The season was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; the most prominent changes were the cancellation of all preseason games and the 2021 Pro Bowl, the suspension of international games for the year, an allowance for players to opt out of playing the season without violating their contracts (66 players opted out), the playing of games with either a greatly reduced audience or no fans at all, and the postponement and/or rescheduling of multiple games due to numerous positive COVID-19 tests among players and staff. Despite these changes, all 256 regular season games were played within the original 17-week span with no cancellations.
This was also the final season played under the 16-game schedule, as the schedule was expanded to 17 games in 2021.
The 2020 NFL league year and trading period began on March 18. On March 16, teams were allowed to exercise options for 2020 on players with option clauses in their contracts, submit qualifying offers to their pending restricted free agents, and submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2019 contracts and fewer than three accrued seasons of free agent credit. Teams were required to be under the salary cap using the "top 51" definition (in which the 51 highest-paid players on the team's payroll must have a combined salary cap). On March 16, clubs were allowed to contact and begin contract negotiations with the agents of players who were set to become unrestricted free agents.
OT Joe Staley – Six-time Pro Bowler and three-time second-team All-Pro. Played for San Francisco during his entire 13-year career.
CB Aqib Talib – Five-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro (one first-team, one second-team), and Super Bowl 50 champion. Played for Tampa Bay, New England, Denver, and the Los Angeles Rams during his 12-year career.
FS Eric Weddle – Six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro (two first-team, three-second-team). Played for the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore, and the Los Angeles Rams during his 13-year career. Weddle later came out of retirement in 2021 to rejoin the Rams.
G Marshal Yanda – Eight-time Pro Bowler, seven-time All-Pro (two first-team, five second-team), and Super Bowl XLVII champion. Played for Baltimore during his entire 13-year career.
The NFL and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) agreed on July 24 to allow players to opt out of playing the season; 66 players opted out by the August 6 deadline. Players who opted out were not paid for the 2020 season, but received a salary advance of $150,000 taken from their 2021 salary. Players who opted out due to medical conditions received a $350,000 stipend which was not taken from their 2021 salary. The following is a list of all players who opted out:
Referee Walt Anderson was promoted to NFL senior vice president in charge of the officiating training and development program, a newly created position that works independently from the league's head of officiating, Alberto Riveron.Land Clark was promoted to referee to replace Anderson. Clark previously served as a referee in the Pac-12 Conference before joining the NFL in 2018 as a field judge.
Former coach Perry Fewell was named NFL senior vice president of officiating administration. This position oversees the day-to-day operations of the officiating department and is the primary contact for coaches' and general managers' officiating questions, among other duties.
The NFL and the NFL Referees Association agreed on August 9 to allow officials to opt out of working the 2020 season. Officials who opted out received a $30,000 stipend and guaranteed job protection for 2021. Five on-field officials – line judge Jeff Bergman, back judge Steve Freeman, field judge Greg Gautreaux, field judge Joe Larrew, and back judge Tony Steratore – opted out for the season by the August 13 deadline.
The following officials were hired:
Tra Blake (Side Judge)
Joe Blubaugh (Field Judge)
Kevin Brown (Replay Official)
Tyler Cerimeli (Replay Official)
Michael Dolce (Line Judge)
Andrew Lambert (Replay Official)
Frank LeBlanc (Down Judge)
Jamie Nicholson (Replay Official)
Clay Reynard (Side Judge)
Tab Slaughter (Umpire)
Ross Smith (Replay Official)
Kevin Stine (Replay Official)
The following officials retired:
Walt Anderson (Referee)
Byron Boston (Line Judge)
Jeff Rice (Umpire)
Mike Spanier (Down Judge/Line Judge)
The following rule changes for the 2020 season were approved at the NFL Owners' Meeting in May:
Extend defenseless player protection to a punt/kick returner who possesses the ball but has not had time to avoid or ward off impending contact with an opponent.
Make permanent the expansion of automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any successful or unsuccessful try attempt.
Prevent teams from committing multiple dead-ball fouls in the fourth quarter or in overtime while the clock is running in an attempt to manipulate the game clock. The clock now starts on the snap following a dead-ball foul. This has been referred to as the "Bill Belichick Rule" for his use of this tactic.
Teams may bring three players back from injured reserve after missing eight games, up from two players.
The temporary rule change for 2019 allowing for the review of pass interference was not renewed.
In November, the league passed 2020 Resolution JC-2A, which rewards teams for developing minority candidates for head coach and GM positions. The resolution rewards teams whose minority candidates are hired away for one of those positions with a third-round pick in each of the next two drafts. These picks are at the end of the third round, after standard compensatory picks, and are in addition to the 32 compensatory picks already awarded.
Temporary rules for 2020 season
The following temporary rule changes were made on September 9 and were only in place for 2020: The rule changes involving injured reserve and practice squad transactions remained in place for 2021.
A player on injured reserve could return after missing three games, down from eight.
