The 2019 NFL season is a celebration of the century – and such an occasion requires lots of attention.
The league returns on Thursday as the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers renew the NFL’s oldest rivalry, opening its 100th season with an NFC North showdown.
But it’s just the beginning of a season with many intriguing games and narratives that are sure to follow as the New England Patriots chase a record-breaking seventh Super Bowl win, the Indianapolis Colts deal with the aftermath of Andrew Luck’s retirement and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz continues a(nother) comeback campaign.
We take a look at the key storylines.
Will Antonio Brown’s season be as turbulent as his offseason?
It seems hard to top, but the 31-year-old did lead the league in receiving touchdowns last season and has plenty of other eye-popping stats on his resume. Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ disastrous 2018 campaign is proof that distractions can be divisive, and Brown has dealt with a number of diversions this offseason, from his frostbitten feet to his helmet holdout. Will business boom or bust in Oakland? Keep your popcorn full.
How will quarterbacks on the mend fare?
Cam Newton (shoulder) and Jimmy Garoppolo (knee), Andy Dalton (thumb) and Marcus Mariota (foot, rib, shoulder, neck, back, nerves). Need we go on? There are a number of signal-callers seeking retribution after their 2018 campaigns were interrupted or cut short due to injury. Can these prominent passers prove they still have it or will it be next man up on the depth chart?
Are the Browns contenders?
It’s a legitimate question after the overhaul offseason that saw the addition of new targets for second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield in Odell Beckham Jr and Kareem Hunt – who will begin the season suspended – but like first-year coach Freddie Kitchens, the team is still young. The Cleveland Browns improved to 7-8-1 after their infamous 0-16 season in 2017, and the team’s offseason acquisitions give reason to believe the long-suffering fanbase is finally in for a treat this year. The AFC North is ruthless, but this could be the year Cleveland return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
How long will Eli Manning last as the Giants’ starter?
There’s a reason the New York Giants drafted Daniel Jones out of Duke with the sixth overall pick in April, but how quickly will that backup plan will be put into action? While the rookie impressed in preseason, it’s said the starting job will remain Eli Manning’s as long as the team is in contention. But it’s hard to forget the veteran’s irregularity last season. Manning completed 66 per cent of his passes for 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as the Giants missed the playoffs for a second straight year. Do they have the patience for another year?
Can Le’Veon Bell stay healthy after nearly 600 days away from the game?
The star rusher has remained relatively quiet since leaving the Steelers for the New York Jets, but could it just be the calm before the storm? Le’Veon Bell does have 5,336 rushing yards, 2,660 receiving yards and 42 touchdowns through his first five NFL seasons, but practice isn’t the same as in-game action – and it’s been a while since he’s seen any. Still, the Jets running back appears ready to let his performance this season do the talking.
How will Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury adjust with the Cardinals?
The rookie quarterback and first-year NFL coach face the tall task of turning around a team that finished with their worst record in nearly two decades as the Arizona Cardinals went 3-13 in 2018. Arizona will still need to be cautious with Kyler Murray, as the dual-sport star continues to get comfortable following his preseason inconsistencies, but Kliff Kingsbury is expected to be more aggressive. The duo should be able to shake their nerves fairly quickly.
A new dawn begins now. pic.twitter.com/D1lPXnEKiG
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) September 3, 2019
Will the Raiders bid farewell to Oakland with a winning season?
The Raiders have had only one winning season since 2002, but they have plenty to be optimistic about after selecting four rookies in the top 40 picks of this year’s Draft in addition to acquiring Brown, Richie Incognito and Vontaze Burfict. They could even advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, something that would certainly be a sweet send-off to Sin City ahead of the team’s 2020 relocation.
Can the Steelers still thrive without the ‘Killer Bs’?
Bell and Brown left Pittsburgh in dramatic fashion this offseason, leaving only Ben Roethlisberger after a turbulent 2018 season in which the Steelers finished 9-6-1 and outside the playoffs for the first time since 2013 amid myriad distractions. Now it’s time for third-year stars James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster to shine in their stead – if they can stay healthy. As for the team’s Ryan Shazier-sized void on defense, there are high hopes first-round pick Devin Bush can bring back Blitzburgh.
How will the new pass interference rule play out?
Just don’t ask a New Orleans Saints fan, because it will always be too little too late for them. Now that coaches can challenge pass interference calls and non-calls as part of the replay review system, such catastrophes like the infamous no-call in last season’s NFC championship game can be avoided. But the new rule could also open a can of worms and change the strategies for using challenges in general. To see how it plays out, you’ll just have to stay tuned.
Will the NFL negotiate a new CBA?
The league has been hinting that a new collective bargaining agreement could be finalized as early as September, but an ominous “work stoppage ready” plan distributed in July, urging players to be prepared for “loss of income, loss of health insurance, increased training costs and loss of camaraderie and structure”, suggested otherwise. The current CBA is set to expire after the 2020 season, so the clock is ticking.