Football is back! Here are five things to watch this NFL season

Leave a comment

After an offseason filled with players returning from retirement, celebration rule changes, and Gronk being Gronk, football is back!

Before the Hall of Fame game gets underway, here are five storylines to watch as the new football season approaches.

Heavy is the head that wears the Star

Dallas entered last season with a rookie backup quarterback that wasn’t expected to see a lot of time until Tony Romo got injured and a rookie running back that was supposed to make an immediate impact. Now, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott enter this season with expectations the size of Texas. The Cowboys are looking to win the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995, or when TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the No. 2 song on the Billboard charts.

Undefeated Patriots? It could happen…

Even Seahawks fans can admit that Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever and Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time. The amazing thing about the Patriots is their ability to reload (specifically from the Buffalo Bills, but that’s a longer story). Lose Martellus Bennett? Bring in Dwayne Allen. Lose LeGarrette Blount? Pick up Rex Burkhead. Top it off with an electric Brandin Cooks and the NFL’s best offense may be even better in 2017.

Falcons’ Super Bowl hangover recovery

28-3. The rallying cry of Patriots fans everywhere that makes Falcons fans cringe and want to crawl into a hole. Everyone talks about the Super Bowl hangover, but will a series of changes, including offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan departing to run his own team in San Francisco, be enough for the Falcons to return to the Super Bowl? Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will have a major role in that.

Kaepernick’s role

As of this post, Colin Kaepernick is still without a spot on an NFL roster. That could change at any moment. Kaepernick potentially has two landing spots: Miami Dolphins or Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco has been dealing with a back injury in camp, and the Dolphins are fearing the worst with Ryan Tannehill‘s knee injury Thursday. On the field, Kaepernick makes sense for both teams as a backup quarterback. But will one of these teams actually sign the former 49ers quarterback?

Raiders’ Resurgence

Before the Falcons’ brutal Super Bowl collapse, the Raiders held the crown for the most devastating way to have your season end, with quarterback Derek Carr breaking his leg two games before the playoffs started. Now, with Carr back and healthy, the Raiders look poised to make a big run and make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2002. One person who remembers that run well? Oakland native and new Raider Marshawn Lynch, who was a student at Oakland Tech high school.

Just think of it this way-you’ll now have football every Thursday until January, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the season.

Keep up with all of NBC Sports NFL coverage on Apple News and on the NBC Sports app

Patriots’ Super Bowl odds lead the pack as NFL preseason gets underway

1 Comment

The recent track record with the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl odds suggests their price today might be as high-yield as it gets, barring an unanticipated stumble.

With the NFL preseason beginning this week, the defending champion Patriots are listed at +375 on the Super Bowl 52 champion board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Their price is half that of the nominal second favorite, the Green Bay Packers (+750), while four other teams with championship aspirations — the Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks — have a +1200 price tag.

The preseason favorites prior to the 2015 and 2016 NFL seasons had +600 odds. But New England is coming off a championship season where it upgraded both its passing game and pass defense, adding deep threat WR Brandin Cooks and Pro Bowl CB Stephen Gilmore respectively.

Last year, the Patriots were at +650 before the season and their price dropped each week as they got off to a hot start, falling to +375 after only four games. With an early schedule that has only two 2016 playoff teams in the first six games (the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1 and Houston Texans in Week 3), Tom Brady and the Patriots could again shoot out of the gate quickly.

Those inclined to seek out a higher price — or opposed to picking New England, perhaps on general principle — certainly have options. The Packers are always a threat as long as they have Aaron Rodgers, who guided Green Bay to the NFC Championship Game last season without a healthy running back.

If New England is to be dethroned, the culprit might come from within the AFC, meaning either the Raiders with Derek Carr, or the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger (and Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown). It is worth noting that, based on the 2016 records of their slate of opponents, the Raiders’ schedule is rated fourth-toughest in the NFL and the Steelers’ is rated the sixth-easiest.

That might mean Pittsburgh has a better shot at the 13- or 14-win season it would take to wrestle home-field advantage throughout the playoffs away from the Patriots. It’s not as if being forced away from Foxboro in January drains the Patriots of their dominance, but it has made a difference.

It’s probably best to fade the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons (+1600), who had arguably the worst collapse in American sports history when they blew a 25-point lead against New England in the Super Bowl. Teams that blow that kind of opportunity are seldom awarded a second chance.

Packers underdogs, Patriots big favorites among NFL Divisional Round odds

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers thrive as a road underdog in the postseason, but the Dallas Cowboys figure to be healthier and more rested for their showdown on Sunday.

The Cowboys are listed as 4.5-point favorites on the NFL point spreads against the Packers with a 52-point total in their NFC Divisional Round matchup slated for AT&T Stadium on Sunday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Dallas is 1-3 straight-up and 0-4 against the spread in its last four divisional round games, but are also riding a seven-win streak at home where they are 5-2 against the spread.

With Rodgers against Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott, the Packers have an edge in experience, and Rodgers’ savvy is reflected in a 6-1 ATS record in their last seven playoff games as an underdog. The Packers, offensively, are almost completely reliant on the passing attack and may have to adapt without WR Jordy Nelson (collapsed lung, ribs).

With the combo of Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys might be able to dictate the pace to a Packers defense that is lacking in pass coverage.

The Atlanta Falcons are listed as 4.5-point favorites against the Seattle Seahawks with a 51.5-point total in the NFC tilt on Saturday. While the Falcons are 1-5 SU and 0-6 ATS in their last six playoff games, the dual threat of WR Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel means Seahawks CB Richard Sherman will only be able to nullify one receiving threat.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson will not be facing a statistically-imposing Falcons pass rush, but during their wild card game the Seahawks’ much-maligned offensive line had issues with the Detroit Lions’ garden-variety front four.

The New England Patriots are 16-point favorites against the Houston Texans with a 44.5-point total in the AFC matchup on Saturday. The Patriots, who are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games as a favorite of at least 14 points, won 27-0 in the teams’ regular-season game when third-string QB Jacoby Brissett was playing instead of Tom Brady.

New England also enters the week as the favorites on the odds to win Super Bowl 51, and has a 34.5 percent chance to win the championship according to PredictionMachine.com.

The Kansas City Chiefs are a slim two-point favorite against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 44.5-point total in Sunday’s AFC betting matchup. The Steelers, with RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown together in the playoffs for the first time, will be trying to break a cycle of being 0-5 SU and 0-4-1 ATS in their last five games on the road after consecutive home games.

Kansas City, 11-2 SU in their last 13 home games, is a changed team since their 29-point road defeat in Pittsburgh in Week 5, with WR Tyreek Hill becoming a touchdown threat to complement QB Alex Smith and TE Travis Kelce.

In the last four years the favored team has only lost SU twice in the Divisional Round (14-2 SU). In the last three years the visiting team is 7-3-2 ATS in the Divisional Round.