Teams could return an unlimited number of players from injured reserve throughout the year, instead of the normal limit of three.
Practice squads included up to 16 players for each team, up from 12.
After 4:00 p.m. ET on the Tuesday of a game week, a team could designate up to four practice squad players as "protected," meaning they are not allowed to sign with another team until after their current team plays its next game.
The NFL instituted a reserve/COVID-19 list for players who either test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has it. There was no minimum amount of time a player must remain on this list, only until he was medically cleared to play.
The NFL administered COVID-19 tests to all players and other essential employees every day of the regular season and postseason except game days.
Any player who was on a team's Week 1 roster earned an accrued season toward free agency as long as he was on full-pay status for at least one regular-season game, down from the normal minimum of six.
Side Judge Jim Quirk (left) wears a mask during a December game and referee Adrian Hill (right) removes his mask to announce a penalty in the same game.
Every person at field level had to wear a face covering except players actively involved in the game or warming up on the sideline and referees while making announcements.
On October 9, the league announced that coaches who approach officials with their faces uncovered could be penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Hornung, a running back and placekicker, played ten seasons with the Green Bay Packers, and was an inaugural member of the New Orleans Saints roster but never played due to injury. He was inducted into the Hall in 1986 and died November 13, age 84.
Sayers, a running back, spent his entire seven-year career with the Chicago Bears. He was inducted into the Hall in 1977 at the age of 34, the youngest player ever inducted. He died September 23, age 77.
Shula was head coach of the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins for a combined 33 years; he holds the record for both the most regular-season wins by a head coach in NFL history (328) and the most total wins including the playoffs (347). Shula was inducted into the Hall in 1997. He died May 4, age 90.
Wilson spent 43 seasons in the NFL, all with the St. Louis, Phoenix and Arizona Cardinals, between 1960 and 2002: 13 as a player in which he appeared in eight Pro Bowls as a free safety, and 30 as a front office executive. Wilson, a member of the Hall's class of 1978, died September 17, age 82.
The NFL released its regular-season schedule on May 7. The season was played over a 17-week schedule beginning on September 10. Each of the league's 32 teams played 16 games, with one bye week for each team. The regular season concluded with a full slate of 16 games on January 3, 2021, all of which were intra-division matchups, as it had been since 2010.
Using contingencies similar to those built into the 2011 schedule in the event that season's lockout lasted into September, the 2020 schedule allowed for the possibility that the season could be delayed and shortened in the event that conditions were unsafe to begin play as scheduled. Every game in Week 2 featured teams that share the same bye week later in the season, which would have allowed these games to be made up on the teams' original byes. Weeks 3 and 4 were set up so that there were no divisional games and that every team at home in Week 3 was away in Week 4 and vice versa. This would have allowed the NFL to cancel these two weeks without eliminating any divisional games and keeping each team's home and away games balanced. These scheduling changes, along with eliminating the week off before the Super Bowl and moving the Super Bowl back three weeks, would have allowed the NFL to play a 14-game schedule beginning October 29 while still playing the Super Bowl in February.
Under the NFL scheduling formula, each team played the other three teams in its own division twice. In addition, a team played against all four teams in one division from each conference. The remaining two games on a team's schedule were against the two remaining teams in the same conference that finished in the same position in their respective divisions the previous season (e.g., the team that finished fourth in its division will play all three other teams in the conference that also finished fourth). The division pairings for 2020 are as follows:
Thanksgiving: Two games were played on Thursday, November 26, featuring Houston at Detroit and Washington at Dallas, with Houston and Washington winning. Baltimore was scheduled to play at Pittsburgh in the primetime game, but it was postponed to December 2, due to several Ravens players and staff testing positive for COVID-19. This postponement reduced the Thanksgiving slate to two games for the first time since 2005.
Christmas: As Christmas Eve fell on a Thursday, that week's Thursday Night Football game between Minnesota and New Orleans was instead played as a 4:30 p.m. ET start on Christmas Day, with New Orleans winning. This was the NFL's first Friday game since 2009, which was also a Christmas game.
With the final round of the 2020 Masters Tournament (whose rights are held by CBS) rescheduled from its normal April date to November 15, CBS was not given any 1:00 p.m. ET games that day, which fell during Week 10. CBS was given three games in the 4:05 p.m. ET slot, while Fox was given eight Sunday games, including three AFC-away games which generally air on CBS.
When the entire season schedule was released on May 7, the league announced that in Weeks 15 and 16, two or three of five designated games would be moved to Saturday. A total of four games were broadcast by the NFL Network and one was broadcast by Amazon Prime Video. COVID-19 outbreaks among teams forced the league to reshuffle games across several weeks.
The Pittsburgh–Tennessee game, originally scheduled for October 4 at 1:00 p.m. ET, was postponed to October 25 at 1:00 p.m. ET due to several Tennessee players testing positive for COVID-19.
The New England–Kansas City game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET, was postponed to Monday at 7:05 p.m. ET due to one positive COVID-19 test on each team, remaining on CBS.
The Indianapolis–Chicago game was moved from 1:00 p.m. ET to 4:25 p.m., remaining on CBS, as a replacement for the New England–Kansas City game in that time slot.
The Denver–New England game, which was originally scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, was moved to 4:25 p.m. as part of the NFL's flex scheduling. The game was later postponed to Monday at 5:00 p.m. ET after multiple New England players tested positive for COVID-19. This game was again postponed to October 18 at 1:00 p.m. ET when another New England player tested positive. The game remained on CBS.
The Buffalo–Tennessee game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET was postponed to Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. ET due to several positive COVID-19 tests for Tennessee, remaining on CBS.
The Kansas City–Buffalo game, originally scheduled for Thursday at 8:20 p.m. ET was moved to Monday at 5:00 p.m. ET, remaining on Fox and NFL Network, to avoid a situation in which the Bills would play games two days apart.
The New York Jets–Los Angeles Chargers game, originally scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET was moved to November 22 at 4:05 p.m. ET, remaining on CBS, to accommodate the Week 5 Denver–New England game.
The Miami–Denver game, originally scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET, was moved to November 22 at 4:05 p.m. ET, remaining on CBS, to accommodate Denver–New England.
The Pittsburgh–Baltimore game, originally scheduled for October 25 at 1:00 p.m. ET was rescheduled for November 1 at 1:00 p.m. ET, remaining on CBS, to accommodate the Pittsburgh–Tennessee game from Week 4.
The Los Angeles Chargers–Miami game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET was moved to November 15 at 4:05 p.m. ET, remaining on CBS, to accommodate the Denver–New England game from Week 5.
The Tampa Bay–Las Vegas game, originally scheduled for Sunday Night Football, was moved to 4:05 p.m. ET on Fox, due to Las Vegas having multiple positive COVID-19 tests and to ensure a SNF game was available in case this game needed to postponed to a later date. The Seattle–Arizona game, originally scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET on Fox, was moved to SNF.
The Jacksonville–Los Angeles Chargers game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET was rescheduled for October 25 at 4:25 p.m. ET, remaining on CBS, to accommodate the Denver–New England game from Week 5.
The New York Jets–Miami game originally scheduled for Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET was rescheduled for October 18 at 4:05 p.m. ET, remaining on CBS, to accommodate the Denver–New England game from Week 5. This also eliminated an unusual quirk in the schedule that would have had Miami and New York play each other in consecutive games, separated by their bye week.
The Cincinnati–Pittsburgh game originally scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET was rescheduled for 4:25 p.m. ET, remaining on Fox.
The Los Angeles Chargers–Denver game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET was moved to November 1 at 4:05 p.m. ET to accommodate the Denver–New England game from Week 5.
The Green Bay–Indianapolis game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET, was moved to 4:25 p.m. ET, remaining on Fox.
The Baltimore–Pittsburgh game, originally scheduled for Thursday at 8:20 p.m. ET, was postponed three times, ultimately to Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. ET, remaining on NBC, due to several Ravens players and staff testing positive for COVID-19.
To accommodate the postponed Week 12 Baltimore–Pittsburgh game, the Washington–Pittsburgh game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET, was postponed to Monday at 5:00 p.m. ET, and the Dallas–Baltimore game, originally scheduled for Thursday at 8:20 p.m. ET, was postponed to Tuesday at 8:15 p.m. ET, with both games remaining on Fox.
The Green Bay–Detroit game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET, was moved to 4:25 p.m. ET, remaining on Fox.
On November 30, the NFL announced that three games would be moved to Saturday, December 26: Tampa Bay–Detroit at 1:00 p.m ET, San Francisco–Arizona at 4:30 p.m, and Miami–Las Vegas at 8:15 p.m. The San Francisco–Arizona game was assigned to Amazon. The two other games the NFL had the option of scheduling on Saturday (Cleveland–New York Jets and Denver–Los Angeles Chargers) remained on December 27.
The Cincinnati–Houston game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, was cross-flexed to Fox, remaining at 1:00.
The Chicago–Jacksonville game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was cross-flexed to CBS, remaining at 1:00.
The Los Angeles Rams–Seattle game, originally scheduled at 4:05 p.m. ET on CBS, was cross-flexed to 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox.
The Carolina–Washington game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, was moved to 4:05 p.m. ET, remaining on CBS.
The Washington–Philadelphia game, originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was selected as the final 8:20 p.m. ET NBC Sunday Night Football game of the season.
The Tennessee–Houston and Jacksonville–Indianapolis games, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, were moved to 4:25 p.m. ET, remaining on CBS.
The New Orleans–Carolina and Green Bay–Chicago games, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, were moved to 4:25 p.m. ET, remaining on Fox.
The Los Angeles Chargers–Kansas City game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, was cross-flexed to 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox.
