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

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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

Week 16 NFL opening odds have Giants, Raiders, Steelers as favorites

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There is reason to think Eli Manning and the New York Giants will maintain their record of being a near-lock when favored by a field goal or less.

While they’re on the road, the Giants are listed as 2.5-point favorites against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Thursday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

New York is 6-1-1 against the spread in its last eight games as a favorite of three or fewer points, while the Eagles will be out to break a negative trend of being 0-4 straight-up and ATS in their last four divisional games.

Manning and WR Odell Beckham Jr. are facing an Eagles defense whose yards per pass allowed has ballooned to 7.7, 26th in the 32-team NFL. The Giants’ improving defense could fluster rookie QB Carson Wentz, whose complement of receivers might struggle with getting separation from the trio of Eli Apple, Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Elsewhere, the Oakland Raiders are 3.5-point favorites against the Indianapolis Colts. Each team’s chances ride heavily on their respective quarterbacks, Andrew Luck and Derek Carr. The status of Colts RT Joe Reitz (back), who would be matched up on pass rusher extraordinaire Khalil Mack, is in doubt. The Raiders are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 home games according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

The Buffalo Bills are 3.5-point favorites against the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins control their playoff destiny but are 2-9 ATS in their last 11 road games against Buffalo. The Bills’ run defense is a mess and RB Jay Ajayi might be able to provide the necessary support for backup QB Matt Moore, who is coming off a four-touchdown game in Week 15.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 4.5-point favorites against the Baltimore Ravens in a Christmas Day betting matchup. While Baltimore is on a 7-0 ATS streak in AFC North games, Ravens QB Joe Flacco‘s offense is more sporadic than the unit led by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens are 0-7 SU and 1-6 ATS in their last seven games in the late afternoon.

The Kansas City Chiefs are favored by four points against the Denver Broncos in the Sunday Night Football matchup. Although the Chiefs are coming off a loss against Tennessee, they regularly disrupt quarterbacks through DE Chris Jones, OLB Dee Ford and OLB Justin Houston. Denver QB Trevor Siemian and his offensive line haven’t been able to withstand that very often this season.

And the Dallas Cowboys are favored by seven points against the Detroit Lions in the Monday Night Football matchup. Lions QB Matthew Stafford has a chance to put up some points and Detroit’s defense, which allows an average of 98.9 rushing yards, might be able to limit NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys are not only on an 0-4 ATS streak, but they are 3-10-1 ATS in their last 14 home games against teams with winning records.

Ravens TE Watson tears right Achilles, likely out for season

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BALTIMORE (AP) Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson has torn his right Achilles tendon and is likely lost for the season.

The injury occurred on Baltimore’s first offensive play in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions on Saturday night.

Watson appeared to trip while running a pattern and slumped to the turf. After he finally got up, he had to be helped off the field.

Signed as a free agent in March, Watson was expected to be a key element in the Ravens’ passing game. He had 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns last season with New Orleans.

The 35-year-old broke into the league in 2004 with New England and played with Cleveland from 2010 through 2012 before going to the Saints.

He has 434 catches for 4,963 yards and 38 touchdowns in 163 games.

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL