We did it. We really, really did it.
The last meaningful football we saw was the Super Bowl drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs by Tom Brady, who further padded his resume by winning his seventh Super Bowl ring, all while silencing any questions about whether or not he could thrive outside of Foxborough.
It was February 7th. 214 days later, the NFL makes its long-awaited return, with Brady once again the spotlight. What storylines are worth monitoring during this first week of the NFL season?
There are many, but here’s five as an aperitif to your football pallet.
The Dallas Cowboys have a banged up offensive line against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When Brady takes the field to start his second season in Tampa Bay, he’ll do so against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football.
Quite frankly, this game shouldn’t be close.
Brady and the Bucs somehow managed to return all 22 starters from their Super Bowl-winning season, which simply doesn’t happen. Dallas, who gave up the fifth-most points per game last season (29.6), is going against an offense capable of putting up a ton of points.
On the other side of the ball, Dallas will be without All-Pro guard Zack Martin, with fellow All-Pro tackle La’el Collins dealing with a neck stinger. Collins is expected to play, but any kink in the armor up front attempting to protect Prescott from the best front-seven in the NFL is not good news.
Mac Jones vs Tua Tagovailoa
The former Alabama teammates square off this week, and quite frankly, Tua Tagovailoa needs this win.
It’s been an offseason of swirling rumors and doubts about whether or not Tagovailoa is the long-term answer for the Miami Dolphins, including but not limited to trade speculations involving Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans.
Going up against his former backup and now the rookie starting quarterback of the division rivals New England Patriots, it would be a statement victory for Tagovailoa as the Dolphins aim to make their presence felt in the AFC East.
Do we see Trey Lance?
The speculation is that incumbent starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will get the Week 1 start for the San Francisco 49ers, but rookie Trey Lance has kept things close throughout training camp and has given head coach Kyle Shanahan something to think about.
Whether or not Lance is in the Week 1 plans as the starter or in some specialty play packages, which Shanahan has alluded to, remains to be seen. Shanahan seems to thoroughly enjoy being the ringmaster of the media circus, keeping his plans to himself while watching reporters squirm.
“I see, you know, Trey’s going to play for us this year. I mean, whether it’s — I know you guys are running to Twitter on that — but I mean that situationally he is going to get plays. Like that doesn’t mean that he’s going to go be a starter anything. He’s going to get plays and you’ve got to prepare him for that every way possible,” Shanahan told the media, according to Niners Wire.
Kansas City Chiefs revamped offensive line
Patrick Mahomes was scrambling and running for his life on seemingly every play in his Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers. Mahomes was pressured 29 times, which was a Super Bowl record. On 27 of those pressures, the Buccaneers got home with no additional pass rushers, according to ESPN.
Kansas City clearly sought to fix this issue in the offseason, and used their resources to fortify the protection for Mahomes.
It didn’t take long for general manager Brett Veach to see the problem.
“Maybe like halftime. I mean, it didn’t take long to see that,” Veach told The Kansas City Star.
Veach signed free-agent guard Joe Thuney to a five-year, $80 million deal, and also brought former Pro-Bowl guard Kyle Long out of retirement and signed him to a one-year contract in free agency.
They weren’t done there. Veach traded for two-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. from the Baltimore Ravens.
Seeing this new offensive line in game action and how they protect Mahomes from the staunch pass rush of the Cleveland Browns will prove to be a good test and will go a long ways in signaling whether or not the Chiefs should once again be considered Super Bowl contenders.
Sam Darnold revenge game against the New York Jets
It feels as though Sam Darnold has been in the league for much longer than three seasons. He had a fairly disastrous start to his career with the New York Jets, but I mean, it’s the Jets.
The former third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft had a 13-25 record and a 59.8 percent completion percentage in three seasons in New York. Holding the No. 2 overall pick this year, the Jets decided it was best for everyone to get a clear start.
The Carolina Panthers stepped up, trading for Darnold and riding with him as their starting quarterback entering the season. The NFL schedule makers gave viewers a treat, pairing Darnold against his replacement, Zack Wilson, to start the season.
Few things would be better than Darnold, who had a very promising preseason, coming out and showing up his old team. Surrounded by a very talented group of skill players and with offensive-minded coaches in head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Darnold is in a position to succeed and to revitalize his career.
Week 1 is rife with storylines. NFL fans, rejoice. It’s back.