The Arizona–Los Angeles Rams game was cross-flexed to CBS, remaining at 4:25 p.m. ET.
^ abNew Orleans finished ahead of Seattle based on conference record.
^ abChicago finished and clinched the 7th and final playoff spot ahead of Arizona based on better win percentage in common games (against Detroit, the NY Giants, Carolina, and the LA Rams, Chicago finished 3–2, while Arizona finished 1–4).
^ abSan Francisco finished ahead of the NY Giants based on head-to-head victory. Division tie break was initially used to eliminate Dallas (see below).
^ abNY Giants won tiebreaker over Dallas based on division record.
^ abCarolina finished ahead of Detroit based on head-to-head victory.
^When breaking ties for three or more teams under the NFL's rules, they are first broken within divisions, then comparing only the highest ranked remaining team from each division.
The 2020 playoffs began on the weekend of January 9–10, 2021 with the wild-card round. Under the new NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the playoffs expanded to 14 teams. There were three Wild Card teams per conference and only the top seed in each conference received a first-round bye. Three games were played each day.
In the divisional round on January 16–17, the top seed in the conference hosted the worst remaining seed, and the other two remaining teams played each other, with the better seed hosting. The winners of those games advanced to the Conference Championships on for January 24. Super Bowl LV was held February 7 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
If a COVID-19 outbreak were to force the postponement of playoff games, contingency plans were in place to remove the bye week after the Conference Championships and/or move the Super Bowl back as far as February 28.
The 2021 Pro Bowl was originally scheduled for January 31 at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada. However, on October 14, the game was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. Pro Bowl rosters for the 2020 season were released on December 21, and the league held a virtual event to honor the players chosen. Players selected were used in a broadcast playthrough in the video game Madden NFL 21 instead. This marked the first time since the 1949 season in which a Pro Bowl is not held.
Expanding the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams beginning this season.
Allowing the league to expand the regular season from 16 to 17 games beginning in 2021 at the earliest, along with a corresponding reduction of the preseason from four games to three. The owners later approved this expansion for the 2021 season.
Increasing the players' share of the league's overall revenue from 47% to 48% starting in 2021. This was increased to 48.8% following the expansion of the regular season to 17 games.
Increasing team rosters from 53 to 55 players and game-day rosters from 46 to 48 players, with a minimum of eight offensive linemen. Practice squads increased from 10 to 12 players in 2020 and increased to 14 players in 2022.
Allowing players to become eligible for pensions after three accrued seasons, down from four.
Fully guaranteeing fifth-year options for first round picks if picked up by the team. In addition, the fifth year option salary can rise based on the player's performance in his first three seasons. Previously, it was only tied to when he was selected in the draft.
Shortening the drug test window from four months to two weeks at the start of training camp and eliminating automatic suspensions solely based on positive tests.
Establishing a "neutral decision-maker" to replace the NFL Commissioner on ruling most discipline cases.
Improving teams' training facilities and establishing a network of hospitals in teams' home cities with free healthcare for current and former players.
On July 1, following renewed attention to racial justice in wake of the George Floyd protests, a letter signed by 87 shareholders and investors was sent to sponsors of the then-Washington Redskins and NFL including Nike, FedEx, and Pepsi urging them to cut ties unless the team name was changed. Around the same time, several retail companies began to remove Redskins merchandise from their stores. In response, the team underwent a review of its name and logo. On July 23, the team announced that it would retire its name and logo. The team began playing as the "Washington Football Team" pending a permanent name being chosen.
On September 30, it was reported that ten Tennessee players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Tennessee closed its practice facility through October 3 as the team continued testing and contact tracing. Tennessee's most recent opponent, Minnesota, also closed their facility as a precaution until they received more test results. The league postponed Tennessee's October 4 game against Pittsburgh to October 25 and later postponed their October 11 game against Buffalo to October 13.
On October 3, it was reported that New England QB Cam Newton and Kansas City practice squad QB Jordan Ta'amu tested positive for COVID-19. The October 4 New England-Kansas City game was postponed to October 5 in order to determine if there were any additional positive tests on either team, which there were not. New England CB Stephon Gilmore tested positive for COVID-19 after this game, resulting in New England's October 11 game against Denver to be postponed initially to October 12, to allow for additional testing and tracing of New England players and staff. After another Patriots player tested positive, the game was postponed again to October 18. This required the league to reschedule six games across multiple weeks affecting Denver, New England, and four other teams.
On October 21, it was reported that Las Vegas OT Trent Brown tested positive for COVID-19. Five other players, who were close contacts of Brown, were also placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Las Vegas' game against Tampa Bay was moved out of that week's Sunday Night Football game to ensure another game could be played in this timeslot.
On October 24, Buffalo tight end Dawson Knox tested positive for the virus. He and three other players, including all of the team's tight ends except Tyler Kroft, were placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Buffalo played its game against the New York Jets as scheduled, with fullback Reggie Gilliam serving as a backup tight end.
