Football is finally back, do you have your NFL tickets? After a long offseason of making predictions, assumptions, and wild guesses, fans will finally get a chance to see how the drama is really going to unfold. Whether it’s a quarterback controversy, the loss of key players, or teams that are learning brand new systems, it’s always fun (if not simultaneously brutal) to watch what goes down Week 1 in the NFL. Here are eight stories to keep an eye on as the season kicks off.
The Cleveland Browns QB Situation
Brian Hoyer beat out rookie Johnny Manziel to become the Cleveland Brown’s starting quarterback. At least for Week 1. Coach Mike Pattine said that if it were close, he’d “go with the more experienced player.” In theory, Johnny Manziel will need to show Pattine that he’s grown up and is ready to play in the NFL (i.e. don’t give the other team’s bench the finger), but one has to assume that Manziel could get called up earlier depending on how Hoyer performs. “Johnny Football” may be controversial thanks to his antics off of the field, but considering he was the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 Draft and has a four-year, $8.25 million contract, it will be hard to justify keeping him on the bench for long.
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During the first two weeks of preseason, total penalties were up 43.7% from last year. Of those, illegal contact and defensive holding are up 478% over last year. To be clear, that is 55 illegal contact penalties this year compared to 8 and 107 defensive holding penalties, compared to 20 at the same time last year. Though the rules haven’t changed in regards to these, they are both “points of emphasis” this year given to the league officials by the NFL. The result? Way more flags and longer games. It will be interesting to see how this affects regular season play as players try to adjust.
The San Francisco 49ers Defense
The Niners will be without NaVorro Bowman (injury), Glenn Dorsey (injury) Aldon Smith (suspension). Three-quarters of their starting secondary are now playing elsewhere (Donte Whitner, Tarell Brown, and Carlos Rogers). And though his fate this season has yet to be determined, DE Ray McDonald was arrested over the weekend on domestic violence charges. In short: this defense, which many would argue is the reason the 49ers have done so well the past three seasons, is hurting at a time when the NFC West is arguable the best division in the NFL. The defense will certainly be tested in their first game as Tony Romo and team look to take advantage of any newly forming holes and weaknesses.
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Geno Smith vs. Michael Vick
The Jets have a shot of making it to the playoffs this year, but they can’t do it without a solid QB leading the way. (Though their cornerback — or lack thereof — situation is also concerning.) After a bizarre non-competition, Rex Ryan finally admitted that Smith would be starting, but also added that it’s a week-to-week decision. Michael Vick still has the skills of a Pro Bowl player so it may be difficult to keep him on the bench if Smith doesn’t find immediate success.
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Philip Rivers and the No-Huddle Offense San Diego quarterbacks coach Frank Reich was promoted to offensive coordinator in the offseason and has said he will give QB Philip Rivers the opportunity to run more no-huddle plays and call plays at the line of scrimmage. This is a great opportunity for Rivers to prove that his stock is still rising, but transitions can be tough. It will be interesting to keep an eye on him to see how he fares in this new system.
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Robert Griffin III’s Confidence Level Washington Redskins QB RGIII looked anything but confident during the preseason and experts are going so far as to say he’s actually regressed when it comes to mechanics. Will new head coach Jay Gruden be able to help him mature and get comfortable or are the Redskins looking at a QB controversy later on in the season? The first matchup against Houston should give fans an idea of what’s to come.
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The Panthers Receiving Corps There’s no question that QB Cam Newton has what it takes to do well in the NFL. No, the only question this season is how he’s going to put up big numbers with a receiving corps that doesn’t have WR Steve Smith on the roster for the first time in over a decade. Despite offseason and preseason injuries, Cam Newton is expected to start on Sunday. The only question is: who’s going to catch his passes?
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The Cardinals Defense The Cardinals suffered major personnel losses on defense with the injury of DE Darnell Dockett, the year-long suspension of LB Daryl Washington, and ILB Karlos Dansby going to the Cleveland Browns. They open up the season against the San Diego Chargers, which will be a good opportunity for fans and coaches to get a sense of how they’re going to compensate for the absence of these game-changing starters.
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