NFL: Seven Things to Watch This Season
The 2019 NFL season is just hours away, with the Chicago Bears hosting the Green Bay Packers to open the campaign on Thursday night. It’s been a summer of change in the league – especially in the past couple of weeks which have seen the shock retirement of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Jadeveon Clowney’s trade to Seattle Seahawks and, on Wednesday, the news of Ezekiel Elliott’s 6-year, $90 million extension with the Dallas Cowboys.
But what might be some of the biggest talking points during the new season? Jamie Braidwood picks seven things to watch out for in the NFL over the coming months.
A lot of eyes, from all over the league, will be on Patrick Mahomes to see if he can recreate his successful 2018/19 season. (Photo: chiefs.com)
Can Patrick Mahomes repeat historic season?
What a year it has been for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In just his second season in the NFL, Mahomes was dynamite as he ran away with the league’s MVP award, setting several records along the way. He set franchise records for touchdowns (50) and yards (5,097) thrown last year, becoming only the second quarterback ever after Peyton Manning to reach those numbers in a season. Mahomes, 23, also became the youngest MVP since Dan Marino in 1983.
So can he repeat? Well, the bar could not be higher, but if Mahomes was to reach 5,000+ yards and 50+ TDs again we would be witnessing the emergence of a once in a generation quarterback. Even if Mahomes does not quite reach the levels of last year, he is still set to record a strong season and assert his position as the best QB in the league. The Chiefs fell one game short of the Super Bowl last year but back Mahomes to go one better this season.
Will OBJ’s arrival make Cleveland a playoff team?
In March this year the NFL world was left stunned by the New York Giants’ decision to trade star wide receiver Odell Beckham Junior to the Cleveland Browns. It was a truly shocking move, one which left Giants fans with their heads in their hands but one which immediately had long-suffering Browns supporters dreaming of a trip to the playoffs. Beckham is a mercurial talent. Even if you haven’t seen him play you probably know his name and have seen the one-handed catch which turned him into a star. (https://youtu.be/zxbz3DDQzHU)
In Cleveland OBJ arrives at a team which is only going in one direction under second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield. The former Heisman award winner took over starting duties after Week 3 and led the Browns to a 7-8-1 record (Cleveland went 1-15 in 2017 and 0-16 in 2018). Mayfield now has Beckham to aim at, which should be a lot of fun to watch. Can they help end the Browns’ 16-year playoff drought?
(Fun fact: the Browns also have a Scottish punter in the ‘Scottish Hammer’ Jamie Gillan.)
Will No. 1 pick Kyler Murray sink or swim in his rookie year?
In June’s NFL draft the Arizona Cardinals used the No. 1 overall pick to draft a quarterback for the second year in a row, this year selecting Oklahoma Sooners star Kyler Murray. The 2018 Heisman award winner is a fascinating prospect. During college Murray was a dual athlete and played baseball alongside football, even turning down the chance to play in the MLB after being selected by the Oakland Athletics.
At 5’10”, Murray is much shorter than the average NFL quarterback and his diminutive stature in a physically demanding league has been questioned. However, Murray is an explosive playmaker and is set to benefit from head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s pass-heavy offense in Arizona.
Among other rookie QBs to keep your eye on this season are No. 15 overall pick Dwayne Haskins, who is set to take starting duties at the Washington Redskins, and No. 6 overall pick Daniel Jones, who could take over from the struggling Eli Manning as the starting quarterback for the New York Giants this season.
Mahomes will not be the only QB hoping to reclaim previous form, as Aaron Rodgers will be set to improve on a disappointing 2018/19 season with the Packers. (Photo: chicago.suntimes.com)
Rodgers to return to MVP levels and lead veteran QBs?
From the young to the old… One of the NFL’s unique features is that some of the most important players in the league would be long retired if they played in the NBA or Premier League. There is, of course, Tom Brady, the quarterback of the 2018 Super Bowl champions New England Patriots and consensus G.O.A.T. who is returning for his 20th season at the age of 42 (FORTY-TWO). You also have Drew Brees (40) in New Orleans, Ben Roethlisberger (37) in Pittsburgh and Philip Rivers (37) at the LA Chargers — all players who are showing no signs of slowing down and who all play for playoff contenders.
Although a little younger, it could be 35-year-old Aaron Rodgers who has the best 2019 of them all. The two-time NFL MVP had a disappointing 2018 in Green Bay as the Packers won just six games and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row. Although considered to be one of the greatest QBs of all time, Rodgers has just one Super Bowl ring to his name and will be desperate to return to the playoffs under new head coach Matt LeFluer.
Can Antonio Brown and the Raiders last the season?
If you missed out on all the drama surrounding star receiver Antonio Brown and the Oakland Raiders this offseason then where have you been? To refresh: the Raiders traded for Brown in March after he fell out with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team with which Brown became a star after joining the league in 2010.
Things got interesting once Brown turned up to the Raiders’ training camp, in a hot air balloon no less, before he suffered horrific blisters on his feet from a cryotherapy chamber and then refused to practice because he wasn’t allowed to wear his helmet due to new league safety regulations. Oh, and all of the above was filmed and aired on HBO’s Hard Knocks, the documentary series which follows the NFL’s worst team from the previous year (the Raiders finished 4-12 last season.)
Get all that? Anyway, Brown’s helmet issue has since been resolved and he has returned to practice with his new team. But there’s still a whole lot of uncertainty surrounding the star and judging by the drama of the past few weeks, it could all blow up again during the 2019 season.
Who’s making the trip to London in 2019?
For British American football fans the NFL’s London Series is one of the highlights of any season. Just like the previous two years, there are four regular season games taking place in London in 2019. This season also sees Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium host games for the first time. The stadium has been purpose built to be able to accommodate NFL games and features a retractable pitch, while the atmosphere is also likely to offer a different experience to Wembley Stadium, where the other two games will be taking place.
Making their first trips to London are the Carolina Panthers, who will feature at Spurs’ stadium against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Houston Texans, who play London regulars Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley. The Chicago Bears and the Oakland Raiders will play in the first match at Spurs’ stadium on October 6, while NFC champions the LA Rams’ game against the Cincinnati Bengals completes the schedule.
In terms of big name talent, Panthers QB Cam Newton, Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Raiders star Antonio Brown, Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack, Rams running back Todd Gurley and Super Bowl LII hero Nick Foles, now playing for the Jaguars, are the ones to watch.