On November 28, Denver quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien, and Blake Bortles were ruled ineligible to play for Denver's Week 12 game against New Orleans after coming into close contact with Jeff Driskel who had tested positive for the virus; the team was also unable to sign a replacement free agent quarterback due to inability to clear testing protocols in time. This led to the Broncos elevating wide receiver Kendall Hinton from the practice squad to play quarterback. Hinton went 1/9 with 13 passing yards and two interceptions as the Broncos suffered a blowout loss to the Saints.
Records, milestones, and notable statistics
Drew Brees broke the career record for pass attempts with his 10,170th attempt. The previous record of 10,169 attempts was held by Brett Favre.
Tom Brady became the third player to attempt 10,000 passes, joining Brees and Favre.
Frank Gore broke the NFL record for the most regular-season games played by a running back, with 227. The previous record of 226 was held by Emmitt Smith.
Dak Prescott became the first quarterback to pass for 400 yards and rush for three touchdowns in a game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick became the first quarterback to defeat the same opponent as a member of six different teams after leading Miami to a win over Jacksonville. Fitzpatrick also defeated Jacksonville as a starting quarterback for Cincinnati, Buffalo, Tennessee, Houston, and the New York Jets.
Aaron Rodgers became the seventh player to pass for 400 touchdowns. He also became the fastest player to reach this mark, doing so in 193 games. The previous record of 205 games was set by Drew Brees.
Cole Beasley set the record for most touchdown receptions by a person shorter than 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 m) for whom statistics are available with 33. The previous record of 32 was set by Darren Sproles.
Jamal Adams set the single season record for most sacks by a defensive back with 8.5. The previous record of 8 was set by Adrian Wilson. Adams would end the season with 9.5 sacks.
The Washington Football Team tied the 2010 Seattle Seahawks' record for the worst winning percentage by a playoff-qualifying team (7–9 (.438)) and became the first team to reach the playoffs after starting the season with a 2–7 record. None of the 262 previous teams to start a season with a 2–7 record qualified for the playoffs.
For the first time in NFL history, home teams had a losing record, finishing the year with a record of 127–128–1 (.498).
The Cleveland Browns qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2002, ending the NFL's longest active postseason drought at 17 seasons.
A record 12,692 points were scored across the league during the regular season, with games averaging 49.6 points. The previous record of 11,985 points (46.8 per game) was set in 2013.
A record 1,473 total touchdowns were scored across the league during the regular season. The previous record of 1,371 was set in 2018.
Tom Brady became the first player in NFL history to have 10 Super Bowl appearances.
Brady became the second quarterback to start a Super Bowl with a team from each conference, joining Craig Morton, and also the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with a team from each conference.
Brady became the oldest player to play in a Super Bowl at 43 years, 188 days old. The record was previously held by Matt Stover, who was 42 years, 11 days old in Super Bowl XLIV.
Rivera was fired on December 3, 2019, after going 5–7 (.417) in the first 12 games of the season. In 8+ seasons as the Panthers head coach, he went 79–67–1 (.541), with four playoff appearances including three NFC South division titles and one Super Bowl appearance.
Fewell, the defensive backs coach, took over on an interim basis and went 0–4 the rest of the season.
Rhule, who spent the previous seven seasons as college football head coach of Temple and Baylor with a 47–43 (.522) record, was hired on January 7.
Kitchens was fired on December 29, 2019, after going 6–10 (.375) in one season as head coach.
Stefanski, who previously served as the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, was hired on January 13. He was on the Vikings staff for 14 years. This was his first head coaching position at any level.
On January 5, the Cowboys announced they would not renew Garrett's contract, which expired January 14. The Cowboys were 85–67 (.559) in 91⁄2 seasons under Garrett, making the playoffs 3 times but never advancing past the divisional round.
McCarthy was hired as the Cowboys' new coach on January 6. In 12+ seasons as the Green Bay Packers head coach, he had a record of 135–85–2 (.613) with nine playoff appearances and one Super Bowl title.
Shurmur was fired on December 30, 2019, after going 9–23 (.281) in two seasons as the Giants' head coach, with no playoff appearances.
Judge was hired on January 8, after serving as the special teams coordinator for the New England Patriots from 2015 to 2019, as well as the wide receivers coach in 2019. This is his first head coaching position at any level.
After an 0–5 start, Gruden was fired on October 7, 2019. He had a 35–49–1 (.418) record for his 5+ season tenure with the organization, with one playoff appearance.
Callahan, the team's assistant head coach/offensive line coach, was previously the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2002 and 2003, with a record of 15–17 (.469) and one Super Bowl appearance; he finished out the 2019 season with a 3–8 (.273) record.
Rivera, who had spent most of the previous nine seasons as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, was hired on January 1, 2020.
After an 0–4 start, O'Brien was fired on October 5. He had a 52–48 (.520) record during his 6+ season tenure with the Texans, with four AFC South titles.
