Sports | September 9, 2020 6:05 am

The 2020 Uni Watch NFL Season Preview

New cities, new stadiums, new unis and at least one new team (sort of)

uni watch nfl preview 2020
The Browns, Bucs and Falcons are all ushering in sweeping changes this year
NFL

Are you ready for some football?

Those words resonate a bit differently in 2020 than they have in past years. But ready or not, the NFL season is now upon us, which means it’s time for the annual Uni Watch NFL Season Preview, with all the uniform, logo and field design news for the coming gridiron season.

And there’s an unusually large amount of that news to catch up on this time around, because a whopping eight NFL teams have new or revised uniforms this season: the Browns, Buccaneers, Chargers, Colts, Falcons, Patriots, Rams and Washington. That’s 25% of the league, making this by far the most uni-momentous season in recent memory, or maybe ever. Even in 2012, when Nike took over the league’s uniform contract from Reebok, most teams just stuck with their existing looks. Despite all the Nike hype at the time, that year was sedate compared to this one.

Furthermore, in what could be considered either a cruel irony or a good suspense-building happenstance, there were no preseason games this year, so we didn’t get a chance to see any of the new uni designs in action. That creates an added sense of anticipation ahead of the regular season, when the new looks will finally make their on-field debuts.

Before we get to our team-by-team breakdown, it’s worth noting that the two things that have turned 2020 upside-down — the coronavirus pandemic and racial-justice protests — will both have visible effects on this season’s games.

Let’s start with the pandemic. For starters, many players will have full-face plastic shields installed in their facemasks. These are similar to the eye-level visors that many players have worn over the years, but extended down to the mouth area:

In addition, expect to see everyone on the sidelines — and maybe some players on the field — wearing team-branded face coverings. Once the games are over, players won’t be swapping jerseys (an increasingly popular postgame ritual among many players in recent years), because that’s been banned. Oh, and most of the stadiums will be empty except for cardboard fans (and the few teams that are allowing live crowds are doing so at only a small fraction of their buildings’ usual capacity), so teams will be pumping in fake crowd noise.

As for racial justice — an important issue in a league where 70% of the players are Black — the NFL plans a variety of initiatives, including the following:

  • If they choose, players can wear the name of a victim of systemic racism on their rear helmet bumper:

A few specific players have already announced which names they plan to wear. Those players are mentioned in the team-by-team breakdown that follows later in this article.

  • Players will also have the option of wearing an approved slogan instead of a victim’s name. The four slogans being made available are “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” “End Racism” and “Black Lives Matter.”
  • Those same four slogans are also being featured on patches that can be worn on coaches’ sideline caps and officials’ caps.
  • The end zones will also carry messaging, with “End Racism” printed on one end line and “It Takes All of Us” on the other:
  • Players will have the option of warming up in a pregame T-shirt designed by Texans defensive back Michael Thomas. It reads, “Injustice Against One of Us Is Injustice Against All of Us” on the front and “End Racism” on the back.

  • “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing,” a song informally known as the Black national anthem, will be played at all Week 1 games prior to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

  • Many players plan to emulate Colin Kaepernick by kneeling during the national anthem. At least one coach (Bill O’Brien of the Texans) has said he will join them, and at least one owner (Amy Adams Strunk of the Titans) is fully supportive of it.

Okay, enough preliminaries. Are you ready for some football uniform news? Deep breath — here we go.

AFC EAST


Buffalo Bills

No uni changes for the Bills, but their stadium has a new name. With cap brand New Era pulling out of their naming rights deal, the facility will now be known as Bills Stadium, at least until a new naming advertiser can be found.


Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are adding a memorial jersey patch for former coach Don Shula, who died earlier this year. The patch design features the number 347 — the number of wins Shula had as a coach, an NFL record:

Also: Wide receiver DeVante Parker has a new personal logo. It cleverly integrates his initials and his uniform number, 11:


New England Patriots

Cam Newton replacing Tom Brady won’t be the only change for Patriots fans to get used to this season. The team has adapted its Color Rush uniform design from recent seasons and redesignated it as the new home uniform, with a new corresponding white jersey added to the mix (additional photos and info here):

Wondering why navy is the only color option for the pants? They were apparently considering silver pants but opted against them. Here’s hoping those pants eventually get added to the mix, because the mono-navy look is way too high school for an NFL team to use as its default home uniform.


