Alas, the new NFL season is finally upon us.
With a new season comes renewed hopes and a fresh slate for each franchise. There is a bevy of storylines to follow coming into the 2018 season. New contracts, new signings, and lingering questions surround every team as they head into a new year. However, there are a handful of intriguing matchups that stand above the rest in the first set of games.
Here are the top 5 Week 1 NFL matchups:
5. Los Angeles Rams vs. Oakland Raiders
The second game of the Monday Night Football doubleheader will see the anticipated return of coach Jon Gruden. After ten years out of the coaching game, his return has raised questions as to whether or not he can connect to this new generation of players. Will Gruden’s old-style coaching methods work in a modern NFL? Or will his 10-year $100 million contract end much sooner than some had foreseen? Furthermore, there are questions surrounding why they traded Khalil Mack and the declining play of Derek Carr. All these issues may determine whether or not this will this be another lame-duck season for the franchise before they move to Las Vegas.
On the other side, the Rams had just as interesting of an offseason. Yet, they did so by acquiring several high-profile free agents to their defense. After losing Trumaine Johnson, Alec Ogletree, and Robert Quinn, the Rams reloaded their roster by acquiring Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Sam Shield, and Ndamukong Suh. They have high hopes of making a Super Bowl run with this new core of talent and have to chance to make a statement against the Raiders.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New York Giants
Of all the Week 1 games, this one may be the biggest litmus test for where each franchise is heading. After coming off an AFC Championship appearance that saw them one quarter away from a trip to the Super Bowl, the Jaguars are determined to prove their worth as one of the NFL’s elite teams. Retaining the same defense that led them to their postseason success, the Jaguars will be relying on Blake Bortles and company to steady the ship and go for the championship. Their All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey sounded off on just about every quarterback in the league, so he and the rest of that vaunted defense sounds like they’re embracing the hype coming into game one.
Conversely, the Giants had a dismal season that saw them go 3-13. With injuries to Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, amongst others, Eli Manning was stalled on offense. The Giants took a step towards fixing their offense by drafting Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick. Furthermore, they signed OBJ to a wide-receiver record five-year deal worth $95 million. The Giants believe that their retooled offense, which includes a much-needed improved offense line, can boost their defense. Both teams will be looking for an early-season boost with a win in this Week 1 matchup.
3. San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings
This matchup should be one of the most compelling of the first week of play. The 49ers are coming off a year that saw them trade for and sign their franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers hope that Garoppolo can live up to the hype, as he’s only had a 10-game sample size to measure from.
The Vikings will be seeking another shot at the Super Bowl after getting upset by the Eagles in the NFC Championship game. Their team has enough skill position players on both sides of the ball to be elite; it will be up to new quarterback Kirk Cousins to deliver for Minnesota. Regardless, this game should prove to be an interesting NFC matchup of franchises looking to achieve past glory.
2. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The first game of the 2018 NFL season, this Thursday night matchup should be electric. Coming off a season-ending injury, and an MVP-type campaign, Carson Wentz will be determined to return to form, but Nick Foles will start in place of him. For the Eagles and their Super Bowl winning team, they will be focused on demonstrating that last year’s run wasn’t a fluke.
En route to winning the Super Bowl, the Eagles shocked many in the Divisional Round by beating the Falcons. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the offense will be looking to right their wrongs of the last two postseasons. The Falcons are ready to redeem themselves against the team that eliminated them. Expect both teams to come out firing of the gates, hungry to validate their success.
1. Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots
The Texans have their franchise quarterback returning from a serious injury. After flashing plenty of potential through his abbreviated rookie season, Deshaun Watson is ready to show that he can return from a devastating ACL injury. The Texans have Super Bowl aspirations if Watson and J.J. Watt return in top-tier form.
The team they’ll most likely have to go through in the playoffs is the team that has dominated the AFC for over a decade. The Patriots are suddenly looking more vulnerable this year and an end to their dynasty is finally in sight, possibly. Nonetheless, they will be looking to do whatever they can to get the most out of the remaining years of Tom Brady. As long as Brady and Bill Belichick are still both in the fold, this game may very well be a preview of the 2018 AFC championship.
All in all, the first week should provide plenty of excitement and fireworks as we embark on a new season. Fascinating storylines are aplenty, as the preseason has come to an end and the games that matter are finally played.