NFL: Six Talking Points as 2017 Season Begins with Chiefs at Patriots

Barely a month seems to have passed between the New England Patriots’ frankly ridiculous Tom Brady-orchestrated comeback in Super Bowl LI in Houston, and the start of the new season on Thursday night.

The Patriots open the 2017 season by hosting Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs, an intriguing start to a year with multiple compelling storylines.

Here is what to watch out for as the NFL returns.

Coaching changes

Kyle Shanahan should have arrived in the Bay Area with a Super Bowl ring. Instead he takes over as 49ers head coach for his first season off the back of quite possibly the greatest Super Bowl meltdown of all time. Shanahan and new general manager John Lynch’s first task will surely just be to restore pride in a franchise that has tumbled fast since the Jim Harbaugh era. Sean McDermott, the former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator, looks to have a difficult challenge in Buffalo although the Bills retain talent on the offensive side of the ball in LeSean McCoy and the underappreciated Tyrod Taylor.

In Denver, new Broncos head coach Vance Joseph must rely on an uber-talented defense led by Von Miller to bail out an offense directed by either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch. The competitiveness of the AFC West means the Broncos will have a hard time making it into the playoffs. Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history, has Jared Goff running his offense on the field and the headache of Aaron Donald’s ongoing contract deliberations.

‘All Day’ in New Orleans

As the luck of the schedule would have it, Adrian Peterson’s first game as a New Orleans Saint comes in a visit to the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football.

Peterson played just three games for the Vikings last year, ensuring the franchise didn’t pick up the $18 million option on his contract. He is only one year removed from a 1,485-yard season but he has reached an age, 32, where running backs begin to decline steeply. Peterson won’t play every snap for the Saints but can he provide enough production to justify a $7 million contract?

Contract wrangles

LeVeon Bell signed under the franchise tag on Monday, ending a long offseason impasse and confirming the Pittsburgh Steelers as the probable favorite to at least challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC East. Donald, meanwhile, continues to hold out for the money he thinks he is worth, rather than the Rams’ current offer. With Ben Roethlisberger under center, the Steelers probably had the talent to post a winning season even without the best all-round running back in the league. Without a motivated Donald, the Rams really are stuffed.

Free agent signings

Jay Cutler came out of retirement, and a comfortable career as an analyst, to have his face jammed into the turf by a succession of defensive ends. Cutler reunites with Adam Gase in Miami but can he shed a career-long reputation for underachievement? Sammy Watkins should upgrade the Rams’ wide receiving options if he can stay healthy. Dontari Poe will add experience and heft on the interior to the Falcons’ young, exciting defense. Alshon Jeffery found a new home with the Philadelphia Eagles, while DeSean Jackson and Jameis Winston should at least put the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in wild-card conversation.

Rookie performances

Several exciting 2017 draft picks should make immediate impacts. Myles Garrett will worry quarterbacks even on a Cleveland Browns team that will have another losing season. Leonard Fournette is a bruising presence at running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. John Ross’s blistering speed will open up more space for six-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green as the Bengals seek a return to the playoffs. Christian McCaffrey’s versatility, meanwhile, can relieve some of the pressure on Cam Newton in Carolina to be everything to everyone. 

Ezekiel Elliott

Elliott’s six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on domestic violence will stand, though the running back will play against the Giants in week one on Sunday before the ban kicks in.

Elliott and his lawyers allege a “conspiracy” on the part of the NFL to withhold what they call “exonerating evidence” from Elliott’s case. His legal team, and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), are now engaged in a lawsuit against the league.

While that case drags on, the Cowboys will have to deal without an All-Pro tailback. With the risk of a regression from Dak Prescott, the NFC East could be wide open again this season.

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