A new NFL season brings new storylines. Omnisport NFL writers Ron Clements and Nicholas McGee take on five topics to watch this year:
RC: Despite calls to boycott the NFL, it's unlikely the league will see any significant decline in ticket sales or television ratings. The appetite for the NFL is just too large. Fans are ravenous when it comes to their respective teams and players harmlessly kneeling or standing with a raised fist during the playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" won’t do much to spoil that appetite.
NM: While the continuation of Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protest by other players may turn off some viewers, it is unlikely to have any significant impact on ratings or attendance. Coaches do have to be more tactful in how they approach the issue. The recent remarks of Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson, who initially said he hoped his players would not protest the anthem, came across as naive — even more so after a group of his roster did kneel before a preseason game. After the terrible events in Charlottesville this is an issue that is not going away. Coaches need to try to use the protests as a unifying force rather than a divisive one in the locker room.
RC: The answer has to be DeShone Kizer. The rookie from Notre Dame had a wonderful preseason (and it was clear Brock Osweiler was not the answer at quarterback for the Browns). Kizer was named the Week 1 starter and, barring injury or extremely poor play, he should start all 16 games.
Kizer's main competition will be Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky, who should supplant Mike Glennon as the Bears' starter by the end of the season.
Patrick Mahomes will only start for the Kansas Chiefs this season if Alex Smith gets hurt, and DeShaun Watson is the clear No. 2 quarterback in Houston. If the Texans fall out of playoff contention late in the season, the Texans might switch from Tom Savage to Watson. But Kizer has the best chance of any of the rookie QBs to make double-digit starts this season.
NM: Trubisky is the likely answer. The Bears have some talent on both sides of the ball, particularly at running back and on the defensive line, but they are likely to be hamstrung by the investment they made in Mike Glennon at quarterback. Glennon has been terrible this preseason and there is little history to suggest he will improve in the regular season. Coach John Fox's job is on the line going into the campaign and, once the Bears lose a few games, expect Fox to turn to the player on whom Chicago spent the No. 2 overall pick.
RC: In the 15-year history of the NFC South, only the Carolina Panthers from 2013-15 have won consecutive division titles. The Atlanta Falcons went 11-5 to win the division last year and reached the Super Bowl, where they blew a 28-3 lead on the Patriots and eventually lost in overtime. Will that loss linger and affect their 2017 campaign?
The Panthers went from 15-1 and a Super Bowl berth in 2015 only to stumble to 6-10 last season. But Carolina has a healthy Cam Newton this season and could have a bounce-back year. The team that might pose the biggest threat to Atlanta's playoff chances is Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers had a great offseason to upgrade their roster after going 9-7 last year.
Then there are the New Orleans Saints, who can score 40 points in any given week as long as Drew Brees is still at quarterback.
The NFC South might be the most competitive division in the NFL this season with every team capable of finishing 8-8 or better. It will be tough for the Falcons to repeat as division champions, but they should still be a playoff contender.
NM: Talk of a Super Bowl hangover may be overblown, but it is difficult to envision the Falcons matching the heights of last year. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is gone and they have replaced him with a man who has never called an NFL play in Steve Sarkisian. Young, athletic players have been brought in on defense but the performance of that unit during the playoffs was exaggerated.
With the plethora of skill-position talent on the Buccaneers, Tampa Bay is a sexy pick to dethrone them in the NFC South. Tampa’s offensive line is shaky and the more concerted challenge should come from the Panthers, who gave Cam Newton help in a big way with the draft picks of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. A big bounce-back season from wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is expected and, if the Panthers get hot, the Falcons could find it hard to stay with them.
RC: Brady turned 40 on Aug. 3, but has not shown any signs of slowing down. He's coming off his fifth Super Bowl championship and was the game MVP a record fourth time. Brady had the second-highest passer rating of his career, second only to his MVP season in 2007.
By taking a look at how two other Hall of Fame quarterbacks fared playing into their 40s, we might have an idea of how well Brady can play.
Warren Moon turned 40 in 1996, but missed half the season with a broken collarbone. He bounced back in 1997 to throw for 3,678 yards with 25 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. But Father Time caught up to Moon in 1998 and he started just 11 games over the next three seasons before retiring at the age of 44.
Brett Favre also had success after turning 40 in 2009, leading the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC championship game. Favre threw for 4,202 yards with 33 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions that season. But an injury the next year finally ended his NFL record for consecutive games started and he retired following the 2010 season.
While Brady is still playing at a high level, Father Time is undefeated. Quarterbacks are protected today more than they ever have been, but they still take violent hits and a 40-year-old body does not recover as quickly as it would 10 or 15 years earlier. Brady will likely perform at an MVP level this year, but beyond that remains a mystery.
NM: Until we see it, don't expect a Tom Brady decline. Yes, by all logic he should be on the downswing of his career, but Brady has plenty of history in defying logic — as we saw at Super Bowl 51. With the offensive weapons he has at his disposal this season, it is tough to imagine anything other than another excellent season.
If Brady is interested in preserving himself for the playoffs, he can again take heart in the fact the AFC East remains terrible. The New England Patriots' dominance of said division should enable him to take some snaps or even some games off. Injury is the only thing that can seemingly stop Brady, so any losses on the offensive line could put him in jeopardy. For now, though, the prospects of a sixth Super Bowl title look very good.
