After a dud of an opening football game in Chicago, all America wants is…more football. Well, better football, but more better football.
The NFL season begins in full this weekend and into Monday night with a full slate of games set to retake the country’s imagination. Here’s what to look out for as we get back into the swing of things.
Soar or Stampede?
The New England monopoly on the AFC East seems poised to continue until further notice, but an intriguing battle for the runner-up spot has become most interesting.
Matchups between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills aren’t usually must-see TV. Sunday has presented a welcome exception. This is poised to be the second meeting between Sam Darnold and Josh Allen, nine months after the two partook in a back-and-forth thriller in Orchard Park. Darnold led a game-winning drive for the Jets in a 27-23 victory. Behind the young throwers, a pair of showstopping running backs will take the field for their new teams. Jets rusher Le’Veon Bell is set to play his first game in green, while rookie Devin Singletary will seek to show why the LeSean McCoy era ended in Buffalo. The only question is, who comes out on top?
Run, Cowboys, Run?
Ezekiel Elliott skipped out on work, absconded to Mexico, spent his summer at the beach…and got a $50 million raise when all was said and done.
The talented but polarizing rusher will begin the first stanza of a new contract situation in a familiar setting: a highly publicized Week 1 spot against the New York Giants. His training camp absence will put Elliott on a bit of a snap count, expected to be in the 20-25 range. Dallas has been very high on Memphis fourth-rounder Tony Pollard, even promoting the rookie as an Elliott sub if a Bell-like standoff ensued. It’ll be interesting to see how much the Cowboys thrust on Dak Prescott with rusty runners in tow.
On the other side, Eli Manning is set to start his 31st game against the Cowboys. But, for the first time, the Giants appear to have a legitimate heir to Manning’s throne in Daniel Jones. A stellar preseason from the Duke alum caused many of his spring critics to vanish Thanos-style, and many Giants fans have called for him to step in. Just how much patience will New York show to the aging Manning?
Undermanned Colts vs. Bolts
This time last month, Sunday’s showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers could’ve been a possible preview of the AFC Championship Game. Two different departures under two sets of circumstances have removed some of the luster. Andrew Luck has retired, while Melvin Gordon seems poised to follow in Bell’s holdout footsteps.
Week 1 will be the first big test for the replacements for the respective newcomers, Jacoby Brissett and Austin Ekeler. It’s not like this pair will enter completely unproven, as each has had their flashing moments of NFL glory. The big question is whether each will be capable of doing this in a long-term setting. A presumably sunny showdown on Sunday will go a long way in determining what’s next for these two franchises, thrown into limbo in the final weeks before kickoff.
Jameis vs. Jimmy G
An underrated matchup in Sunday’s later slate is a tilt in Tampa between the Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers. Few would normally pay attention to a game whose combatants tallied a combined nine wins last season. For the two competing throwers, however, this game is the first step on their respective paths of redemptions.
For the locals, Jameis Winston enters this season with an aura of uncertainty right before he becomes a free agent. Last season, one that began with a three-game suspension, saw him exchange control of the Tampa starting job with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Jimmy Garoppolo works on the other side. He’ll be looking to prove his 2017 cameo was not a fluke and that he’s a legitimate option for San Francisco’s future prospects coming off a torn ACL.
This matchup will also present an interesting coaching matchup between supposed offensive masters. Bruce Arians makes his head coaching return with Tampa, while Kyle Shannahan likewise will deal with some major pressure and expectations as he begins his third year at the Niner helm.
With all the silliness and hullabaloo of the Antonio Brown situation taking center stage, it’s so easy to forget that his Oakland Raiders actually have a prime time game. The silver and black squad will open their final season in Oakland on Monday night in a divisional match at home with Denver.
If there’s one antidote to any issue in sports, it’s the thrill of victory. The Raiders certainly have a decent chance to earn one against a Broncos team in the midst of a rebuild. Plenty of players have much to prove…is Derek Carr the Vegas quarterback answer? Is new rusher Josh Jacobs worth the first-round hype? Will Jon Gruden last the entirety of his seemingly eternal contract? All this and more, as the Raiders turn.