Column: The 2020 NFL schedule will be released tonight. But with so much uncertainty, the usual excitement seems misguided.

Alert! Tom Brady is coming to Chicago to play this fall! And tonight we’ll know exactly when!

Buccaneers at Bears, Brady versus [Bears QB: TBD], at Soldier Field.



Drew Brees and the Saints also will be making plans to come to Chicago.


Same goes for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.


And for Bears fans eager to earmark their 2020 road trips? Well, the Bears are scheduled to play in Nashville this season. And in Charlotte. And at the brilliant new SoFi Stadium in Southern California.


All of this seems so strange, this attempt to imagine that things in the NFL will go on as normal this fall. Or as close to normal as possible.

The league’s full 2020 schedule — 17 weeks, 256 games — will be revealed at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Just like every other year, you’ll be hit with many of those familiar bells and whistles.

Throughout the day, prepare for frequent social media leaks and the predictable buzz created by each new schedule nugget. Prime-time specials on ESPN and NFL Network will carry their usual inflated hype with look-aheads to 2020’s most intriguing matchups and dates on the calendar to circle in red Sharpie.

Who will Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs play in the league’s annual Thursday night curtain-lifter?

How many prime-time games will the Brady-less Patriots get?

Who will No. 1 pick Joe Burrow face in his NFL debut for the Bengals?

There will be that familiar spring reminder that fall often gets here fast. So get your tailgate charcoal and your rolling Igloo cooler ready.

(And your hand sanitizer. Oh, and your N95 mask. And, well, if you can find one on the internet, snag an outbreak suit just in case.)


Alas, all of the NFL schedule excitement this year comes with such sobering subtext. Read the fine print.

* — No one can say right now with any certainty that any of these games will be played as scheduled. No one can say right now with any certainty that any of these games will be played at all.

The entire 2020 NFL season: To. Be. Determined.

The coronavirus crisis has collapsed the pocket in America. And as much as the NFL wants to pull off a Lamar Jackson escape act — a juke, a spin, a sprint into daylight — this relentless blitz may become too difficult to evade.

The league’s “show must go on” approach worked perfectly with free agency and the draft. But the games are different. The games require travel. The games don’t work with social distancing. The games are filled with huddles and collisions and spit and snot.

The games require practices. Which require that teams be allowed to gather at their facilities, packed together on practice fields and in meeting rooms.

On May 7, safe clearance for such things seems a long way off.

Thus, while it makes sense for the NFL to have its 2020 schedule ready — with behind-the-scenes discussions on contingency plans underway — the normal grand unveiling feels a tad off this year. Especially with so much uncertainty lurking in the months ahead.

Normally, the schedule release creates a fun burst of spring energy and heightened anticipation. But this year it seems misguided and maybe a bit ignorant to play a game of pretend, to ignore the rising death toll and our crushed economy and the reality that no one has described a fully reliable route back to safety.

It feels ill-advised in some ways to allow a hope-filled desire for football to cloud an already murky discussion on our best path to recovery. If even for just a day. Or a week.

Will the NFL allow fans to attend games in the fall? Too hard to say right now.

Will governments allow even crowd-free games to be played? Too hard to say right now.

Will an overwhelming majority of players and coaches be dying to get back into action, no matter the situation? Too hard to say right now.

Earlier this week, Broncos defensive back Kareem Jackson expressed reservations about a push to resume football as normal.

“It doesn’t make sense to play any games unless it’s completely, 100% safe for us to go out there,” Jackson said in a conference call with Broncos reporters. “If there’s any threat of us being able to (contract) COVID-19 in any way and spread it to our families or anybody we’re around, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Jackson was also lukewarm on the idea of games with no fans.

“That would be like practice,” he said. “So in my opinion, that would suck.”

Bears wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. was asked Wednesday how he feels about this week’s schedule release extravaganza, especially with his new team still in work-from-home mode and confined to Zoom meetings.

With the COVID-19 emergency still a major factor, is Ginn really ready for some football?

“That’s kind of out of my ball league,” he said. “Only thing I can do is get ready to play this NFL schedule whenever it matters.”

Contrary to Jackson, Ginn is just waiting for marching orders.

“If the Chicago Bears go, Ted Ginn will be there,” he said. “Everything else that happens in the world, and (whatever) the governors and the mayors and commissioners and everybody else decides, all I can do is try to protect myself as best I can and try to protect my team as best I can by doing the right things on the hillside and being able to be there for the kickoff.”

A Week 1 kickoff for the Bears likely will be scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 13, or perhaps Monday, Sept. 14. The opponent will be revealed Thursday. Get excited. Or not.

Will the green light even come to play that game and the 15 that follow as scheduled? Maybe.

And maybe not.

Too hard to say right now.

Adjust your mood accordingly.

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