’s new world.

seattle writer Bob Condotta

As the Seahawks were routing the Falcons 2,600 miles away, Condotta said: “I miss the pre-game, seeing how the guys look. You don’t see on TV all the time what defense they’re in, or who’s on the field, whether the defense is in nickel or dime. Today part of the story was what the team did before the game, and I think Jamal Adams raised a fist, and Russell Wilson was in a prayer circle—but I’ll find out about those things.

“But I’m not upset. I think we’ve all come to the realization that there are many, many bigger problems in this world than me not covering a football game.”

At the bottom of his story in today’s Timesthere was this editor’s note: “The Times declined to send reporter Bob Condotta to Atlanta for this game because of COVID-19 safety concerns.”  

Read more in Peter King’s Football Morning in America column

When do the 2022 NFL Playoffs start: dates, schedule, playoff format, overtime rules, and more

The 2022 NFL playoffs begin on January 14! Here is everything you need to know before then!
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The 2022 NFL playoffs are quickly approaching and this year’s format will once again include a total of 14 teams –seven from each conference with the top seeds automatically getting a first-round bye. Six games will take place on Wild Card Weekend under the following format for each conference:

2022 NFL Wild Card Weekend Format :

  • No. 2 Seed (host) vs No. 7 Seed
  • No. 3 Seed (host) vs No. 6 Seed
  • No. 4 Seed (host) vs No. 5 Seed

The Wild Card winners will advance to the Divisional round where they will face the top seeds in each conference. See below to find out the 2022 NFL playoff format and schedule.

When do the 2022 NFL Playoffs Start?

The 2022 NFL playoffs begin on Saturday, January 14, 2023.

2022 NFL Playoff Schedule

Be sure to check back for times and teams but until then follow all the NFL action on ProFootballTalk!

Wild Card Weekend Schedule:

  • Saturday, January 14
  • Sunday, January 15
  • Monday, January 16

Divisional Weekend:

  • Saturday, January 21
  • Sunday, January 22

Conference Championships:

  • Sunday, January 29

When is the Super Bowl?

This year’s Super Bowl will take place at State Farm Stadium–home of the Arizona Cardinals– in Glendale, Arizona on Sunday, February 12 at 6:30 p.m. ET on Fox. The last time the Super Bowl was contested in Arizona was in 2015, Super Bowl XLIX when the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks.

How will overtime work in the 2022 NFL playoffs?

After Kansas City’s exciting 42-36 overtime victory over the Bills in last year’s divisional round, when Kansas City scored a touchdown on the first possession of OT denying the Bills a chance to touch the ball, the league has made a change to its postseason rules. Each team will now have an opportunity to possess the ball in overtime. See below for the NFL’s official postseason OT rules:

2022 NFL Playoffs Overtime Rules:

  • If the score is still tied at the end of an overtime period — or if the second team’s initial possession has not ended — the teams will play another overtime period. Play will continue regardless of how many overtime periods are needed for a winner to be determined.
  • There will be a two-minute intermission between each overtime period. There will not be a halftime intermission after the second period.
  • The captain who lost the first overtime coin toss will either choose to possess the ball or select which goal his team will defend unless the team that won the coin toss deferred that choice.
  • Each team will have an opportunity to possess the ball in overtime.
  • Each team gets three timeouts during a half.
  • The same timing rules that apply at the end of the second and fourth regulation periods also apply at the end of a second or fourth overtime period.
  • If there is still no winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, there will be another coin toss, and play will continue until a winner is declared.

RELATED: NFL overtime rules and procedures


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!

2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

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The 2022 NFL Football season is finally back in session. This Sunday night Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins (8-4) will battle it out with Justin Herbert and the LA Chargers (6-6) as the race for the playoffs heats up in the AFC. The Dolphins currently hold one of the AFC’s Wild Card spots and sit one game behind the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. The Chargers are one game behind the NY Jets for the division’s final playoff spot.

Sunday night’s game was originally scheduled to feature a match-up between the Chiefs vs Broncos but the NFL made the decision to flex the game early last week. The Chiefs vs Broncos game will now take place at 4:05 p.m. ET.

Live coverage of the Dolphins vs Chargers game begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night in America. NBC and Peacock have got you covered with access to this week’s games as well as every Sunday Night Football game this season.

RELATED: FMIA Week 13 – Brock Purdy Gets The Save And The Starting Job; Burrow Still Owns Mahomes And The Chiefs

This year’s Sunday Night Football coverage will feature Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth in the booth and Melissa Stark on the sidelines. Live coverage begins every Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night in America with the talented group of Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Jason Garrett, Chris Simms, Jac Collinsworth, Mike Florio, and Matthew Berry. Berry, a fantasy football industry pioneer, will also appear on Peacock’s exclusive NFL post-game show, Sunday Night Football Final.

RELATED: How to watch Matthew Berry on NBC Sports

Football Night in America will also feature a weekly segment hosted by Simms and sports betting and Berry, which highlights storylines and betting odds for the upcoming Sunday Night Football game on NBC, Peacock, and Universo. Real-time betting odds on the scoring ticker during FNIA also will be showcased. Peacock Sunday Night Football Final, an NFL postgame show produced by NBC Sports, will also go deep on the storylines and BetMGM betting lines that proved prominent during the matchup.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Playoff Picture Week 13 – Standings, clinching scenarios ahead of Colts vs Cowboys on SNF

2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule:

*Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Thursday, Sept. 8 (Week 1) – Josh Allen’s four touchdowns power Bills to 31-10 victory over Rams

Sunday, Sept. 11 (Week 1) – Bucs take care of business against Cowboys, who lose Dak Prescott late

Sunday, Sept. 18 (Week 2) Packers roll over Bears 27-10 as Aaron Jones, Preston Smith star

Sunday, Sept. 25 (Week 3) – Broncos do just enough to pull off 11-10 win over 49ers

Sunday, Oct. 2 (Week 4) – Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs dominate Bucs 41-31

Sunday, Oct. 9 (Week 5) – Justin Tucker’s last-play field goal delivers 19-17 win for Ravens

Sunday, Oct. 16 (Week 6) – Eagles intercept Cooper Rush three times in 26-17 win

Sunday, Oct. 23 (Week 7) – Kenny Pickett throws two late INTs, allowing Miami to escape with 16-10 win

Sunday, Oct. 30 (Week 8) – Bills beat Packers 27-17 for fourth win in a row

Sunday, Nov. 6 (Week 9) – Patrick Mahomes leads Chiefs to comeback overtime victory over Titans

Sunday, Nov. 13 (Week 10) – 49ers dominate Chargers in second half to win 22-16

Sunday, Nov. 20 (Week 11) – Travis Kelce’s third touchdown leads Chiefs to late comeback win

Thursday, Nov. 24 (Week 12) – Vikings improve to 9-2 with 33-26 victory over Patriots

Sunday, Nov. 27 (Week 12) – Packers lose Aaron Rodgers, another game as Eagles rush for 363 in 40-33 win

Sunday, Dec. 4 (Week 13) – Cowboys Too Much For Colts In Fourth Quarter Of A 54-19 Beatdown

Sunday, Dec. 11 (Week 14) – Dolphins at Chargers

Sunday, Dec. 18 (Week 15) – Giants at Commanders

Sunday, Dec. 25 (Week 16) – Buccaneers at Cardinals

Sunday, Jan. 1 (Week 17) – Rams at Chargers

Sunday, Jan. 8 (Week 18) – Matchup TBD


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!