Crennel, the team's associate head coach, was previously the head coach of the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs, with a combined record of 28–55 (.337) and no playoff appearances. At age 73, he is the oldest head coach in NFL history.
Dorsey and the Browns parted ways on December 31, 2019, after three seasons. Berry was hired on January 28, 2020, as general manager and executive vice president of football operations. He served as the Philadelphia Eagles' vice president of football operations in 2019, and had worked for the Browns from 2016 to 2018 as vice president of player personnel. At age 32, he is the youngest general manager in NFL history.
Allen was fired on December 30, 2019, after ten years with the team. Wright, a former NFL running back who later served as a partner at the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, was hired on August 17, 2020. He is the first black team president in NFL history.
O'Brien was named general manager of the team during the 2020 offseason, after splitting general manager duties with Easterby, the executive vice president of football operations, and other team executives in 2019. His tenure was lowlighted by trading away star WR DeAndre Hopkins.
Easterby took over GM duties for the rest of the season.
Hurney was fired on December 21 after 14+ seasons in two stints (2002–12, 2017–20). In his time with the Panthers he was responsible for drafting star players such as Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, and Thomas Davis.
Prior to this season, the Buffalo Bills had a buyout window in their lease with their home stadium. On January 31, the team formally declined the buyout option. Since the Bills chose not to opt out, the team cannot exit the lease until it expires at the end of the 2022 season.
On July 15, New Era Cap Company canceled its naming rights agreement on the Bills' stadium due to overall financial struggles. The stadium was renamed "Bills Stadium" for the 2020 season and will retain that name until a new sponsor is found.
The NFL allowed teams to admit spectators to games if allowed under local health orders. A total of 19 teams admitted spectators at a reduced capacity for at least one regular season home game. Two additional teams which did not admit spectators during the regular season admitted spectators for postseason games. Six teams allowed spectators for all home games. The majority of teams played without spectators through September and into October while admitting spectators later in the season. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league's competition committee assessed that having spectators did not create a competitive advantage despite some coaches and executives disagreeing.
If spectators were admitted, they had to wear face masks and, in some stadiums, were required to sign a liability waiver. On-field entertainment was prohibited, including cheerleaders, mascots, marching bands, flag wavers, and end zone-to-end zone American flag displays. To reduce the proximity of spectators to the field, the league required the first six to eight rows of seats to be blocked with tarps.Halftime shows could be held, but only off-site, or as done on Thanksgiving, pre-recorded before the game.
The NFL initially mandated the use of artificial crowd noise inside all stadiums with attendance below 10,000, consisting of non-dynamic ambience played at 70 decibels. The audio was monitored by the league and teams were subject to sanctions if they were found to have manipulated it (such as by changing its volume). On September 25, these rules were adjusted, allowing the ambiance to be played at up to 80 decibels. The volume must be determined before the game and remain consistent through the entire game. The minimum attendance required to turn off the crowd noise was reduced to 2,500. As part of Microsoft's sponsorship of the NFL, a "Fan Mosaic" feature powered by Microsoft Teams was featured on stadium video boards during select games.
Home games with spectators allowed
Played its first three home games behind closed doors; admitted up to 1,200 fans for next two games; played its last three regular season home games behind closed doors.
Played its Week 1 home opener behind closed doors and hosted 500 family members and associates in Week 3 in order to determine the capacity limit for the team's remaining games. Allowed up to 10,000 spectators for each additional home game.
New York state health orders prohibited spectators at sporting events during the regular season. Local officials recommended a 10% capacity, up to 7,000 fans; Governor of New YorkAndrew Cuomo indicated initial willingness to approve the plan if social distancing is upheld but eventually ruled out spectators after a rise in cases. After Buffalo clinched a home playoff game and cases began to subside, Cuomo gave approval for Buffalo to host 6,772 fans in its two home playoff games, with social distancing measures in place, pre-game rapid antigen testing mandatory at spectator expense, and no repeat attendees.
Played with a limited crowd of 500 family members and associates during its home opener. The team allowed up to 5,700 spectators (7.5% of Empower Field at Mile High's seating capacity) for the next four home games, but reverted to playing without spectators for the final three home games due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Colorado.
The team admitted 13,000 spectators for each home game. On October 7, Governor of FloridaRon DeSantis gave clearance to allow full attendance in stadiums; however, the Dolphins chose to maintain the 13,000 fan limit.
Played behind closed doors for its first three home games. Louisiana gave approval for the Saints to have fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome starting with Week 3; however, the city denied the Saints permission to have fans for its next two games. The Saints were allowed to have up to 3,000 fans beginning in Week 7. This was increased to 6,000 for Weeks 10 and 11 but reverted to 3,000 for the rest of the season.
Played its first two home games behind closed doors. The team allowed 7,500 fans beginning with Week 6 for the following three home games. Beginning in Week 12, games were played without spectators again after the city of Philadelphia imposed restrictions on crowd sizes on November 16.
