The anticipated Week 1 of the NFL season finally has arrived. Here are the High five things to watch on this week’s schedule:
How the Falcons, who open the season Sunday in Chicago, react to their Super Bowl runner-up, having blown that 25-point lead to the Patriots, will be a compelling topic all season.
Will they rebound with a vengeance, determined to take what they believed was theirs a year ago? Or will they suffer from a hangover affect lingering from that loss?
The Falcons should take a hard look at their division opponents, the Panthers — who went 6-10 last season after going 15-1 in 2015, advancing to Super Bowl 50 only to lose to the Broncos.
Atlanta remains one of the most talented teams in the league, particularly on offense, where they’re led by quarterback Matt Ryan and a stable of terrific receivers, including Julio Jones. But, as many teams have learned the hard way, talent alone is not nearly enough to prosper in the NFL.
And, Ryan will play on now without his offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, who was hired as the 49ers head coach, replaced in Atlanta by Steve Sarkisian.
A fast start could be paramount for the Falcons in their effort to move on from the Super Bowl loss. The opener against an average-at-best Bears team is a help. But meetings against the Packers and Patriots loom in the first five games.
QB injury to watch
The Colts will open the season Sunday against the Rams in L.A., and they’ll do it without quarterback Andrew Luck under center. How long Luck is out, coming off January right shoulder surgery, is anyone’s guess.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard told reporters recently there is “still no timetable’’ for Luck’s return. In the meantime, backup Scott Tolzien will start.
Ballard said Luck “is in the training phase right now,’’ adding, “He’s done excellent in his rehab, and we’re still continuing to take it week to week.”
Encouraging news for Luck, who hasn’t done any on-field work with his teammates since Week 17 of last season, was not left on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to start the season, which would have left him ineligible to play the first six weeks of the regular season.
So hopefully for the Colts, Luck will be back sooner rather than later. With Luck at quarterback, the Colts are 43-27, averaging 24.4 points per game and 258.2 passing yards per game. Without him, they’re 6-4, averaging 18.3 points and 213 passing yards per game.
With Luck, the Colts are a playoff contender. Without him, they’re ordinary.
According to the Indianapolis Star, during an offseason workout, Luck told team owner Jim Irsay, “I know I’m going to be an even better quarterback than I’ve ever been before. I just don’t know when.”
Until then, Indianapolis waits … and hopes.
Former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who signed with the Saints in the offseason, gets to face his former team Monday night.
Peterson, who was picked by the Vikings seventh overall in the 2007 draft, rushed for 11,717 yards and 82 TDs in his 10 years in Minnesota. He was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2012, and was a four-time first-team All-Pro selection and made the Pro Bowl seven times. So you can imagine the attention for his return.
“I was talking to my wife about that last night, actually, and she’s like, ‘So, babe, how pumped up are you for Monday night?’ ’’ Peterson told reporters in New Orleans this week. I’m pretty excited about it, I’m just trying to keep myself calm until Monday night comes around.
“It’s going to be cool going back seeing the guys and playing against those guys, but the most important thing is leaving with a W. That’s the most important thing.”
When the Vikings opted not to pick up Peterson’s $18 million contract, they parted ways in the offseason and he signed a two-year, $7 million free agent contract with the Saints.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he understands the gravity of the moment for his new teammate.
“I’m sure it will be real emotional,” Brees said. “That guy spent virtually his whole career there before coming here. He’s a future Hall of Famer. He’s meant a lot to that team for a long time and probably that community as well. So, yeah, it’s emotional.’’
As big a difference as it is for Peterson to not be playing for the Vikings is the fact he is behind Mark Ingram on the Saints’ depth chart.
“Of course it’s strange, but anything you want, you work for,” Peterson told New Orleans reporters. “I’m not the type of guy, no matter my status, to come in and be like, ‘Hey, I’m that first guy now.’ Mark, he’s been here for a long time, I’m OK with that. I’ve been the guy for 10 years.
“I’m comfortable and confident with my ability and what I’m able to do. So I don’t let things like that bother me. For me, it’s never about being selfish. It’s about being in a position to score and winning a game. I’m sure I’ll have my opportunities to get in there as well.’’
Perhaps as soon as Monday night.
When the Jaguars play in Houston on Sunday, the game will pit two close friends coaching against each other in Doug Marrone for Jacksonville and Bill O’Brien for Houston.
The coaches have known each other since 1995, when O’Brien was on Georgia Tech’s staff as a graduate assistant and Marrone was the team’s director of football operations. They used to carpool to work together.
Marrone’s wife, Helen, was college roommates with O’Brien’s wife, Colleen, at Boston College and introduced O’Brien to his wife.
“You’re talking about someone who’s one of my best friends in the business; we’ve been friends a long time,’’ Marrone told reporters this week.
“He and his wife introduced myself and my wife, so we go way back,’’ O’Brien said. “We coached together, roomed together at Georgia Tech. When it comes to this league and this game, if you’re in this thing long enough you become friends with a lot of different people and when the game kicks off, friendship’s out the window and you’re trying to do the best job you can to win the game.”
Maronne said, “During this period of time, we don’t talk. It’s just too much.”
Hours apart last Christmas Eve, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota broke his right fibula in the second half of a game against the Jaguars then Raiders quarterback Derek Carr suffered a right fibula injury while being sacked.
Sunday’s meeting will be the first time either of the two friends has played a game of meaning since their respective injuries.
“I’m glad to see him healthy,” Mariota said of Carr. “We played against each other in college. We played a couple of times in the league. He’s a great guy, someone very nice, and it’s always very cordial when we get to meet each other.”
Carr on Mariota: “I love the way he plays. I love his game. I really think that he’s a great leader. He’s very poised, very accurate, very mobile, makes great decisions, especially in the red zone.’’
Carr, picked in the second round pick of the 2014 draft, had a breakout season in 2016, passing for 3,937 yards with 28 TDs and just six INTs. Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2014, passed for 3,426 yards last season with 26 TDs, nine INTs.
Carr is 2-0 against Mariota so far in their NFL careers.
“I wish him the best,’’ Carr said. “I just hope he waits at least a week.”