Football is back! After what has felt like an eternity we finally have meaningful football back this weekend. The preseason is enough to whet your appetite but it just isn’t quite the same. Each week I am going to be previewing the week’s games, focusing on those games covered in the UK on Sky and 5 Live.
The season got underway with a rematch of last season’s Super Bowl on Thursday Night Football. The Broncos just edged out the Panthers in a much closer game than we saw in February. It was a great way to start the season and hopefully the weekend’s games can be as entertaining.
There are five games on Sky this weekend with an extra Monday night game. This week there are some great matchups with what could already be key games this season. We get to see three of the favourites for this season’s Super Bowl as well as two divisional games.
Green Bay at Jacksonville, Sunday, 6pm on Sky Sports.
Last meeting: Jaguars 15 Packers 24 (28/10/12)
Overall record: Packers 3, Jaguars 2
The Packers come into the season on the back of a disappointing end to last season. Back-to back losses to end the regular season saw them miss out on the NFC North title for the first time since 2010. They did win a playoff game in Washington before an overtime loss to the Cardinals in the divisional round.
Aaron Rodgers had a bit of a disappointing season by his own very high standards but he will be hoping he and the offence can get back to their brilliant best. The team will be helped by the return of Jordy Nelson who will see his first regular season action since 2014 and with a slimmed down Eddie Lacy in the backfield, Rodgers could be adding a third MVP award to his collection.
However, the Jaguars defence that could be greatly improved from previous seasons will be hoping to slow down that offence. As well as the big free agency signings such as Malik Jackson, the defence also get back 2015 third overall pick Dante Fowler who missed his entire rookie season with an ACL tear. Six of the team’s seven draft picks went on defence including what some people consider the best two players in the draft in Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. This group has the potential to be one of the best in the league.
On the other side of the ball Blake Bortles enters his third season with a few question marks still hanging over him. Last season he led the league in interceptions and he will need to drastically improve on that if the Jaguars are going to take the big step forward that many are predicting. He will be helped by a very good set of pass catchers in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas. If Bortles can continue to improve then who knows what the limit is for this young but talented team. Maybe they can start with an upset on Sunday.
N.Y. Giants at Dallas, Sunday, 9.25pm on Sky Sports.
Last meeting: Cowboys 20 Giants 27 (25/10/15)
Overall record: Giants 44, Cowboys 62, Ties 2
Things will be very different in New York this year as the Giants start the season without Tom Coughlin in charge for the first time in over a decade. Ben McAdoo is the man that will take over from Coughlin after being promoted from offensive coordinator.
Everyone knows about Odell Beckham Jr but it is the player that will be lining up opposite him that has been receiving a lot of the buzz in preseason. Sterling Shepard, the rookie out of Oklahoma, could be the receiver that the Giants have been looking for to help get them back to the postseason for the first time since the 2012 Super Bowl win. There have been glowing reports out of the Giants’ camp despite being relatively quiet in the preseason games.
The team spent big in free agency to improve the defence that was one of the worst in the league in 2015. Spending big in the offseason hasn’t always produced the results that teams would want and the big contract handed to Olivier Vernon may not look too good in a few months if he doesn’t produce quickly.
The big preseason story in Dallas has been yet another injury for Tony Romo. The fractured vertebrae suffered in the team’s preseason game against the Steelers mean that rookie Dak Prescott will start at quarterback to kick off the season. Prescott has looked superb but only time will tell if he can carry that form into the regular season.
The pressure may be taken off Prescott by Ezekiel Elliot. The 4th overall pick in this season’s draft is being tipped to have a historic year behind the Cowboy’s fantastic offensive line. One thing is for sure, the team will struggle to do worse than in 2015 when the team managed just one win with Romo on the sidelines.
New England at Arizona, Monday, 1.30am on Sky Sports.
Last meeting: Cardinals 20 Patriots 18 (16/9/12)
Overall record: Patriots 6, Cardinals 7
The big news coming into the season for the Patriots is of course the suspension of Tom Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo will be in control of the offence for the first four weeks while Brady serves the suspension.
Things could be made even tougher for the Patriots with reports that star tight end, Rob Gronkowski is struggling with a hamstring injury. Of course, the Patriots injury reports can be taken with a pinch of salt a lot of the time with the whole roster seeming to show up on the report at times, but this could be a big one if Gronkowski isn’t fully fit.
The Cardinals had a great season in 2015, well at least until the NFC championship game where they were demolished by the Panthers in a surprisingly one-sided game. If there is a coach that can help his team to get over that sort of loss then it is Bruce Arians.