Played its first two home games behind closed doors; Allowed up to 5,500 fans from Weeks 5–10. Beginning in Week 12 (originally Week 13), games were played without spectators again as the state of Pennsylvania passed new restrictions on large gatherings. The state authorized up to 2,500 people (including players, in-game staff, and spectators) for playoff games, but due to this limitation the team announced on January 7 that attendance would be limited to family and associates only.
Played behind closed doors for the entire season. On November 28, Santa Clara County banned all contact sports, including 49ers practices and games, in the county, forcing the relocation of the team's final three home games to State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, which were also played without spectators.
Played its Week 2 home opener behind closed doors. For Week 4, only season-ticket holders who had season tickets since 1998 or earlier were allowed to attend. Beginning in Week 6, spectator capacity was limited to 25%. For Super Bowl LV, the stadium had a 34% capacity (25,000 spectators), with 7,500 tickets reserved for vaccinated health care workers.
* The team admitted spectators to its home playoff game(s).
Eight teams unveiled uniform changes, ranging from minor adjustments to full rebrands.
Atlanta: On April 8, the Falcons unveiled new uniforms, featuring a matte shell helmet, a larger helmet logo, silver facemasks, new fonts for the numbers, and a prominent "ATL" placed above the numbers. The team returned to black as the primary jersey color. A new alternate jersey features a red gradient.
Cleveland: On April 15, the Browns revealed new uniforms that reverted to the design used prior to 2015, albeit with an updated nameplate font and number design. Some elements of the 2015 style were retained, including the brighter shade of orange, the modernized version of block numbers, and brown facemasks.
Indianapolis: On April 13, the Colts announced that serifs were added to their jersey numbers similar to the design used in the 1950s and 1960s and revealed a new modernized wordmark and secondary logo that features the outline of Indiana carved out of a "C". They also introduced a new color, anvil black.
Los Angeles Chargers: On March 24, the Chargers announced that they would eliminate navy blue from their official branding, building on their 2019 change of the primary jersey color to powder blue. They also debuted a modified logo and a new wordmark to reflect this. On April 21, the Chargers revealed new uniforms, which use elements from previous sets, including numbers on the helmets and the addition of a navy blue alternate set.
Los Angeles Rams: On March 23, the Rams unveiled new logos and color scheme. The new colors are brighter shades of the royal blue and gold used on their 1999 throwback jerseys, dubbed "Rams Royal" and "Sol" by the team, respectively. The team's new logo features a stylized "LA" with a ram's horn spiraling out from the top of the "A". The team unveiled new uniforms on May 13. Notable features include the addition of an off-white "Bone" away jersey, team wordmark logo patches on the right side of the chest and a unique fabric for the numbers. The helmet also has a metallic "Rams Royal" colored shell and a new ram horn design to match the logos.
New England: The Patriots former all-blue alternate design became the primary home uniform set, with updated block letters and numbers and blue/red/white socks. A corresponding white jersey was also unveiled and will also be paired with the blue pants. Both uniforms feature truncated shoulder striping as a nod to the "Pat Patriot" uniforms.
Tampa Bay: On April 7, the Buccaneers unveiled new uniforms resembling the ones used from 1997 to 2013, including that design's block numbers, black masks, pewter pants, and all-white road set. Some elements of the previous design remain, including the enlarged flag-and-crossed-swords logo and the secondary ship logo on the sleeves. The team also unveiled an all-pewter alternate uniform.
Washington: On July 23, the franchise announced it would play the season as the "Washington Football Team" and dropped the Redskins logo while retaining the color scheme. The team's uniforms essentially remained the same, but without the helmet stripe and with the logo being replaced by the player's jersey number in gold, as well as a "Washington" wordmark on the chest replacing "Redskins." In December the team began wearing white jerseys over white pants on the road for the first time since 2009.
Arizona: A patch to commemorate the death of Hall of Famer Larry Wilson, with his number 8 enclosed in either a black circle (red and white jersey) or white circle (black jersey).
Dallas: An "Established in 1960" patch to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the team's inception.
Las Vegas: A patch to commemorate the team's first season in Las Vegas.
Miami: A patch to commemorate the death of Hall of Fame head coach Don Shula, featuring his name and the number 347 to signify his NFL record career wins.
This was the seventh year under the current broadcast contracts with CBS, ESPN/ABC, Fox, and NBC. This includes "cross-flexing" (switching) Sunday afternoon games between CBS and Fox before or during the season, regardless of the conference of the visiting team. NBC continues to air Sunday Night Football and the Kickoff Game. ESPN continued to air Monday Night Football and a Wild Card Game, with 3 MNF and the Wild Card games being simulcast on ABC. ESPN and ABC were also scheduled to air the 2021 Pro Bowl, but the game was canceled. Fox continues to air Thursday Night Football alongside NFL Network, Amazon Prime Video and Twitch.