New York Jets

No announced uniform changes or news. You can see a game-by-game breakdown of what the Jets wore last season here.


AFC NORTH


Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are marking their 25th season with a new commemorative logo. It will appear on banners in their stadium’s lower seating bowl but will not be worn as a jersey patch or helmet decal:

Also: Defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who was traded to the Ravens by the Jaguars back in March, is the reigning Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, which means the Payton award patch — the one that looks like Darth Vader — will be added to his jersey. 


Cincinnati Bengals

No changes this season for the Bengals (unfortunately), but let’s give them their due for always announcing their jersey schedule prior to the start of each season. NFL jersey colors for the entire year are set during training camp (home team gets choice of white or color, road team wears opposite), so there’s no reason teams can’t publish that info in advance, but only a handful of them do so. The Bengals have been very dependable in this regard, so they get props for that.


Cleveland Browns

For the past five seasons, the Browns have been one of the league’s worst-dressed teams. This year, though, they’ll be one of the sharpest-looking squads on the field, thanks to a new uni set that returns the club to the classic look it never should have abandoned in the first place (here are lots of additional photos and a detailed assessment):


Pittsburgh Steelers

No announced changes this year for the Steelers. You can see what they wore each week last season here.


AFC SOUTH


Houston Texans

The Texans are another team that’s staying the course — no changes for 2020. Here’s what they wore each week last season.


Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have made five uniform changes this season, but they’re all so small and incremental that the average fan probably won’t even notice. But if you’re reading this, you’re not the average fan, so let’s take a look, starting with the helmet logo, which has been tweaked to make the horseshoe a bit more rounded:

In addition, the Colts have adjusted their uni numbers from one block font to another, changed the color of the Nike logo on their white jersey from blue to black, swapped in a new wordmark on the helmet bumpers and added a new logo to their inner collars:

There’s an excruciatingly detailed assessment of all these uniform tweaks here.


Jacksonville Jaguars

Jags tight end Tyler Eifert plans to wear the name of David Dorn on the back of his helmet. Dorn was a Black retired police captain who was killed last month while providing security for a St. Louis pawn shop that was being looted. 

Also: A team rep says the Jags will wear solid white, including white socks, when opening the season at home against the Colts on Sept. 13. This will be the second straight year that they’ve opened the season by going mono-white at home.


Tennessee Titans

No announced changes for the Titans. But here’s a good week-by-week look at what they wore last season, courtesy of the excellent Titans Uni Tracker feed on Twitter:


AFC WEST


Denver Broncos

No changes this year for Denver, unfortunately, but here’s their week-by-week jersey schedule (additional info here):


Kansas City Chiefs

Recent NFL protocol is for the defending Super Bowl champs to wear a championship jersey patch for their first game of the season. A team source has hinted to your friendly uniform columnist that the Chiefs are likely to go this route as well, although there may not be an official announcement until Sept. 10, the day of the season opener.

Speaking of championships, here’s a look at KC’s Super Bowl ring design, which was unveiled on Sept. 1:

Meanwhile: Offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has opted not to play this season due to coronavirus concerns, which means we won’t get to look at his prodigious 15-character hyphenated nameplate. But not to worry: The Chiefs went out and drafted another player with a 15-character hyphenated nameplate — running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

If Duvernay-Tardif and Edwards-Helaire ever get to play together, the team’s sewing staff might have to go on strike.

And turning from the field to the stands, the current plan is for the Chiefs to allow live crowds of about 16,000 people for their home games. Those fans will get to see the team’s new championship banner:

Another new thing in the stands: Native American headdresses and Native-themed face paint will no longer be permitted. The team is also considering whether to ban fans from engaging in the tomahawk-style chop, and the longtime pregame drum-beating ritual is also under review.


Las Vegas Raiders

This marks the Raiders’ first year in Vegas, so they’re wearing an inaugural-season patch:

Also: Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was a big Kobe Bryant fan. Since the late Lakers star routinely wore a compression sleeve on his right arm, Carr plans to honor Bryant’s memory this season by wearing a sleeve of his own (but on his left arm, so as not to restrict his right-handed throwing motion).

