In a new weekly feature, here are our 10 top things we are most looking forward to this week in the NFL.
-Zeke and destroy-
Ezekiel Elliot, the newly $90m, 6 year contracted running back.
Will his offseason away from the team in Cabo turn in to rustiness and on field lack of rhythm and chemistry with Dak? Probably not, especially seeing as though Tanner Lee was flown out to Cabo for Zeke to get the requisite reps. That being said, it’s been far from ideal for the Dallas Cowboys with contract stories literally in every position group in their team. Dak and Amari Cooper will probably be dealt with next offseason now judging by the other contracts that were settled over the past few weeks but now it’s time for America’s Team to get on the field and put away the Giants.
If they can put all of it behind them, there is Super Bowl calibre team here. Regardless of how well they do this season, surely all eyes are on how Zeke slots back in to the operation of this offence.
-How Charged up is the LA running game-
L.A. Chargers GM Tom Telesco has stuck a marker in the Californian sand with a refusal to negotiate RB Melvin Gordon’s contact until the season is complete. A bold move, but you don’t want such a big distraction as you start a season with QB Philip Rivers in the twilight of his Hall of Fame worthy career.
With Gordon still disgruntled and not reporting this means the powder-blue ball pounders will be Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. Ekeler has proved to be a quality plug and play, but the real excitement lies with Jackson and his burst.
The Chargers are a balanced team that are pretty safe locks for a playoff spot, and if Ekeler and Jackson can find early rhythm then they will be saying “Melvin who?” by January.
-Chiefs grabbing Shady-
K.C. head coach Andy Reid helped LeSean McCoy to become a superstar in Philadelphia, and now the two are reunited. Grabbing McCoy, who was unceremoniously cut by the Buffalo Bills, is a move that will be making Chiefs fans scratch their heads.
For fantasy fans they will be doing more that scratching, they will be pulling clumps of hair out. RB Damien Williams proved he can manage the spotlight and is a quality ball-catcher. Darwin Thompson has shown too that he can pound the rock, but now you add in a veteran back who is on the downward spiral.
Reid will reignite McCoy’s career as will being in the same huddle as Patrick Mahomes. So tough to project his immediate impact, but stay tuned Week 1.
-I’ll take a Big Mack-
Khalil Mack was on his way to making Aaron Donald sweat for the Defensive Player of the Year, was it not for a small injury that slowed him down a tad.
Mack was the biggest news of the start of the 2018 season, and twelve months later he has a year of better appreciating his surroundings in Chicago. The Bears defense is the best unit in the NFL, and with tackling machine Roquan Smith by his side Mack is going to be gunning for 20 sacks in 2019.
I can see the Bears v Eagles in the NFC Championship, and pray to the spirit of George Halas that Mack’s outstanding play is not crippled by another double-doink.
-Pats Old Guard try to repeat the trick-
New England will start the defence of their Super Bowl crown with the visit from the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, and will do so with the oldest roster in the NFL when young players have seemingly never been so valuable.
In todays salary cap age, the ability to keep cost controlled draft picks is seen as a vital way to remain competitive. However, the Patriots have seemed to eschew that school of thought recently. Arguably the only impactful players playing on their rookie deals are running back Sony Michel and guard Joe Thuney, although they will no doubt hope that this years class headlined by messrs Harry and Winovich and one of last years first rounders, tackle Isaiah Wynn, will make an impact following a rookie season curtailed by an Achilles injury sustained in camp.
It seems Bill Belichick is forever zigging while the rest of the league zags, the rest of the league looks to get quicker, stronger and more athletic he is relying on know-how and experience to take them back to the Super Bowl. Even today, surrounded by the electrifying technicolour highlights of Mahomes, Barkley etc few would bet against them doing just that.
-Kliff, Kyler and the air raid offence-
In Glendale on Sunday evening the Arizona Cardinals will try to take their franchises first baby steps back to viability as a contender when they welcome the similarly rebuilding Detroit Lions to the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Attention will certainly be focused on how rookie HC Kliff Kingsbury and no. 1 pick Kyler Murray perform in the first test of the pass-happy, hyperactive Air Raid offence. While its fair to say elements of the scheme have been a staple for many teams over the past few years, the Cards have made it clear they will ride or die with their youngsters for better or worse this year.
With a fresh receiving core including Christian Kirk and rookies Andy Isabella and Keesean Johnson, complemented by old reliable Larry Fitzgerald and star running back David Johnson, hopes are high in the desert that the road back to competitiveness starts here. And if not, it will certainly be fun to watch!
-Rams try to avoid Super Bowl hangover-
Sean McVay will try to pilot his teams path back to the Super Bowl beginning with a cross country trip to Charlotte to face Ron Rivera’s Carolina Panthers. While last years offence was, for large parts of the season unstoppable, they seemed to run out of steam as the season reached its most crucial phase.
Over the season the Rams were the second highest scoring offence in football, only behind the remarkable Chiefs led by MVP Patrick Mahomes, however over the last month of the regular season their PPG decreased by over 10 points capped off by the 3 point performance on the biggest stage at Super Bowl LIII.Young receiver Cooper Kupp went down with an season ending injury and when star running back Todd Gurley was hampered by a knee injury by the latter stages of the season, the Rams overall effectiveness on offence seemed to go with him.
Has the rest of the NFL caught up to Sean McVay’s scheme or will the Rams be back lighting up the scoreboard this year? Any team boasting the talents of reigning DPOY Aaron Donald, Andrew Whitworth, Aqib Talib, Eric Weddle, Jared Goff, Robert Woods etc plus the hopefully back to full health Gurley and Kupp should be challenging in the very competitive NFC.
-OBJ = Odell’s Browns Jersey-
It really wasn’t a dream…..OBJ will be wearing orange and brown to kick of the 2019 NFL campaign.
The sensational trade that shook the NFL back in March has been the standout moment in a summer full of positive vibes out of North Eastern Ohio and at last we get to see the on field product on Sunday. OBJ has been wrapped in cotton wool throughout the offseason, practising sparingly and not seeing any preseason action so all eyes will be on how quickly he establishes a connection with Baker Mayfield.
The Browns host the Titans looking to win a season opener for the first time since 2004, here’s hoping!
-Ring that Bell!-
So Le’Veon Bell didn’t win any additional money from his contract holdout, but did he win by preserving his body?
The running back will see the field for the first time in over 18 months when the Jets open up against the Bills on Sunday in New York. Bell has always had a patient running style but would have been afforded superior line play during his time with the Steelers. Will he be able to transition this style to his new surroundings or will we see him bouncing to the outside more regularly?
Despite plenty of optimism of growth in the second season of Sam Darnold, the Jets may only go as far as Bell can carry them.
-Time for a new Colt hero?-
Jacoby Brissett, what an opportunity you have in front of you.
You may argue he had this chance in 2017 when as the full time starter for the year he led the Colts to a 4-12 record, but don’t underestimate how much better this overall Colts team is now. He will have arguably the best O-line in football in front of him with Quenton Nelson leading the group in his 2nd year. He has a nice array of options in the passing game to throw to and a committee approach at running back should see the Colts very competitive.
Once considered a potential heir to Tom Brady, I’m looking forward to seeing Brissett grasp his chance this time around.