A look at the first weekend of the NFL’s first 17-game season:
—This is the first test of the NFL’s new vax policy. It says 93 percent of the players are vaxxed. Will any key unvaxxed players – notably Kirk Cousins – test positive the day of game?
—The season opens Thursday night with the defending champion Bucs hosting the Cowboys. The fact the Cowboys got this marquee assignment shows the league still considers them ratings gold. But will they make a game of it with Dak Prescott seeing his first action in almost a year? It also pits Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn vs. Tom Brady. Quinn, of course, was the Atlanta coach in Falcons’ 28-3 meltdown vs. Brady and the Patriots. Bucs are 7.5 favorites.
—In the other two primetime games, the Rams are seven-point favorites over the Bears on Sunday night and the Ravens are four-point choices at the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night. None of the three primetime underdogs had a winning record last year, although Chicago made the playoffs at 8-8. You would have thought the league would have had better primetime matches for first weekend of the season.
—In the late games Sunday afternoon, CBS has Jim Nantz and Tony Romo doing the Browns at Kansas City and Fox has Joe Buck and Troy Aikman doing the Saints-Packers at Jacksonville. The game was moved because of damage done by Hurricane Ida in New Orleans.
—Three rookie quarterbacks drafted on the first round will make their first starts. Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars is a three-point choice at Houston and Mac Jones of the Patriots is a 2.5-point pick at home against Miami. Zach Wilson of the Jets is a 5.5-point underdog at Carolina, where he will face former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. The Jets traded Darnold after drafting Wilson.
—Jones will start against Miami’s Tuo Tagovailoa. They were teammates on the 2018 Alabama team along with Jalen Hurts, who will start for Philadelphia. Alabama lost the national title game that year to Clemson and Lawrence by a 44-16 margin. The Patriots-Dolphins matchup is critical because they are both likely to be chasing Buffalo in the AFC East.
—Kansas City will unveil its new offensive line when the Chiefs host Baker Mayfield and the Browns. The Chiefs’ inability to protect Patrick Mahomes was a major factor in their Super Bowl loss to the Bucs, and they have revamped it. Now they have to show if they can protect Mahomes.
—Besides the Rams-Bears, Chiefs-Browns and Saints-Packers games, the other game featuring two playoff teams from last year is the Seahawks-Colts matchup.
—Buffalo, touted as possibly to top AFC threat to foil Kansas City’s bid to make the Super Bowl three years in a row, opens against a Pittsburgh team that had a meltdown at the end of last year. Ben Roethlisberger will try to show he has something left in the tank.
—The Giants and Washington have a short week upcoming because they play the Thursday night game to start the second week. Both open at home, so the Giants will have a short road trip.