RC: Marvin Lewis is firmly on the hot seat after the Bengals went 6-9-1 last season. Despite taking the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs seven times and winning four AFC North titles in his 14 years as the team's coach, Lewis has not won a single playoff game. The Bengals don't appear to be in a position to contend with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers atop the division this year and, with the Browns making huge strides to improve their team in the offseason, the Bengals might be headed for a last-place finish. If things appear to be taking a turn for the worse, Lewis could be out by December.
NM: Chuck Pagano was not hired by Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard and he has little at his disposal to help convince Ballard he should be the guy long-term. Andrew Luck still isn't healthy and the Colts may have to start the season with Scott Tolzien at quarterback. When you factor in a running game led by the rapidly aging Frank Gore and a defense that will need time to jell after a substantial overhaul, that is a recipe for a nightmare start to the season and a campaign Pagano is unlikely to see out.
|Yankees, Nationals split unconventional doubleheader|
|Celtics forward Hayward expected to be fully cleared by August|
|Nationals acquire closer Herrera from Royals|
|Angels star Ohtani to be re-evaluated in 2-3 weeks|
|Trotz resigns as Capitals coach after Stanley Cup win|
|Rangers score four runs in ninth to pick up walk-off win over Rockies|
|Astros top Royals, push winning streak to 10|
|LeBron James doesn´t need to chase championships, says O´Neal|
|Brady: The end is coming sooner rather than later|
|Cubs take control early, cruise to win over Cardinals|
|Canadiens acquire Domi from Coyotes for Galchenyuk|
|Royals´ Soler suffers hand fracture|
|NBA to honour Oscar Robertson with Lifetime Achievement Award|
|Steve Kerr’s coolest congratulatory text? Tiger Woods|
|Red Sox hold off Mariners´ magic in 2-1 victory|
|Eagles unveil Super Bowl rings with one perfect touch|
|Raptors hire Nick Nurse as next coach|
|Cowboys´ Martin signs extension to become NFL´s highest-paid guard|
|Red-hot Mariners win again, but challenges loom|
|Capitals´ Orpik lost part of finger in Stanley Cup Final, kept playing|
|Gregorius hits two home runs in Yankees´ victory over Nationals|
|Tigers´ Cabrera out for season with ruptured biceps tendon|
|Rams ordered to pay former NFL running back Bush $12.5m in damages|
|Irving on reuniting with LeBron: We´ll see what management decides|
|Capitals go crazy at Stanley Cup parade|
|Warriors get wild celebrating second straight title at parade|
|Colts QB Luck finally resumes throwing|
|Durant dismisses LeBron to Warriors talk|
|Giants QB Eli Manning: I´ve still got some peak years left|
|Dennis Rodman flies to Singapore for historic Trump-Kim summit|
|Red Sox break scoreless tie in 12th to top Orioles|
|Warriors assistant mystified by West´s comment about team drama|
|Bryant says LeBron has to ´figure out a way´ to win more championships|
|Durant can have ´whatever deal he wants´, say Warriors|
|Jones skipping Falcons´ mandatory minicamp|
|Casey appointed Detroit Pistons coach|
|Kevin Durant: I could retire at 35|
|Kevin Love wants to remain with LeBron James & Cavaliers|
|Mets release first baseman Gonzalez, recall Smith|
|Pirates bats awaken to avoid Cubs sweep|
|Astros score go-ahead run against Rangers on ninth-inning balk|
|Maddon unsure if Darvish will return before All-Star break|
|Rays send Miller to Brewers|
|Wade: LeBron´s decision will be a ´lifestyle thing´|
|What next for LeBron James? 3 perfect fits, 3 teams to avoid|
|Ten way-too-early predictions for the 2018-19 NBA season|
|Seahawks´ Thomas holding out of mandatory minicamp|
|Mets fall to Yankees, losing streak reaches eight|
|Warriors´ Durant discusses narrative he ruined the NBA|
|Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski calls trade rumours ‘fake news’|
|Steve Kerr cannot separate LeBron James and Michael Jordan|
|A Golden (State) era, Warriors reign from deep & the brilliance of LeBron - NBA Finals in numbers|
|Warriors dynasty? Curry just wants to ´keep this thing going´|
|Harden and Durant not safe if LeBron enters free agency - World Peace|
|Kerr contract extension top priority for Warriors after Finals win|
|Lue plans to keep coaching Cavaliers, and hopefully LeBron|
|NBA rivals unable to find antidote to dominant Warriors|
|Yankees win Subway Series opener as Mets´ woes continue|
|LeBron says he played last three Finals games with hand injury, undecided on future|
|Kerr: Warriors´ 2018 NBA title the hardest by far|
|Durant wins second successive NBA Finals MVP|
|Warriors defend NBA title thanks to Cavs sweep|
|LeBron James gets ´MVP´ ovation in likely Cleveland farewell|
|BREAKING NEWS: Warriors win back-to-back NBA titles after sweeping Cavs|
|Blake Griffin was exhausted because Clippers never practiced – Pistons assistant|
|Texans safety Andre Hal diagnosed with Hodgkin´s lymphoma|
|Ohtani elbowed out of action for Angels|
|We´re not inviting the NBA champions - Trump responds to LeBron, Curry|
|Diddy no longer interested in NFL ownership|
|Kevin Durant planning on Warriors stay|