CBS and NBC acquired rights to the two new Wild Card Round games, with each paying around $70 million for the additional game.
To coincide with the 50th anniversary of Monday Night Football, ESPN simulcast the Week 2 New Orleans–Las Vegas game as an ESPN Megacast on ABC, marking ABC's first regular season broadcast since 2005. ESPN2 aired an alternate broadcast with various guests joining throughout the game. Two more MNF games were simulcast on ABC on December 7 and 28.
As of the 2019 season, local stations in markets with NFL teams have been allowed on to air another NFL game opposite the game involving that city's home team on a limited basis. Cities were initially limited to two such games per season. This was expanded to four in 2020.
In the United Kingdom, Sky Sports renewed its broadcast rights to the NFL under a five-year deal, marking its 25th season of coverage. It also announced that it would devote its multiplex channel Sky Sports Action exclusively to NFL programming and coverage during the season, temporarily rebranding it as Sky Sports NFL. It marks the first time that the NFL has partnered on a league-oriented channel in an international market. ViacomCBS-owned free-to-air channel Channel 5 also acquired rights to air Monday Night Football, marking the league's return to the network for the first time since 2009. Channel 5 aired a Los Angeles-based studio show featuring Maurice Jones-Drew, and a weekly magazine show, NFL End Zone, hosted by Cori Yarckin; both programs were produced by ViacomCBS's branded content studio Velocity.
On April 29, Amazon renewed its digital rights to Thursday Night Football through the 2022 season, maintaining the existing arrangement to simulcast the 11 games aired by Fox on Amazon Prime Video and for free on Twitch, and offer alternative broadcasts of the games on the two services. It also added exclusive worldwide rights to one late-season game for this season, which was produced by CBS and simulcast on over-the-air stations in the two teams' home markets. Amazon also acquired rights to simulcast one of the Wild Card games assigned to CBS.
This season, the TNF games included a new "Scout's Feed" broadcast featuring extended play analysis by Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah, and a new "NFL Next Live" feed on Twitch hosted by Cari Champion and Andrew Hawkins which featured viewer interactivity. The British English broadcasts were dropped this season. For supplemental content, Amazon is expanding its Tuesday-night studio program NFL Next, and introducing two new interactive programs on Twitch – the Hawkins and Kyle Long-hosted NFL Comment Box, and the Chad Johnson and Kyle Long-hosted The NFL Machine, which features presentations of content from the NFL Films archives.
Tony Romo, CBS' lead color commentator, renewed his contract in a long-term, $17 million per-year deal, the most lucrative contract for a commentator in NFL history.
This was the final season for Chris Spielman at Fox. Before Week 14, he left Fox to take a front office position with the Detroit Lions, effective immediately. #6 Brock Huard, who was a new addition to Fox's Sunday commentator roster, would move up to the #5 slot with Kevin Kugler to replace Spielman.
This was also the final season for long-time announcer Dick Stockton, who announced his retirement on March 25, 2021. Stockton, whose broadcasting resume spanned over five decades, called NFL games for CBS and Fox during his career.
Impact of COVID-19 on production
Broadcasters were limited to 46 staff members at each game. Sideline reporters were not allowed on the field. CBS, Fox, and NBC had commentators on-site, but some production was conducted remotely from the networks' headquarters. The NFL required personnel returning from outside of the United States to quarantine for 14 days before returning to work.
The league provided an enhanced artificial crowd noise track to be used by its broadcasters, separate from the crowd noise that is used at stadiums below 2,500 in attendance. The soundtrack uses crowd audio collected by NFL Films from past games involving the home team, including general ambience, team-specific chants, and contextual reactions. It is mixed by a local sound engineer at the stadium in synchronization with the game.Fox had explored the possibility of masking empty stands with CGI crowds. Fox introduced such a system on-air for its Major League Baseball broadcasts, and later announced that it would use the technology for selected NFL games. NBC ruled out virtual fans, citing the large number of camera angles that would have to be configured. NBC added a 180-degree 8K resolution camera to the Skycam unit for "intimate" overhead views, supplanting wide-angle shots that would expose stands with little to no spectators. At games played with no spectators, CBS allowed its Skycam to be in positions over the stands that are not generally allowed in order to provide new angles.
The pandemic also affected pre-game shows: ESPN's Monday Night Countdown and NFL Network's NFL GameDay were broadcast from their respective networks' studios, rather than traveling to game sites.Fox NFL Sunday panelist Jimmy Johnson contributed from his home in Florida, rather than join the rest of the panel at the Fox studio in Los Angeles. As a precautionary measure, the normal panelists for Fox NFL Kickoff and Fox NFL Sunday did not appear in-studio for Week 11, with Chris Myers, Reggie Bush, and Charles Woodson replacing them, and the regular personnel appearing remotely.
Two commentators were unable to pass their network's COVID-19 protocols and each had to miss one game: Al Michaels for NBC in Week 15 and Tony Romo for CBS in Week 17.