NFL KICK­OFF PRE­VIEW

Will this sea­son in­flate or de­flate? We’ve got your in­sider sneak peek

24 Hours Vancouver - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN KRYK

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

GETTY IMAGES

The Pa­tri­ots-Fal­cons re­match from the Su­per Bowl goes Week 7. Don’t turn in early this time.

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