Next Pats Podcast: Infectious disease expert weighs in on sports returning in 2020

Next Pats Podcast: Infectious disease expert weighs in on sports returning in 2020

The NFL has set its regular season schedule to begin Sept. 10 when the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Houston Texans in the 2020 opener.

As of now, the league has not changed that date, but of course, the COVID-19 pandemic could impact the league's plans.

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It's unknown what the COVID-19 situation will look like in the United States by the time September rolls around. Many states have seen a spike in cases after slowly re-opening local economies over the last few weeks. States such as Florida and Texas have been hit particularly hard of late.

In the latest episode of the "Next Pats Podcast", NBC Sports Boston's Patriots insider Phil Perry talks with Helen Boucher, MD, who is the Chief of the Division of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Tufts Medical Center. They discussed the challenges the NFL faces in returning to play, what the likelihood is to have sports come back, and much more. 

There's been a lot of talk in recent months about a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall/winter, which is typically when influenza and other viruses are more prevalent. How could a second wave of COVID-19 impact sports coming back?

"We are in the first wave in the United States," Dr. Boucher said. "Based on what we're seeing in the southern hemisphere, in places like Brazil and Guatemala, they're in their winter respiratory season now and it's not going so well. COVID is running rampant down there. So I think we have to be concerned that we will see a second wave next fall and that we'll have both COVID and influenza, and other respiratory viruses coming all at once.

"So, many people are making plans to try to squeeze things in, like college, for example. Colleges and universities, many have come out with plans to have kids back a week or two early and then send them home at Thanksgiving and finish the semester via remote learning. People are thinking that way in anticipation of a second wave. And to come back to our earlier discussion -- plan for success, but I think it's very prudent to think about trying to get things in that window of better weather before the other viruses re-emerge for the season."

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Would it make sense to push back the start of fall/winter sports to later in the winter or even the spring of 2021? 

"It's certainly an option," Dr. Boucher said. "We're hoping for a vaccine at some point, and there's been a lot of talk, very optimistic talk. Dr. (Anthony) Fauci himself talked about maybe having access to a vaccine as soon as the end of 2020, which is very optimistic. I think it's more likely that we would see it during the beginning of 2021, more like closer to a year from now. But if a vaccine became available, that would be a game-changer. That would really change, no pun intended, the sports world and a lot of other parts of our life.

"I think the focus of a lot of folks now is on what can we do in the short term when things are better. Things are better here (in Massachusetts), we're fortunate at the moment. So these are hard decisions and often they came back to the financial aspect. So that's way out of my league in terms of my expertise, but it's a very reasonable question and I think it's likely that by the spring of next year we will have more therapies available. We certainly have reason to believe we'll be better at treating the disease. We're learning a lot about treating the disease, not just with medicines but with other therapies and the way we take care of people. I'm optimistic that by next spring things will be better, but there's no guarantee."

For more of Dr. Boucher's conversation with Phil Perry, check out the Next Pats Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or watch on YouTube below:

Jarrett Stidham not backing down with Cam Newton around: 'I'm definitely ready'

Jarrett Stidham not backing down with Cam Newton around: 'I'm definitely ready'

For the better part of three months this offseason, there was no evidence to suggest that Jarrett Stidham wouldn't be The Next Guy in New England. 

The initial wave of free agency came and went. The draft came and went. Still, the 2019 fourth-round selection out of Auburn looked like the choice to replace Tom Brady. Bill Belichick hadn't brought in anyone else outside of Brian Hoyer and two undrafted rookies.

Sure, it was a lot to ask of a Day 3 draft choice who had taken zero snaps of consequence as a rookie. But it looked like the Patriots believed he could be their starter.

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Then on June 29, news broke that the Patriots signed Cam Newton. Stidham was in Texas, visiting family, when he heard.

"Tom (Brady) deciding to go to Tampa, signing Cam and everything . . . it's just kind of a wild offseason," Stidham said. "But I would say my routine hasn't changed at all. My work ethic has kind of been the same throughout everything that's going on.

