And the boys will play on.
Amid a year rife with illness, social unrest and political disharmony, an NFL season kicks off, beckoning the masses to huddle around their screens, giving their eyes and minds a chance to focus on a reason for revelry, celebration and astonishment.
An unprecedented offseason will segue into an unrivaled season.
"America’s game" will return with the 101st NFL season arriving. There will be a sense of euphoria and relief as a new autumn is upon us, with hopes and expectations for all at a high and the possibilities endless.
It all begins Thursday night.
Two of the brightest and most brilliant young talents will lead their charges into Thursday night's season-opening Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs game beginning at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC. And the rest of the NFL -- and the world -- will follow.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Texans signal-caller Deshaun Watson are equal parts amazing and outstanding, turning in all-time numbers and showcasing the total package of all-star arms, educated feet and clutch demeanor.
The two will pilot their teams into a showdown roughly eight months since they last squared off, when the Chiefs orchestrated the first of three unbelievable postseason comebacks en route to a Super Bowl triumph and sent the Texans home for the offseason, in the process.
The reigning AFC West champion will face the reigning AFC South titlist with Kansas City's Andy Reid and Houston's Bill O'Brien aiming to bring about the start of a fresh season on a winning note.
Expectations for each team are as high as the unknown is unprecedented for what lies ahead in this most unpredictable of years.
In an uncertain world, the reality of Thursday night comes in knowing a cavalcade of the NFL's very best talent will take the field. Mahomes will be joined by tight end Travis Kelce, defensive lineman Chris Jones, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and on and on. Watson's all-star charges include offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Zach Cunningham.
There will be myriad questions answered when it comes to how an NFL game will look in the world of COVID-19. How will the first teams to play in 2020 look after a preseason absent of games? And, as is most welcomed, a final answer will appear on an NFL scoreboard.
Sometime late on Thursday, a showcase of stars will have concluded, the curtain having closed upon the NFL's opening act. A season anew will have officially begun. A reason to cheer will have been had. And the boys played on.
Here are five things to watch for on Thursday night:
Deshaun Watson vs. Patrick Mahomes. The best vs. the best.
Quarterbacks command the marquee. Sometimes it's more hype and status than anything. Sometimes it's Thursday night, when all the anticipation and ballyhoo is more than justified as certified stars gather to light up the sky. Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson are two supernovas leading the way for the league with their statistical splendor, astounding accomplishments and exemplary character. When last they collided, it was the Chiefs who prevailed in riveting fashion (after the Texans previously won a regular-season tilt). The magnificent Mahomes and his miracle for an arm rallied the Chiefs from a 24-0 deficit to a remarkable 51-31 win in the AFC Divisional Round. Mahomes, who's 7-0 in the ninth month on the calendar, became the first player in NFL history to pass for 300 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 50 yards in a playoff game. Watson, meanwhile, became the first QB in league chronicle to hit 300 yards and three passing scores with no giveaways to lose a postseason game, per NFL Research. This tandem of terrific has a penchant for the dramatic and the welcomed habit of being at their most brilliant when the game is in peril. Decades from now, these are the talents we will look back upon in reverence at having watched them delight us; they are the future of the league and the present's best of the best. And here they are to dazzle us on the NFL's opening night.
Life without Hopkins starts for Texans
When the Texans take the field against the Chiefs, it will be the first time since 2012 in which Houston will kick off a season without DeAndre Hopkins in the starting lineup. Hopkins has been traded to the Cardinals, having inked a contract extension just this very week. Hopkins' exit brings about the entrance of running back David Johnson. A star that seemingly burned out in the Arizona desert, the talented back will look to restore his career in Houston. Out wide, the Texans WR corps sans Hopkins will look to shine with an overall stellar supporting cast absent a leading man. The top contender is the ultra-talented, oft-injured Will Fuller. The Texans have also added Brandin Cooks (provided he plays as he’s nursing an injury). Randall Cobb is now on board. And Kenny Stills remains after the Texans acquired him via trade ahead of last season. There's an abundance of talent. But will it mesh? Will chemistry be found with Watson? Can they stay healthy? Replacing Nuk for real begins Thursday.
K.C.'s supporting stars looking to shine
Amid all the much-deserved acclaim Patrick Mahomes garnered when he rallied the Chiefs past the Texans when last these two reigning division champs met, it's perhaps been overlooked that Travis Kelce had three touchdown catches in that comeback. THREE touchdown catches in one postseason is reason enough to be remembered, but three in one game is sensational. And that's what Kelce is -- sensational. And he's not the only one. Tyreek Hill might be the fastest man in the NFL. Sammy Watkins cannot be slept on. Mecole Hardman is a burgeoning talent that, like the rest of the offense, has speed to burn. And then there's Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who's looking to go from winning a national title at LSU to a Super Bowl crown with the Chiefs. He was the last man selected in the draft's first round and was likely the first rookie gone in your fantasy draft. The running back is seemingly a perfect fit for an offense that's 31.8 points per game since 2018 lead the NFL (per NFL Research) and astonishingly appears to be getting better.
Is J.J. Watt his previous, dominant self?
It was a borderline medical wonder that J.J. Watt was on the field for the Texans' 2019 playoff run. Having returned from a torn pectoral, Watt's presence alone no doubt provided a lift for the Texans. Nonetheless, Watt missed eight games during the 2019 campaign and the defensive end who was once regarded as the top defensive player in the NFL must reaffirm his status as one of the league's elite and it starts against a team he's struggled against as of late. During the Texans' season-ending loss to the Chiefs, Watt had no tackles, sacks or QB hits. Aside from a pass defended, he was shut out statistically as the K.C. offense rattled off 51 points. Reaching back to 2017, Watt is without a sack in his last three matchups against the Chiefs and has tallied only four total tackles in those games. There is the battle against the Chiefs and the battle to prove that he's still the monster off the edge who's won three AP Defensive Player of the Year awards and was once voted No. 1 in the NFL Top 100. Injuries previously ravaged Watt and held him to just eight games over the 2016-17 seasons. He returned with a vengeance, turning in a stellar 2018 All-Pro campaign. Whether he can return to phenomenal form once more begins to be answered against the Chiefs.
The Chiefs begin their defense – and the building of a dynasty
Thursday night marks the beginning of the Chiefs' defense of their first championship in half a century. The face of the franchise and likely the NFL, Patrick Mahomes, is turning 25 in a week (let that settle in). The Chiefs have the pieces in place to build a dynasty. The Texans are looking to take a step further in establishing themselves as an AFC heavyweight, not simply a team excited to win a division and punch a ticket to the playoffs. Knocking off the top team in all the football land would be a large step toward doing that – no matter when it takes place. This will be a season opener unlike any before, with no preseason games and limited and changed practices to work off. And like any season opener, it's ultimately just one game. Still, there is a starting point for everything. If ever there was a blueprint for how to begin constructing a dynasty, Kansas City followed it this offseason. Now the Chiefs are kicking off their defense and looking to follow through on their dynastic aspirations. It all kicks off Thursday night.