The 2016-17 NFL season featured one of the most exciting endings in NFL history. After falling behind 28-3 to the Falcons in the third quarter of Super Bowl 51, the Patriots came storming back to win 34-28 in overtime in improbable fashion. It helped Tom Brady earn his fifth Super Bowl victory, and it solidified the Patriots as the cream of the crop in the NFL. It also robbed Matt Ryan and the Falcons of the chance to win their first Super Bowl ever.
It’s going to be tough for the NFL to top that ending this season, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to try. On Thursday, Sept. 7, the Patriots will host the Chiefs on the NFL’s opening night and jump start what should be another exciting season for NFL fans. As we prepare to dive headfirst into NFL action, we decided to step back for a moment and assess what should be the biggest stories heading into the new NFL year. Here are the three storylines to look out for this season if you are an NFL fan.
Can anyone beat the Patriots?
The Patriots may have won the Super Bowl in February, but that didn’t stop them from making a few major moves during the offseason to get even better than they already were. They worked out a trade with the Saints that netted them speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and they also signed former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a deal in free agency. Additionally, they’ll get Rob Gronkowski back after he sat the end of last season with a back injury.
The Patriots did suffer a huge setback during the preseason when wide receiver Julian Edelman went down with a season-ending ACL injury. But even without Edelman in the lineup, New England is still the team to beat in the AFC this season. They should be able to cruise to the top of the AFC East and clinch a playoff berth early, and once they’re there, they’ll likely be favored to win all of their postseason games as they head towards another Super Bowl. The Raiders, Steelers, and potentially even the Broncos, Titans, and Ravens could present problems for the Patriots. But they will once again be the team to beat.
Will the Falcons be able to bounce back from their devastating Super Bowl loss?
Historically, teams that lose in the Super Bowl struggle during the following season. Cam Newton and the Panthers made a trip to Super Bowl 50 in February 2016, but after losing to the Broncos, they went just 6-10 last season and finished at the bottom of the AFC South while their division rivals, the Falcons, went to the Super Bowl.
This season, it will be the Falcons trying to overcome a Super Bowl hangover—and it’s not going to be easy for them to do. Unlike the Panthers, the Falcons probably should have won the Super Bowl if not for a big blown lead during the second half of the game. So they’re going to have to shake off whatever negative feelings they have heading into the season and find a way to put Super Bowl LI in the past.
The good news for the Falcons is that they’ve got all of their major weapons back this year. Matt Ryan will still be lining up under center and playing quarterback. Julio Jones will still be presenting matchup nightmares for opposing cornerbacks at the wide receiver position. And Devonta Freeman, who signed a contract in August making him the highest-paid running back in the NFL, will still be running all over the field for the Falcons. Plus, Atlanta will begin playing at their brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which should take their minds off what happened in the Super Bowl.
But still, it’s hard to imagine them not thinking about the Super Bowl loss from time to time, and it could impact them this season. And if they struggle because of it, could you even blame them?
Which rookie quarterback will prove to be the best of the bunch?
There are at least four rookie quarterbacks that could see some playing time this season. DeShone Kizer has already been named the starting QB for the Browns after beating out Brock Osweiler in training camp. But Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who was taken No. 2 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes could play in regular-season games as well.
None of the four are expected to have the kind of impact that then-rookie Dak Prescott had for the Cowboys last season. But then again, no one saw Prescott having the impact he did, so who knows? Maybe Kizer will end up leading the Browns to a 13-3 record and a playoff berth just like Prescott did for Dallas last season!
Er, or maybe not. But chances are, at least one of these rookie QBs is going to make his team’s fan base very happy this season. Which one ultimately has the most success is anyone’s guess, but it’ll be fun to see how productive they are when they finally take the field for their respective teams.