Meanwhile, expect to hear a lot about the team’s shiny new stadium. There’s a nice little design touch down on the on the field, where the yard marker numbers have been rendered in the Raiders’ jersey number font:

Speaking of the new stadium, check out how it’s been integrated into the presentation of this year’s season tickets:


Los Angeles Chargers

The case can be made that the Chargers have never had bad uniforms. Their latest set, unveiled back in April, looks like it will continue that streak (detailed assessment here):

One thing, though: look at the shoulder bolts in the mock-ups in the tweet above, and then compare them to the bolts on the real-life jerseys in this next photo:

See how the real bolts are positioned farther out on the shoulder, almost onto the sleeves, and how they don’t wrap as far toward the chest? It turns out that the unveiling mock-ups don’t quite match the real thing. It’s not a huge difference — the team will still look sharp out there in 2020 — but it’s an ever-so-slight disappointment. Further analysis here.

Another thing: Love those powder blue jerseys? You’ll have to wait a little while to see them, because the Chargers will be wearing white for their first three games of the season. Here’s their full jersey schedule:


NFC EAST


Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are marking their 60th anniversary this season and have an unusual anniversary patch for the occasion. Instead of marking the number of years or the span of seasons, the patch simply says, “Est. 1960.” There’s a nice simplicity to that:

Also: New head coach Mike McCarthy has announced that the players will choose new team captains each week, so the Cowboys will no longer wear captaincy patches until the postseason (if they get that far). McCarthy used that same system for years while coaching the Packers.

And after wearing their supposedly jinxed blue jerseys a record eight times last season — and, sure enough, having a mediocre season — the Cowboys are getting back to basics in 2020. They’ll wear the blue jerseys for their season opener against the Rams in L.A. and their solid-white Color Rush alternates on Thanksgiving Day against Washington, but their uniform schedule calls for them to wear their standard white-over seafoam look for all of their other games.


New York Giants

The Giants will wear their retro-flavored white Color Rush alternates for their Monday Night Football game against the Buccaneers on Nov. 2:

The Jints will wear their basic blue-over-white uniforms for the rest of their home games. On the road, they’ll wear their standard white/grey road uniforms except on Oct. 11 in Dallas and Nov. 29 in Cincinnati, when they’ll wear blue.

Also, a team rep says almost all Giants players will wear some sort of social-justice messaging on their helmets. In addition, new head coach Joe Judge will wear a side patch that reads “It Takes All of Us” on his sideline cap.

In addition, the Giants have tweaked their end zone design, replacing the NFC logo with a second “ny” logo:


Philadelphia Eagles

Nothing new this year in Philly. Here’s their week-by-week uni breakdown from last season.


Washington Football Team

In case you’ve been under a very large rock, the team formerly known as the Redskins is now known simply as the Washington Football Team (which reduces to “WFT,” so expect lots of “WTF” jokes). That’s a placeholder name, with a new moniker and branding to come in 2021.

As for the uniforms, the team will still look familiar. On the jerseys, the small chest lettering spelling out the team name has been replaced with the city name; on the helmets, the stripes and side logos have been removed and replaced by gold uni numbers on the sides of the burgundy shell. Everything else — team colors, pants, socks and so on — is unchanged:

 A new team identity also means a new field design. For now, they’re keeping things simple by putting “Washington” in the end zones and using the NFL logo as their midfield mark:

And finally, in the franchise’s 88-year history, only one number has ever been retired: No. 33, for Sammy Baugh. That will change this year, as the team plans to retire No. 49 for Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, who became the club’s first Black player back in 1961.


NFC North


Chicago Bears

The Bears haven’t announced anything new for 2020. Here’s their weekly uni rotation from last year.


Detroit Lions

Defensive back Tracy Walker plans to wear the name of his cousin Ahmaud Arbery on the back of his helmet. Arbery is the Black man who was killed by white men while jogging through a Georgia neighborhood back in February.


Green Bay Packers

The Packers will be adding a memorial helmet decal for former defensive end Willie Davis, who died back in April. Expect the decal to be announced and unveiled shortly before the season opener.

Also: The Packers were originally slated to have a new throwback uni for this season, but that’s now been postponed to 2021.


Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are celebrating their 60th season this year. They’re marking the occasion with a commemorative logo, a stripped-down version of which is being used as a helmet decal. Unfortunately, both iterations use the team’s absurd two-font numeral typography:


NFC SOUTH


Atlanta Falcons

You have to hand it to the Falcons, who took one of the NFL’s weakest uniform sets and somehow made it even worse. From the giant “ATL” chest mark and the clownish numbers to the garish alternate uni with the red-to-black gradient design, the whole set is a dumpster fire combined with a train wreck combined with any other cliché you’d like to add (additional info here, and there’s a detailed assessment here):

On the plus side, the Falcons will only be wearing the gradient costume once. You can see their week-by-week uniform schedule here.


