NFL KICKOFF PREVIEW
Will this season inflate or deflate? We’ve got your insider sneak peek
Been asleep for the past seven months, and woke up for the return of NFL football? You’ve missed a lot, but we’ve got you covered.
Welcome to the 98th season of NFL football.
Herewith, 10 things you need to know to get ready for some football in 2017:
1. SUPER CONTENDERS: Let’s get straight to it. Are any teams in their respective conferences better on paper than last year’s Super Bowl participants — the New England Patriots in the AFC, and the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC? Nope. In the AFC the Oakland Raiders seem sure to field one of the league’s most high-powered offensive attacks, maybe the best, but that team’s defence still cannot stop a turtle.
In the NFC the Green Bay Packers appear to have too shaky a defence and offensive line (again), and the Seattle Seahawks an even worse offensive line (again), to hang for long with the young, fast, ferocious and improved Falcons in a game that matters.
To start the season, then, a Super Bowl rematch seems likeliest. Herewith, a few things you need to know to get ready for some football in 2017:
2. EARLY CAN’T-MISS GAMES: There’s no point going beyond October, because some teams predicted to be good will suck, and vice versa. Five of the most compelling earlyseason games:
Week 1, Sunday night, Giants at Cowboys. Whether Zeke Elliott can play or not, you wanna watch to see what happens.
Week 2, Sunday night, Packers at Falcons. Rematch of NFC title game. Big test for Packers’ patchwork offensive line.
Week 4, Thursday night, Bears at Packers. Will Chicago rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky have unseated Mike Glennon by then? If not, Glennon better not stink in prime time.
Week 4, Sunday afternoon early game, Steelers at Ravens. First of two meetings of AFC North archrivals featuring one of NFL’s best attacks vs. maybe best defence.
Week 7, Sunday night, Falcons at Patriots. Super Bowl rematch. Atlanta’s long-awaited chance at revenge. If the Falcons go up by 25, don’t turn in for the night this time.
3. RELOCATIONS: Last year Los Angeles regained the Rams after a 21-year absence. This year Los Angeles regained the Chargers after a 56-year residency in San Diego.
Through 2019 the Chargers are playing their home games at the StubHub Center, on the campus of California State University Dominguez Hills, nearly 200 km up the coast from San Diego and 30 km down the coast from LA, in Carson. It’s a laughably small stadium (30,000 capacity), not even half the size of the smallest NFL venues.
Starting in 2020 the Chargers, as a tenant, will join Stan Kroenke’s Rams at the $2.6-billion glam palace currently under construction, known as Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park.
The Oakland Raiders, meantime, are moving to Las Vegas eventually. The Raiders will play the next two seasons at their long-time home, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
It’s unknown where the Raiders will play in 2019, the year before moving into a new $1.7-billion stadium in Vegas.
Will Oakland fans still support them if the Raiders unravel? Good question.
4. NEW PLAYOFF TEAMS: Hey, there’s hope for fans of any downtrodden team. If only a morsel. Since the NFL adopted the 12-team playoff format in 1990, at least four teams every year have reached the post-season that missed out the year before.
The 2016 qualifiers: in the AFC, New England, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Houston, Oakland and Miami; in the NFC, Dallas, Atlanta, Green Bay, Seattle, New York Giants and Detroit.
I’m guessing the minimum four-out, four-in streak ends this year. I’ll probably be wrong, but I can see only three of last year’s playoff teams not making it back. These three: Kansas City, Miami and Detroit. For what it’s worth, I guessed three of four such teams correctly last year: Cincinnati, Washington and Minnesota. And which three sideline-sitters in 2016 have the best chance to get in this season? My guess: Baltimore, Tennessee and Tampa Bay.
I guessed two of four such teams correctly last year: Dallas and Detroit.
5. MILESTONES: Per the NFL, the Patriots in 2017 can tie NFL records for most Super Bowl wins (six) and most consecutive playoffs appearances (nine), and set the new mark for most consecutive seasons with a .500-or-better record since 1970 (17).
If the Pats should win Super Bowl LII, Bill Belichick would join recordholders Curly Lambeau and George Halas as the only head coaches to win six NFL championships.
Tom Brady (New England’s other possessor of five Super Bowl rings) needs just four wins to set a new NFL regular-season record for a starting quarterback, with 187.
Critics long have derided Eli Manning ’s career numbers, but whether he’s Hall of Fame worthy or not, with 1,786 yards the New York Giants passer can become the seventh QB in league history with 50,000 career yards.
And with 30 TD passes he’d become only the sixth with 350.
A slew of passing records are within reach of Drew Brees, including this: with 465 completions the
The Patriots-Falcons rematch from the Super Bowl goes Week 7. Don’t turn in early this time.