Uni Watch: 2013 NFL preview

After breaking down all of this season's college football uniform changes, doing the same for the NFL is a snap. Only 32 teams to keep track of! Only one helmet per team! No stupid black alternate uniforms! Well, OK, two out of three.

Anyway, with the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos set to kick off the season Thursday night, there's plenty of uni-related NFL news to go over. Some of it comes not from the individual teams but from the league office, which has issued two equipment-related directives that should have a big impact on what we see on the field this year:

1. Knee and thigh pads. For years now, many players, especially receivers and defensive backs, have been playing without knee or thigh pads -- some because they think going pads-free makes them lighter and faster, some as a no-frills show of machismo, and some because their teammates tell them, "You're in the pros now, get rid of those pads they made you wear in college!" But you'll be seeing a lot more knee and thigh pads this season, because the pads are now mandatory for all players except punters and kickers. And violators won't just be fined -- they'll be taken off the field until they comply. (Some players aren't happy about this, as you can read here, here and here.)

Some Uni Watch readers have anticipated that this will mean the end of the "biker shorts" look -- the disconcertingly short pants that some players wear. After all, you can't wear knee pads unless your pants cover your knees, right?

Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case. Let's look at one of the most notorious biker shorts players, 49ers running back Frank Gore. During last month's preseason games, he wore his pants short, just like he always has, and simply wore "knee" pads well above the knee. If anything, this makes a bad style even worse.

2. Gonzo facemasks. For the past two or three seasons, several players -- most notably Giants defensive linemen Chris Canty and Justin Tuck -- have worn facemasks with seriously intense grilles. But now the NFL has put the kibosh on that. Why? Because league officials thought the enhanced facemasks made players more likely to lead with their heads.

Players can get a waiver on the rule if they have a medical reason for the high-tech mask designs. Tuck has received such a waiver, and so has Canty, who is now with the Ravens. But Washington's Brian Orakpo? Nope. Indianapolis' Robert Mathis? Double-nope.

OK, that covers the league's new equipment rules. Now let's turn to our team-by-team breakdown of this season's uni-related news:

• No uni changes for the Bengals, but here's the team's jersey schedule for 2013.

• Huge upgrade in Buffalo, where the Bills have ditched the neck roll collar. Also, the Bills will wear their "standing buffalo" throwbacks on Sept. 15 against the Panthers.

• The good news is that the Broncos have scrapped the neck roll. The bad news is that their new collar design looks way too thick. They would've been better off going without any contrasting colors for the collars -- just solid white for the white jersey and solid orange for the orange jersey.

• The Browns' "AL" left-sleeve memorial for former owner Al Lerner, which the team had worn since 2002, has been removed. That leaves Chicago's "GSH" sleeve lettering for George Halas, Oakland's "AL" decal for Al Davis and Kansas City's patch for Lamar Hunt as the NFL's only perma-memorials.

• The Buccaneers are one of several teams that have scrapped the neck-roll collar, and it's a huge improvement. Also, look for the Bucs to wear their Creamsicle throwbacks on Sept. 29 against the Cardinals.

• Several changes for the Chargers -- all small, but all positive. First, they've scrapped the neck-roll collar. Second, they've added splashes of gold to their nameplate lettering. And they've also added a gold stripe to their socks.

• No changes this season for the Chiefs, but it's worth noting that Andy Reid looks a lot more, uh, prominent in Chiefs red than he did in Eagles black.

• In a move that will no doubt be very popular back in Baltimore, the Colts are wearing a patch to mark their 30th season in Indianapolis.

• The Dolphins have a completely new uniform set. It's not terrible, but everything about it -- from the helmet logo on down -- feels like a downgrade from the previous set. The new striping on the pants and helmet is too plain, there's not enough orange accenting, the "bottlenosed" number font looks too goofy, and so on. Or at least that's Uni Watch's take -- you can decide for yourself by checking out photos from Miami's preseason games here, here, here and here.

• The Eagles will retire Donovan McNabb's No. 5 at halftime of their Sept. 19 game against the Chiefs.

• The Falcons are among the teams that have been nice enough to post their jersey schedule online (why don't all teams do this?). Note that they don't have "black" listed as their jersey color for any game, which apparently means they won't be wearing their awesome throwbacks this season. Too bad.

• This is the 49ers' final season at Candlestick Park, and the team is marking the occasion with a commemorative midfield logo and throwback end-zone lettering. Pretty cool season-ticket packaging, too. No jersey patch, though.

• The Giants have a new set of alternate white pants, which they'll wear on Nov. 10 (against the Raiders) and Nov. 24 (against the Cowboys).