"I've just really tried to focus on being a good teammate and working as hard as I possibly can to really improve this offseason. It's been a wild ride this offseason, but happy to be back in the building with everybody and kind of get rolling here."

And happy to compete, he explained. 

Even with one of the most gifted quarterbacks in modern NFL history now present in the Patriots meetings, Stidham told reporters Friday he still feels as though that job -- the one that looked like his from the end of March through the end of June -- is up for grabs.

He didn't hesitate when asked if he believed he still had a chance to be named the starter with a good performance this summer.

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"Absolutely," he said. "I think I'm definitely ready. I think I've put a lot of work in this offseason to really improve. Mentally, physically and really in a lot of different areas. But at the end of the day, I'm extremely excited to compete with Cam and Hoy as we go forward in training camp and get into the season and things like that.

"I'm really looking forward to the competition. I love competing in whatever it is so I'm really looking forward to it."

And then there was this answer, to a question about his relationship with Brady, where Stidham -- purposefully or not -- shed some light on the fact that he still likes his odds of being The Next Guy.

"I don't really look at it as replacing Tom Brady," he said. "I just want to be myself and I want to be a leader for this team and be the best teammate that I can be for this team. I don't really look at it that way."

Stidham even went so far as to say that he was "excited" when the Patriots signed Newton. Though the rest of the world saw the acquisition as an impediment to Stidham's promotion, he says he took a different approach. 

"What a great opportunity to compete with another great player," Stidham said. "To compete with Hoy and Cam. I was actually really, really excited for the opportunity ahead."

Maybe that's lip service. Maybe that's a young player trying to convince himself there's a real competition ahead. 

But at times on Friday's WebEx press conference, Stidham sounded like he believed he had a real crack to be the No. 1. Even with a superstar 6-foot-5, 245-pound former MVP who wears No. 1 now counting himself among Stidham's teammates.

Why Cam Newton is so excited about 'surreal' opportunity with Patriots

Why Cam Newton is so excited about 'surreal' opportunity with Patriots

Cam Newton didn't particularly enjoy going unsigned for four months in free agency. But he seems very pleased with where he finally landed.

During his first video conference with reporters since signing with the Patriots last month, Newton shared his first impression of New England. Surprise: it was a positive one.

"I was just blown away by the overall professionalism of the Patriots organization, starting with Robert Kraft, with Coach (Bill) Belichick as well as with (offensive coordinator) Coach Josh (McDaniels)," Newton said. "I do know I was in L.A. (when the Patriots called me) and it kind of caught me by surprise. But at the same time, I enjoyed this whole process."

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Newton has massive shoes to fill after Tom Brady led New England to nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships over the last two decades. He also has a chip on his shoulder playing on a bargain contract with the Patriots after 31 other teams wrote him off this spring due to potential injury concerns.

For all of Newton's confidence in his ability to silence his critics, though, the 31-year-old still finds himself marveling at where he ended up.

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"I'm still constantly -- I don't want to say in disbelief, but it's just a surreal moment," Newton said. "Nobody really knows how excited I am just to be a part of this organization in (more) ways than one.

"Following up such a powerful dynasty that has so much prestige and lineage of success -- a lot of people would hide from the notion to do certain things, but for me, I think this opportunity is something that I wake up pinching myself each and every day."

Newton has spent about a week at his new workplace as the Patriots continue Phase 1 of training camp at Gillette Stadium. And as he alluded to on Instagram last week, he's fired up about simply pulling into the parking lot.

"It's so surreal coming down 1 Patriot Place each and every day and seeing the whole ambience," Newton added. "Not only that, but seeing so much support around the city of Boston and Foxboro. It's just such a great environment."

Newton is a nine-year NFL veteran with three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl appearance under his belt, but like his Patriots predecessor, a change in scenery appears to be giving him new life.