On Fridays during each week of the NFL season, Tiebreaker.com will take a look at what we believe to be the five most interesting storylines for that weekend’s games.
It could be about a player, a team, maybe a trend that’s developed over time that might impact a matchup. In other words, we’ll be fluid, reacting to what has happened in the league and what might be coming next.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
All summer we heard how Ezekiel Elliott thought he was underpaid and wondered to what extent he might go to prove his point to the Cowboys. Well, he went as far as Cabo San Lucas, where he spent much of training camp while his teammates toiled without him.
Earlier this week, Elliott signed a contract extension that makes him the highest-paid running back in NFL history. Maybe it happened because of the holdout. Maybe Jerry Jones always knew he’d pay Zeke but just wanted to see him sweat a little before signing the checks.
The Cowboys and Elliott say he’s in good enough shape to play on Sunday. The projections are he might see the ball, in some capacity, between 20-25 times. Zeke has a lot to prove now. He’s said he thinks he’s the best back in the league. Let’s see if the money goes to his head.
Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns
The hype is real. The Browns, who won just one game during the 2016-17 seasons, are actually a six-point favorite against a team that consistently hovers around the postseason.
The consensus seems to be the Browns not only can contend for the AFC North title with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but actually win the division, perhaps even a playoff game or two and suddenly find themselves in contention for a conference title.
We’ll get a chance this week to see what quarterback Baker Mayfield has in store for us. He will not have his new toy, Odell Beckham, Jr., at full strength because of a hip injury. But he does have Jarvis Landry to throw to. If the Browns defense is as good as it appears, the Browns very well could be the surprise team in the league.
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Let’s face it, if this game were to be played in 10 weeks, hardly anyone in the NFL would pay attention to it, maybe not even the fans of the teams. The Lions and Cardinals could easily end up at the bottom of the NFC.
However, that’s not currently the case. Unlike Mayfield (2018’s top overall draft pick), Cardinals QB Kyler Murray will start the season at the helm of his offense. And we’ll get to see how his mobility and strong, accurate arm mesh with the high-flying “Air Raid” scheme rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury has brought to town.
The Cardinals were a terrible team last season, even after last year’s first-round pick, Josh Rosen, inherited the starting job. Like every game that’s played, there are a hundred things worth focusing on at kickoff. But when you’re talking Lions-Cardinals Week 1, they’ll be nothing more entertaining than watching Murray try to find his early comfort zone.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
We begin by reminding everyone how much the Patriots can actually suck in the first quarter of a season and how little it has to do with how they’ll look in January – and frequently the first weekend in February. Remember, they’ll hoist another championship flag before the game. If they lose Sunday, no big deal.
The Pats and Steelers have played many big games and the Patriots usually win. And frankly, there is no reason to believe things will change since Tom Brady, the NFL’s king of the geriatric ward, is still popping at age 42. While all else changes around him, even though he’ll no longer have The Gronk to play with, Brady’s cool execution continues one step ahead of Father Time.
The Steelers have rid themselves of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, but they never seemed to bother the Pats when they were around. Let’s see if New England can actually break from the gate like the Secretariat it usually is.
Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers
Nothing happened during training camp that shocked everyone as much as Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement. It all just got too much for the Colts star QB to deal with. So at age 29, he unbuckled the chin strap one last time.
It will be interesting to see how the Colts mesh around their new QB, Jacoby Brissett, who was just given a $30 million deal in what amounts to an expression of great faith. The last time he was the Colts starter, the team finished 4-12 in 2017. But what else can the Colts really do? He is their guy. He needs to be The Man.
Of course, the Colts are not the same team they were in 2017. They have improved exponentially on both sides of the ball. But the challenge they have against the Chargers will be immense and perhaps provide clues about what’s in store for them.