Carolina Panthers

The Panthers rarely make any uniform news, but they can be counted upon every year to post their game-by-game jersey schedule on their website — a huge boon to uni-philes. Here’s this year’s edition

Note that this is just a jersey schedule, not a uniform schedule. For some teams that might not matter, but Carolina did a lot of mixing and matching with their jerseys and pants last season, so the jersey schedule doesn’t necessarily indicate what they’ll be wearing below the waist.


New Orleans Saints

After playing several seasons with plain white helmet bumpers, the Saints have finally jazzed things up a bit, adding their team name to the front bumper and their city name to the back (well, except for players who choose to wear racial-justice messaging on the back):

This move leaves Kansas City and Washington as the the only remaining teams with blank front and back bumpers. (For more info on NFL helmet bumper formats, look here.)


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Much like the Browns, the Bucs are essentially hitting CTRL+Z, pretending that the last few years never happened and going back to the uniforms they had before foolishly agreeing to put their identity into the Nike centrifuge. Their “new” set, revealed back in the spring, is almost identical to what they wore from 1997 through 2013 (additional photos and info here):

Some fans have speculated that the Bucs changed the uniforms to coincide with Tom Brady’s arrival, but the uni redesign was in the works long before he was acquired. In any case, Brady’s probably happy to be wearing this new set instead of those absurd digital alarm clock numbers. Here’s how he looks in his new work attire:


NFC WEST


Arizona Cardinals

The Cards desperately need a makeover. Unfortunately, it won’t be happening this year. While we’re waiting, here’s a look at what they wore each week last season.


Los Angeles Rams

Many fans expected the Rams to redesign their uniforms when they moved from St. Louis to L.A. in 2016, but the team decided to wait until its new stadium was ready to open. Based on how the uni designs turned out, it’s too bad the stadium didn’t have more construction delays, because the new look — a hodgepodge of color-gradient numbers, a jersey patch that looks like a “Hello, My Name Is” sticker and an unfortunate off-white color called “bone,” among other aesthetic missteps — is a major downgrade (lots of additional photos and a detailed assessment here):

The “mono-bone” combo will be used for the season opener against the Cowboys this Sunday night. You’ve been warned!


San Francisco 49ers

No uniform changes this year for the reigning NFC champs, but the Niners have finally launched a long-gestating marketing initiative called “Faithful to the Bay,” which among other things will feature new signage at the team’s stadium.


Seattle Seahawks

No visuals yet, but Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright has a designed a shirt that reads “We Want Justice,” which the team will wear during pregame activities this season. That’s part of the club’s extensive social-justice program — more info on that here.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting factor to consider: Seattle’s crowd is routinely ranked as the NFL’s loudest, especially when the opposing team has the ball, which provides a distinct home-field advantage. With fans barred from attending games in Seattle this season, the Seahawks are using fake crowd noise to create ambiance, but the NFL has decreed that the noise must be at the same level throughout the game. This will neutralize the home-crowd edge across the league, of course, but nowhere more so than in Seattle.


ADDITIONAL NOTES

  • The official NFL ball has a new look this season. The gold shield from the league’s centennial season is getting a red, silver and blue makeover:
  • If you want to look ahead toward next season, the league has hinted — but not yet officially confirmed, it should be noted — that the so-called one-shell rule, which since 2013 has limited teams to one helmet color per season and thereby made it impossible for them to wear certain throwbacks and alternate uniforms, may be lifted in 2021. If so, expect to see lots of throwback favorites returning, including sorely missed designs like Tampa Bay’s Bucco Bruce creamsicles, Philly’s Kelly greens and New England’s Pat Patriot design. But be warned: Lifting the one-shell rule might also open the floodgates to a tidal wave of Nike-designed alternate uniforms. Be careful what you wish for, people.

And there you have it. Did we miss anything? Yeah, probably. If so, you know what to do. Now let’s get ready for kickoff!

Paul Lukas hopes all NFL fans, players, coaches, officials and staffers stay safe and well this fall. If you like this article, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for his mailing list so you won’t miss any of his future InsideHook columns. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.