Previewing NFL Week 1

A look ahead to Week One of the NFL’s 100th season:

A century ago seemed to be a good time to start a sports league.

The 1920s were a golden age of sports. Baseball barely survived World War I, when attendance dropped and players were unhappy with their meager salaries.

The 1919 World Series was fixed, and there have been unproven allegations the 1918 Series was fixed, too.

But Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees gave the sport new life. College football became popular with Knute Rockne coaching the Four Horsemen at Notre Dame. Boxing was big with Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, and horse racing was a major sport.

But the NFL struggled for almost four decades before it eventually became America’s most popular sport with a big assist from TV.

Now its only problem is dealing with too much success and the perception that it harms the health of the players. A lack of leadership doesn’t help, either.

Surviving was the important thing a century ago. Now the challenge is to maintain its popularity.

Game of the Week

New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, the only teams to win six Super Bowls, collide in the Sunday night TV special.The Patriots have dominated the series in recent years, winning six of the last eight and beating the Steelers in the playoffs three times in the Tom Brady era. This is a bigger game for the Steelers than the Patriots, who are almost guaranteed a playoff berth in the cozy AFC East. The Steelers hope to show that they gained addition by subtraction by getting rid of the Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown distractions. But the Patriots still have Brady, and it’ll be interesting to see if he shows any signs of his age at 42. The 53 Super Bowl winners were 43-9-1 in their openers the following year.

Game of the Weak

San Francisco at Tampa Bay. The 49ers were 4-12 last year and the Bucs were 5-11. The 49ers are hoping for a rebound if Jimmy Garoppolo stays healthy. The Bucs have a new coach in Bruce Arians, noted as a quarterback whisperer who will try to figure out how to make Jameis Winston a better player. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan may be on the hot seat if he has another losing season. The good thing about matching two bad in the opener is the one of them starts with a victory.

Five Things to Watch

1. The new pass interference replay rule. This new rule is an overreaction to the non-call in the New Orleans Saints-Los Angeles Rams playoff game. Pass interference is too subjective for replay. For better or worse, it is best to stick with the call on the field. But director of officials Al Riveron is noted for overturning calls that are too close to be overturned. We’ll see if he creates more controversies and causes more delays during the games.

2. Don’t forget that openers are important. Of the 602 teams that won their openers since the 16-game schedule went into effect in 1978, 311 went to the playoffs. Of the losers, only 147 did. And some of the losers were playoff teams matched against a playoff-caliber team.

3. Miami figures to lose its opener to Baltimore, but the question is whether the Dolphins will be competitive. Their strategy of dumping players for draft picks – call it rebuilding or tanking – could leave the Dolphins with a team that isn’t competitive this year.

4. Le’Veon Bell makes his debut for the New York Jets after sitting out last season to get out of Pittsburgh. Watch how many carries he gets against Buffalo. Most running backs want the ball, but Bell seemed to think the Steelers were trying to shorten his career by giving him too much of a workload. Bell has 7,996 yards in 62 games, so he figures to become the fastest player to reach the 8,000-yard mark in league history.

5. Wunderkind Patrick Holmes will bring his high-flying offense to Jacksonville to open the season. The Kansas City Chiefs have scored 25 or more points a league record 21 games in a row but could face a tough test from the Jacksonville defense. The Chiefs routed the Jaguars 30-14 last year, but Blake Bortles threw four picks. Assuming that new quarterback Nick Foles, expected to play with an abdominal injury, doesn’t throw picks, the Jaguars could give the Chiefs a challenge. 

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