The Cardinals have one of the most explosive offences in the league. Not only do they have one of the best groups of receivers, they also have one of the best young running backs in the league. From the moment David Johnson stepped on to the field in the NFL he has shown he has big-play ability and he could be one of the keys if the Cardinals are to go further than last season.
The game also sees Chandler Jones go up against some familiar faces as he plays his former team. The Cardinals acquired Jones from the Patriots in March in a somewhat surprising trade. He was the Patriots sack leader last season before the trade and the Cardinals are hoping that he can improve on the 12.5 sacks he got in 2015.
It would be a shock if these two teams don’t make the postseason and who knows, maybe this is a preview of this season’s Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh at Washington, Tuesday, 0.05am on Sky Sports.
Last meeting: Redskins 12 Steelers 27 (28/10/12)
Overall record: Redskins 42, Steelers 32, Ties 3
Like the Patriots, the biggest offseason story coming out of Pittsburgh is to do with suspensions. Star running back Le’Veon Bell will miss the first three games of the season and wide receiver Martavis Bryant will be suspended for the entire season. It is a blow for what may well be the most talented offence in the league with both of those players, but the Steelers will hope that the likes of Markus Wheaton and Eli Rodgers can step up and help out. Having one of, if not the best wide receiver in the league helps of course and Antonio Brown looks set to have yet another great year.
The Steelers have won the AFC north just one time in the past five seasons. The AFC looks wide open this season and the Steelers look as likely to win it as any other team. Getting a first round bye could be vital in the postseason and Pittsburgh will be looking to pick up the division crown and the no.1 seed.
It has felt like a relatively quiet offseason in Washington without any drama around Robert Griffin III and the quarterback situation. Kirk Cousins was handed a big contract and looks set to be the team’s quarterback for the foreseeable future.
The biggest free agent signing came in the form of cornerback Josh Norman. The team will need him to show that he is worth the big contract that the team gave him as he will be facing some of the best receivers in the league twice a year. Antonio Brown will be a pretty good warm up for the likes of Dez Bryant and Norman’s nemesis, Odell Beckham.
Washington won the division in 2015 but many think it was down to a soft schedule more than a great team. Jay Gruden will be keen to show that his team were more than just lucky and back up 2015 with another winning season.
L.A. Rams at San Francisco, Tuesday, 3.20am on Sky Sports.
Last meeting: Rams 16 49ers 19 (3/1/16)
Overall record: Rams 64, 49ers 66, Ties 3
The Rams have finally made the move back to Los Angeles and with it they have got themselves a new quarterback in 1st overall pick Jared Goff. The team gave up a lot to move to no.1 and obviously had a lot of confidence in Goff’s ability. However, a poor preseason has left the young quarterback behind Case Keenum and even Sean Mannion in the pecking order. Goff will not even be in uniform for this game. Jeff Fisher has been saying all along that Keenum would be the starter but it must be a big disappointment for the team that Goff has not progressed as they would have liked.
Fisher looks set to be handed a contract extension despite somewhat disappointing results over the past few seasons. Fisher has struggled to get the best from his talented team and has yet to have a winning season with the Rams. The fans in LA may not be too happy if the 6 or 7 win seasons carry on too much longer.
It wasn’t too long ago that the 49ers were one of the very best teams in the league with what was considered perhaps the most promising quarterback in the league. Just a few seasons later and that quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, can’t even beat out Blaine Gabbert to win the starting role and the team looks like one of the favourites to be picking first in next year’s draft.
Chip Kelly takes over this roster that looks like it is lacking talent throughout on the back of a mixed time in Philadelphia. Kelly was seen as one of the hottest coaches in college football during his time at Oregon but his stock has fallen since his move to the NFL and now faces what looks like an almost impossible situation in San Francisco. Some people are tipping the team to go winless this season so if Kelly can get anything out of this team then it may be seen as a success.
Week One Schedule
Tampa Bay at Atlanta….Buffalo at Baltimore….Chicago at Houston….Green Bay at Jacksonville (Sky Sports)….San Diego at Kansas City….Oakland at New Orleans….Cincinnati at N.Y. Jets….Cleveland at Philadelphia….Minnesota at Tennessee
Miami at Seattle
N.Y. Giants at Dallas (Sky Sports)….Detroit at Indianapolis
New England at Arizona (Sky Sports)
Pittsburgh at Washington (Sky Sports)
L.A. Rams at San Francisco (Sky Sports)
Follow Author Dave Gray on twitter at djg23
Read more from Dave and other UK NFL fans at FirstandTen.co.uk
ED: GO NINERS!