• Ah, the Jaguars, the Jaguars. What can we say about the Jaguars? Let's start by saying that these are not uniforms. They're costumes. And as costumes go, they're not terrible. You don't notice all the silly jersey details unless you're looking up close. Similarly, it's easy enough to ignore the pants "striping" when the players aren't turned sideways.

The problem, unfortunately, is that every football uniform starts with the helmet, and the Jags are now wearing the worst helmet design in NFL history. Half black and half gold, half matte and half glossy, it looks like someone started spray painting it and then wandered off to get a beer halfway through the job. NFL rules normally mandate at least a five-year uniform and helmet commitment, but it's hard to imagine the Jags will stick with this helmet for that long. Maybe they could be granted an exemption "for the good of the game" or some such? And the thing is, their new logo is actually an improvement! Too bad it's stuck on such a laughably bad helmet. (Want to see more? You can check out photos from the Jags' preseason games here, here, and here.)

Meanwhile: The Jags will wear their teal alternate jersey on Oct. 20, against the Chargers. They'll also wear white for their first three home games, to beat the heat. Kinda makes you wonder why they chose black as their primary jersey color in the first place, hmmm?

• The Jets haven't yet announced anything official, but team owner Woody Johnson says the team is considering the use of 1990s throwbacks.

• The Packers will wear their "bull's-eye" throwbacks on Oct. 20, against the Browns.

• The Panthers, fresh off being picked as having the best uniform in NFL history (uh, sure...), have posted their jersey schedule for 2013.

• The Patriots have updated their end zone logo. Also: The Pats have picked up rookie defensive tackle Gilbert Peña, who had been cut by the Packers. His Green Bay jersey had featured a tilde on his nameplate (an NFL rarity), and his Pats jersey reportedly has this same detail. No photo yet, though.

• The Rams will wear their royal blue throwbacks on Nov. 3, against the Titans, and Dec. 22, against the Bucs. (As an aside, the team is planning a uniform overhaul in the not-too-distant future.)

• The Ravens have dropped the neck-roll collar.

• Last season the Redskins had the neck-roll collar on their white jersey (but not on the burgundy jersey). This year, thankfully, they've scrapped it. Also: Wide receiver Pierre Garçon is wearing special shoes to protect a torn ligament in his foot. Also-also: You know how Robert Griffin III wears a Roman numeral on his nameplate? Backup quarterback Rex Grossman could do that too if he wanted -- his full name is Rex Grossman III -- but he doesn't want to.

• Nothing new this season for the Seahawks, but here's an item of note: Recent free agent Tony McDaniel claims to have signed with Seattle in part because he says the Seahawks have the best uniforms. You can hear him talking about it at the 27:36 mark of this podcast.

• Remember the Steelers' bumblebee throwbacks from last year? They'll be wearing them again this season, on Nov. 17 against the Lions.

• No uni changes this season for the Texans, but here's their 2013 uniform schedule.

• The Titans are celebrating their 15th season and invited fans to vote on a patch design. Here's the winner, which they'll be wearing throughout the season. Also, remember the Titans' old navy jersey? They haven't worn it since 2008, but they'll be bringing it back for two games this season -- on Oct. 20 (against the Niners) and Nov. 10 (against the Jags).

• Upgrade of the year goes to the Vikings, who have returned to aesthetic respectability, although not without some unnecessary details. The asymmetrical pants piping and flared sleeve striping are both "Hey, look at us!" distractions. Same goes for the oddly nested two-digit numbers and the matte-finish helmet. Still, it's all such a huge improvement over the team's previous set that it's hard to complain. (You can see photos from Minnesota's preseason games here, here and here. Also, there's an alternate set of white pants, although it's not clear if that will ever be worn on the field.)

Meanwhile, the Vikes have made some tiny adjustments to their Norseman logo. There's also a new logo to mark the team's final season at Mall of America Field, but there are no plans to wear it as a patch.

• Did you notice that every team had an additional helmet decal during the preseason? That was USA Football's "Head's Up" logo, part of a program to encourage safe tackling and reduce the risk of concussions. The decal was worn for all preseason games but won't be worn during the regular season.

• As has been the case for several years now, all teams will wear pink accessories and pink ribbon helmet decals to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (For those who dislike the pink gear: Last year there were five Sundays in October, but this year there are only four, so count that as a plus.)

• Last year the league unveiled its "Salute to Service" program, which included teams wearing camouflage ribbon decals. That promotion is being rolled out again this year, so expect to see the camo during Weeks 10, 11 and 12.

OK, that's it for this season. Did we miss anything? If so, send your NFL uni updates here.

Paul Lukas, a lifelong 49ers fan, still hasn't gotten over last season's Super Bowl. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch web site, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.