Debrief: Top NFL storylines to track in second half of 2020 –

The New Orleans Saints have played in innumerable Big Games over the years, even if you only start counting since the latest iteration of their NFC South dynasty was born in 2017, when the team selected Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk and Marshon Lattimore in the same draft class.

These Tompa Bay Buccaneers have now played in one Big Game, although they didn’t stick around for long in their 38-3 home loss to the Saints on Sunday night.

The Bucs’ no-show was a jolting preview of the second half of this season, when the games take on increasing weight each week. If there’s a theme to the 2020 campaign thus far beyond high scoring and COVID-19 complications, it’s the predictability of it all. Most of the best teams are familiar and were favorites coming into the season. New would-be kings, like the Bucs, Cardinals and Dolphins, are just beginning to test their mettle with meaningful games.

One result doesn’t lower the ceiling of a Bucs team that remains as complete on paper as any squad in football, but it puts them in a trail position, now reliant on Saints losses to win the NFC South. (The Bucs’ tougher schedule moving forward won’t help.) It also lowers the likelihood of any team running away and hiding in an incredibly crowded NFC playoff picture.

Only one loss separates the NFC’s current top seed, the Saints, from the seventh-seeded Rams. The Big Games are just starting, with the No. 1 seed having greater importance than ever, because only one team in each conference gets to skip the Wild Card Round. Then again, home-field advantage is not what it used to be: Home teams have a losing record this season entering Week 9’s Monday Night Football matchup.

Add it all up, throw in the increasing weekly challenges provided by COVID-19 and injuries, and this promises to be a complicated second half.

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