The anticipation is over. The first Sunday of the regular season is here and with it comes a glorious slate of football.
After Thursday night’s season opener proved to be a bit of a clunker, Sunday should offer hours of entertainment with no shortage of interesting match-ups.
Here, we pick out the juiciest storylines to keep an eye on.
Odell Beckham v Jalen Ramsey
As far as individual match-ups go, there may not be a more compelling one than Odell Beckham Jr versus Jalen Ramsey – two of the very best at their position and players known for more than just their football abilities.
Ramsey is arguably the biggest trash-talker in the league and a cornerback who can more than back it up by locking down opposing receivers. Beckham has a flair for highlight plays, but also a penchant for losing his composure and falling into the diva mould for wide receivers.
When they clash on Sunday, Ramsey will almost surely try to get in Beckham’s head to throw off his game, like Josh Norman did in 2015. But the Giants star said this week he learned his lesson from that encounter and won’t take the bait this time.
Regardless, the duel has the potential for fireworks.
Return of Deshaun Watson
Few players in the NFL are more exciting than Deshaun Watson, who raises the Houston Texans’ ceiling whenever he’s on the field.
After his rookie season was cut short due to a torn ACL last year, the duel-threat quarterback is back and healthy to make the Texans a dark horse challenger in the AFC.
To get Houston where they want to go though, Watson will have to go through the New England Patriots, who’ve owned the Texans over the years. Watson nearly beat the Patriots in Week 3 last season, and if he can avenge the defeat on Sunday, that would send a major statement on what the Texans are capable of this year.
On the flip side, it’s a chance for the Patriots to send a reminder that they’re still at the top of the food chain, and for Tom Brady to continue showing that his age is just a number.
No Bell, no problem?
Le’Veon Bell won’t be on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they face the Cleveland Browns as the reigning AFC North champions begin life without their star playmaker.
The bulk of the running back duties will fall to second-year player James Conner, who impressed in the preseason as both a runner and receiver.
Bell is expected to be back at some point this season, but with it all but certain that he won’t be on the Steelers roster next year, Week 1 will provide a glimpse into how Pittsburgh’s offence will operate beyond 2018.
Cleveland, meanwhile, are searching for their first win since Week 16 of 2016 as they attempt to end the woes the franchise has suffered for the past decade.
With the roster almost completely changed, the Browns have an opportunity to begin a fresh chapter on the right foot.
Something has to give
Jimmy Garoppolo carries a perfect 7-0 record as a starter into the new season, but that mark will be put to the test immediately in the opener against the Minnesota Vikings’ stout defence.
Minnesota are expected to be one of the best teams in league this season, in large part due to their defence, which allowed the fewest yards (275.9) and points per game (15.8) last year.
The San Francisco 49ers may not yet be in the same tier as the Vikings, but the team should take another step forward in the second year of the Garoppolo-Kyle Shanahan pairing. Week 1 will help reveal where the 49ers currently stand in relation to the top contenders in the NFC.
Defence could be in rare supply in the contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.
Kansas City looked like they couldn’t stop anyone in the preseason, while the Chargers are seriously banged up and will be without pass rush extraordinaire Joey Bosa for the match-up.
Add in the Chiefs’ high-octane offence with big-armed Patrick Mahomes under centre, and the Chargers having their own set of dangerous weapons, and the game has the potential to be the highest-scoring of the week.
Watson, who returns to the field this season after an ACL tear cut short his rookie campaign, is dangerous as both a runner and passer, which Belichick acknowledged as he compared the situation to facing Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton weeks ago in the preseason.
“When you’ve got guys that are unique players that have special skills, you can’t replicate them,” Belichick said.
See Belichick’s full comments in the video below.
The end of the road is coming sooner than later for the five-time Super Bowl winner, which is why Brady isn’t taking for his ability to keep on playing for granted.
“It’s a blessing to be able to do it,” Brady said.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time so I’m not sure what life would be like without it,” he added.
See Brady’s full comments in the video below.