We start with the return of the NFL. That’s right: Professional football is back this week; on Thursday, the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will take on the Houston Texans, who just locked down quarterback Deshaun Watson with a contract extension that nearly matched the per-year record of his Week 1 opponent, Patrick Mahomes. There’s been a lot of quarterback movement around the league — and a lot of curiosity specifically about what the change at QB will mean for New England and Tampa Bay — but those moves haven’t affected our predictions too much. The Chiefs are still the favorites to win it all again. What is affecting our predictions some is the addition of more wild-card slots. It’s a move we like, as the extra wild-card game will keep the competition among top seeds going late into the regular season and give good teams in tough divisions a chance to make a postseason run. But if the Jets’ quarterback gets mono again, they’re still probably out of luck.
Next, we coax FiveThirtyEight producer Tony Chow out of the virtual control room and into the host’s chair to talk Premier League soccer, which is also set to get going this weekend. Although Liverpool and Manchester City are clear favorites to win the league — and Manchester City has the advantage of a deeper bench — what’s exciting about the EPL this season may not be the title race, but the very tight scramble for the top four spots and the chance to play in the Champions League. Chelsea and Manchester United look to be on the rise, having both been very active in the transfer market, while Sara’s Tottenham Hotspur and Tony’s Arsenal are bracing for gloomier prospects. But there’s a logjam of teams that could make a run for European football, and the condensed EPL schedule may make that competition ever fiercer. We’re all in happy, however, that Leeds United is back in the EPL — not necessarily because of their style, but because Geoff would very much like all former stalwarts relegated out of the Premier League to find their way back in.
Finally, in place of the Rabbit Hole, Sara and Neil sit down with author Reid Forgrave to talk about his new book. “Love, Zac” explores a young man’s struggle with CTE acquired not from years in the pros, but from playing football from third grade through high school. They discuss the nuances of how we should approach our football fandom in light of the science about what it does to people and how to think about the important cultural value that football adds to American life.
What we’re looking at this week:
- Can the Patriots replace their stellar defense?
- The biggest storylines going into this NFL season.
- The compressed, competitive 2020 English Premier League season.