The beginning of the NFL season brings excitement, heightened expectations, and in some cases, straight up nausea.
Fans of the Cleveland Browns or Denver Broncos may feel a sense of excitement due to the players their respective teams brought in this offseason. Fans of teams such as the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams may have heightened expectations due to last season’s accomplishments along with the mix of new faces in the locker room. And finally, fans of teams such as the Buffalo Bills may feel a bit nauseated after spending a first-round draft pick on Josh Allen, only to have him get beat out by the likes of Nathan Peterman for the week-one starting quarterback position.
Every season is filled with eye-catch storylines and 2018 is no different. Let’s take a look at the top-three things to watch for as we get set for the Sunday slate of games for the first week of the 2018 NFL season.
1. Is Andrew Luck truly back, or just healthy enough to play?
Watching Indianapolis in 2017 became a chore for Colts’ fans by about week six. After a 2-5 start to the season, the Colts won just two of their next 11 games finishing the season 4-12 and extremely unsure about the direction of the franchise with Andrew Luck’s shoulder still being a mystery.
As training camp began there were daily reports about Luck not being allowed to even pick up a full-size NFL football and being limited to throwing Nerf balls. As video finally emerged of Luck throwing dump-off passes with an actual football expectations began to rise as memories of 2014 and 2016, seasons of which Luck three 40 and 31 touchdowns, respectively, crept back into our minds.
Now as the Colts enter week one of the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals all eyes will be on Luck to see if he once again shows the ability to raise the level of play around him due to his greatness, or if there will be limitations on what used to be an arm Colts’ fans believed and hoped could replace Peyton Manning and all of the success he brought to the team.
Are the Colts putting Luck back on the field because they literally have to in order to give the team any glimmer of hope in 2018, or is he truly back to 100 percent and once again ready to take back the reigns as the franchise’s signal caller? We should have a more clear answer to this question about three hours after kickoff on Sunday.
2. The Cleveland Browns made a lot of noise this offseason, but will it translate on the field?
A record of 1-31 over the last two seasons can lead a team to make several changes to shake things up in order to attempt a drastic turnaround. That’s what we saw from the Browns this offseason, as despite keeping Hue Jackson as head coach, they added Baker Mayfield, Tyrod Taylor, Nick Chubb, Carlos Hyde, Antonio Callaway, Jarvis Landry, Damarious Randall, and Denzel Ward in hopes of sparking a team that’s been fairly irrelevant for the last decade.
It’s anyone’s guess if these players that look good on paper will translate to tallies in the win column, but the Browns had to do something in attempt to get out of the cellar in the AFC North. The signing of Taylor gives the team a stable quarterback who won’t make crucial mistakes that we’ve seen basically every Browns’ quarterback during your lifetime make over and over again. Drafting Mayfield gives the team hope that he can use his rookie year to learn the nuances of the NFL and be ready to take over the franchise in 2019.
The Browns had to surround these quarterbacks with playmakers, and that’s what they did this offseason, but if success isn’t found early in the season will big personalities begin dividing the locker room? Will Jackson survive another sub-.500 season? I’d say that the Browns have a lot of hype to live up to due to the big moves they made this offseason, but it feels like I’m lying saying that a 0-16 team from last year should have big expectations. However, a week-one victory on the road against the Steelers could serve as a notice to the NFL that the Browns are in the beginning stages of forming a new identity.
3. Is Aaron Rodgers’ return to the Packers enough to overcome three teams who all think they can make a run at the NFC North?
We saw what the Packers look like without Aaron Rodgers playing quarterback last season, and to keep it PG, it was effin terrible.
Now Rodgers is back, he and the rest of the Packers’ starting offense looked very sharp in limited preseason action, and the team finally added some cornerbacks through the draft to help a secondary that’s been beat like a drum whenever the team is playing a critical game late in the season.
However, despite the fact that Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game and would likely have a great chance of taking any NFL team to the playoffs, it would be tough to argue with anyone claiming the other three teams in the NFC North have more complete rosters than the Packers.
The Vikings made it to the NFC Championship game last year with their third-string quarterback and proceeded to add Kirk Cousins to the mix who is a better option at QB than any of the three they could have trotted out in 2017.
Detroit shows promise every year before falling apart as the regular season winds down to the final weeks, ultimately missing the post-season play or not having enough talent to compete in the early rounds of the playoffs. But will the additions of LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson give the Lions some resemblance of a running game to go along with the passing game Matthew Stafford has managed to keep up following the departure of Calvin Johnson a few years ago?
Now you look at the Bears who made some splashy offseason moves on the offensive side of the ball by adding Allen Robinson and Trey Burton before making the ultimate splash move by bolstering the defense with Khalil Mack. It may be a little too early for the Bears to compete in such a loaded division with second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, but they’ve developed a young, talented roster that could turn some heads in 2018.
I wouldn’t argue too much with anyone that predicts the Packers to take the NFC North now that Rodgers is back in the mix, but to think his return alone is enough for the Packers to be a shoe-in as NFC North champions is false.
For more on week one of the NFL season check out our latest podcast as we talk gambling advice and give our daily fantasy sports starts/sits!