5 most interesting storylines for Week 1 of the NFL season
It’s finally here – game week!
The NFL kicks off in just a few days, and with it comes all of the drama and intrigue that helps make the league so fascinating. Here are five of the most interesting storylines to focus on during opening weekend.
1. Are the Lions for real?
We won’t have a definitive answer to that question right away. But we will learn some things on Thursday night when Detroit opens the season under the bright glare of a national television audience at Arrowhead Stadium against the defending champs.
Winning in Kansas City is a tough ask of the Lions. More telling than the actual result, however, may be their comportment. The pre-season hype surrounding this team was, as my high school students would say, a bit extra. Detroit hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991 but have been talked about for months as NFC contenders. They certainly improved last season, and their young core may indeed be ready to break out. But the Lions must show they are mature enough to handle the expectations. It’s easy to see them sauntering into Kansas City drunk on the hype only to get knocked out by the Andy Reid juggernaut. Then again, maybe Dan Campbell has his team as mentally prepared as they appear to be physically. I’ll be paying particular attention to how Detroit handles the spectacle of what is surely the franchise’s most high-profile game since their last playoff appearance in 2016. That, more than the result itself, may speak volumes about this year’s Lions.
2. Can the Steelers, Commanders and Jaguars keep it going?
All three went undefeated this pre-season. The pre-season rarely has much bearing on the regular season — Pittsburgh went 3-0 last pre-season, too, then opened the regular season 2-6 — but in the case of these three teams, there are reasons to believe.
The Steelers were the league’s most dominant pre-season team. They outscored their three opponents a combined 62-7 in first halves, or the time when starters and key reserves typically participate. Kenny Pickett was tremendous, leading the offense to five touchdowns on the five drives he played, and the defense looks much faster than a year ago. The Steelers draw San Francisco in Week 1, which will tell us a lot about them right out of the gate.
Washington’s pre-season was less dominant than Pittsburgh’s, as they won their three games by a combined five points. But they broke Baltimore’s incredible 24-game pre-season winning streak with a 29-28 victory on August 22. Sam Howell, the second-year quarterback who was named the starter after that Baltimore game, went 28-37 for 265 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in two appearances. Washington hasn’t had consistent quarterback play since Kirk Cousins left back in 2017. Two pre-season games are hardly enough to declare Howell will provide it. But if he can, the Commanders have a defense that is solid enough to earn them a playoff berth. Washington hosts arguably the league’s worst team on Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals, so a 1-0 start seems likely.
Jacksonville looks to pick up where they left off in 2022, when they won seven of their final nine games, including an incredible comeback from 27 points down to defeat the Chargers in the playoffs. Trevor Lawrence looks like a quarterback ready to ascend to an elite level, and the offense has speed everywhere. The Jags open at Indianapolis on Sunday, where the Colts, minus Jonathan Taylor and starting rookie Anthony Richardson at quarterback, could be a soft target.
3. Which rookie QB will have the best debut?
Richardson draws the Jags at home, Bryce Young and the Panthers travel to Atlanta and C.J. Stroud’s Texans visit the Baltimore Ravens.
Given the circumstances and opponents, my money is on Young to have the best start. The Falcons were 25th in passing yards allowed last season and 31st in sacks. That’s a good place to open for Young, who has a solid offensive line and a competent run game to help him shoulder the load. Richardson faces a Jags defense that wasn’t very good against the pass either. But without Taylor, he’ll be minus his team’s best offensive player, which should allow Jacksonville to pay more attention to the pass. As for Stroud, starting his career on a bad Texans team in Baltimore is far from ideal. The Ravens should roll in this one, and it could be ugly for the rookie QB.
4. Where might we see an upset?
It’s really hard to predict upsets in Week 1, because we don’t know the identity of each team yet, nor have we validated their strengths and weaknesses. The point spreads are fairly tight as well, with Baltimore (+10) the biggest favorite on the board.
If I had to pick a couple, I’d consider the Steelers, who are getting 2.5 points, over the 49ers. That wouldn’t be a huge upset, but an upset nonetheless. Pittsburgh won their openers as underdogs the past two seasons, knocking off Buffalo and Cincinnati. If you give Mike Tomlin and his staff an entire summer to prepare, chances are they’ll carve out a solid gameplan.
One other to consider is Miami getting three points in L.A. against the Chargers. This could be a high-scoring affair with playmakers on both sides of the ball. I can see the Dolphins scoring late to win, leaving Chargers fans with flashbacks from their nightmare playoff loss last January.
5. Aaron Rodgers debut
You thought you were getting out of here without mention of Rodgers’ New York debut? Think again!
I’m as sick of the Rodgers hype as anyone. But just because we’re sick of it doesn’t make it any less intriguing. The intrigue lies in the fact this could be a hit-or-miss season for the Jets. I can see New York catching lightning in a bottle with a talented offensive core and their future Hall-of-Fame quarterback summoning one last epic season to lead a deep playoff run. I can also see the offense struggling to get everyone on the same page, Rodgers becoming annoyed with the New York media and becoming sullen and passive-aggressive, and another disappointing finish for the Gang Green. Honestly, I’m 50/50 on which way it goes. Which makes Monday night’s game at home against the Bills one of the must-see contests of Week 1.
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