Professional football has returned

This is a weekend that a significant number of people thought they might not see this year.

The National Football League is back, and while the action on the field will look familiar, the games will have a different feel.

Kansas City claimed a 34-20 win over Houston when regular season play began Thursday. While fans, and we count ourselves among them, were happy to be able to watch football, the game was most notable for its lack of fans.

Seating capacity at stadiums around the country will range from none to a limited number, as the league works its way through COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines that vary from state to state.

For the Steelers, for instance, that means no fans in Heinz Field for at least the first part of the season. While Browns and Bengals fans are not as fortunate when it comes to supporting successful teams, they will at least have limited access to home games — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said each team will be able to allow up to 6,000 fans for home games.

It’s a season that begins with many questions, even more than usual, because there were no preseason games this year. Chief among those for fans in the Tri-State Area is whether Ben Roethlisberger will be able to rebound from last year’s season-ending injury. With a healthy Big Ben, the Steelers should be able to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2017 season and will be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Cleveland, meanwhile, will continue to seek success with quarterback Baker Mayfield, and Cincinnati will be building for the future after drafting quarterback Joe Burrow with the first pick in this year’s draft.

The Browns and Bengals open their seasons Sunday — Cleveland visits Baltimore at 1 p.m. and Cincinnati hosts the Chargers at 4:05 p.m.

Play for the Steelers opens at 7:15 p.m. Monday when they travel to the Giants.

How the season plays out is anybody’s guess — the NFL has opted to follow Major League Baseball and not adopt the bubble concept of sequestering all involved in the games in a central location, a formula that has, to this point, served the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association well. Baseball, meanwhile, has had to postpone several games after positive coronavirus results were reported.

If you are a fan, though, the game is the thing, and the NFL says it is prepared for its teams to play an entire schedule, which is set to end when the Super Bowl is played Feb. 7 in Tampa, Fla.

Football has returned — sit back and enjoy.


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