Five things I’ll be looking at in the first week of the 2017 NFL season:
1. How will Tom Brady play in the Patriots Thursday night opener against the Chiefs?
At age 40, Brady has shown no signings of slowing down in training camp. And if Brady is still Brady, they are three games – two home playoff games and the Super Bowl – away from a sixth Super Bowl title before they inflate their first football.
With Brady, they are a lock to make the playoffs again since they play in a division with the Jets, Bills and Dolphins. But sometimes aging quarterbacks can just suddenly fall off a cliff. Or decline slowly.
Brady will be under the microscope for any signs of slowing down all season. Oh, and the other thing about the opener is the reception the Patriots fans will give Roger Goodell. How many will wear the clown T-shirt that defensive coordinator Matt Patricia wore getting off the plane after the Super Bowl? What will their signs say?
My suggestion is: Roger Goodell = Peter Principle. Goodell went to a Patriots preseason game in Foxboro when the fans didn’t know he was there. They’ll know he’ll be there Thursday night.
2. What will the TV ratings be like?
The NFL had a big dropoff in the first half of the season last year in the TV ratings that they blamed on the interest in the presidential election. They rebounded in the second half after the election when the playoff races were heating up. Will they rebound in the first half this year or are lower ratings the NFL’s new normal?
They twice had the lowest TV rating for a national TV game in the preseason in 14 years with Jaguars-Bucs and Rams-Chargers. Is that a sign of things to come or a result of two bad matches?
One of the NFL’s TV problems is that they don’t have enough good teams to fill all the national TV slots.
3. How will Seattle and Atlanta look?
Seattle was a yard away from winning back-to-back Super Bowls just three years ago. You know what happened and the Seahawks haven’t been the same since. And they face a tough opener against Green Bay.
Atlanta not only has to face the Super Bowl hangover of the biggest collapse in the game’s history, but they’re trying to become the first team to lose the Super Bowl and win it the next year since 1972 when the perfect Dolphins did it
They get what should be an easy one in their opener against Chicago. But except for this game, this may not be an easy season for the Falcons as they live with the ghost of last year.
And has Dan Quinn figured out how to manage the game with a big lead? It’s still amazing that a guy could become a head coach in the NFL and not understand that. Bill Cowher’s teams almost never lost with a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter because he would shut down the offense and protect the lead.
4. When will Miami play its opener?
The Dolphins are scheduled to host Tampa Bay on Sunday. The storyline for the Dolphins is supposed to be how Jay Cutler plays at quarterback.
But now the focus is on Hurricane Irma and the impact it will have on the game with it supposedly bearing down on Miami this Sunday.
Will they move it up a day? Will they move it back a day? Switch to a neutral site? Or switch to the teams’ bye week on Nov. 19? Stay tuned.
5. The Game of the Weak
Dating back to the days of Bert Bell as commissioner in the 1940s and ’50s, the NFL has tried to schedule two bad teams in the opener so one gets to start with a victory.
So they paired the Jets and Bills, two terrible teams that have been going nowhere for years and are now in their umpteenth rebuilding programs.
But sometimes rebuilding programs just lead to more rebuilding programs. The Jets have even been accused of tanking the season. Still, one of them will start out 1-0 while both remain in contention for the first pick in the draft.