As the NFL rounds out the first week of the preseason, the last five games bring us more questions, more answers, the 2016 debut of two Super Bowl contenders and two of the most heralded skill position rookies this year.
Seattle at Kansas City:
Seattle: The second half of last season saw an unprecedented offensive explosion for Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense, as his second half numbers were on a 50:4 TD:INT ratio. The Seahawks also did this without their big trade asset in Jimmy Graham, who is on his way back from a torn patellar tendon. Long-time starting running back Marshawn Lynch hung them up in the offseason, so the big question surrounding the team is if the team will continue their pass-first tendencies. Obviously, they will not maintain the torrid second-half pace, but they could move away from ground and pound as Russell Wilson matures.
Kansas City: Eric Berry is holding out, Justin Houston is coming back from injury and the Chiefs defense is swirling with question marks. The first-team defense is going to look drastically different this weekend due to these two mainstays being out for the foreseeable future. The Chiefs hope that Tamba Hali, Dontari Poe and Marcus Peters can lead the way while Berry and Houston make their way back to the team. As much as the Seahawks’ offense is a big question mark, the Chiefs defense is equally so.
Indianapolis at Buffalo
Indianapolis: Oh boy, here we go. The league is waiting for Andrew Luck to return to his 2014 form after a questionable and injured 2015 campaign, and with T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Philip Dorsett in tow, this should be the year of Andrew Luck. Hilton is a shifty and talented receiver and Moncrief is set for a big breakout. The Colts hope that Dorsett can stretch the field enough to make room for them underneath. Andrew Luck got paid this offseason, and the Colts hope he can improve on his “uneven” camp.
Buffalo: Tyrod “TyGod” “Tyrod Time” Taylor got a massive pay raise this week, signing a six-year, $92 million exception. Much like the Colin Kaepernick deal, the Tyrod deal has “a lot of prove it,” meaning that most of that $92 is unguaranteed funny money. Obviously, the Bills have liked what they’ve seen in training camp and want to give Taylor a shot at being their long-term solution at center. For a journeyman and former third stringer, that’s huge. The question is if he can live up to that deal. The answers begin Saturday.
San Diego at Tennessee
San Diego: This is supposed to be the debut of Joey Bosa, but the Chargers have decided that they are going to stomp their feet and hold their breath until Bosa stops demanding his guaranteed money that is supposed to be paid up front is actually guaranteed and actually paid up front. Instead, the Chargers game will be all about figuring out who steps up to be the third wide receiver now that WR3 Steve Johnson is out for the season with a knee injury. Veteran James Jones was signed late in camp, but third year receiver Dontrelle Inman has been around longer. It will definitely be a battle to see who gets those reps, as they have a huge shot at playing time when if oft-injured WR1 Keenan Allen goes down during the regular season.
Tennessee: Nobody is quite sure what “exotic smash mouth” is, but that is what Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said they would be running this year, with new additions to the running back room in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. While Murray, who is best left in a hyperbaric chamber between plays to prevent injury, is unlikely to play a ton, we will likely see a good load of David Cobb and Antonio Andrews running the scheme. At least we’ll be able to figure out what the heck it means. Or it doesn’t mean anything. After all, Band of Brothers told us what Mularkey means.
Dallas at St. Louis Los Angeles
Dallas: The Cowboys are vying for the NFC East crown, but they’re going to have a heck of a time with Rolando McClain (who can’t stop sipping on the sizzurp), DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory (who is reportedly in rehab) combined to miss eighteen games due to various suspensions this year. Also Sean Lee is still Sean Lee, so he’s set to miss some time as well. The Cowboys will get their first in-game look at their replacements. Last year’s fifth-round pick Russell Ryan is set to start over DeMarcus Lawrence, and 49ers’ flameout Lawrence Okoye is his backup. It’s a dire situation there. David Irving and Anthony Hitchens are set to slide into Gregory and McClain’s roles, and the Cowboys need them to step up big if they have any chance of winning. They think their success rises and falls with a Tony Romo injury, but it may be their defense that is their downfall.
Los Angeles: Now that Jared Goff knows which direction the sun rises and sets, the #1 overall pick and partial focal point of this season’s Hard Knocks makes his NFL debut this weekend. The Rams are hoping that their move west and the drafting of Goff can signal a new direction for the franchise, and that new direction starts now. Their defense is already set, but their offense was a mess last year. Reportedly, Case Keenum is set to start week one against the 49ers, but a strong preseason from Goff could force Jeff Fisher’s hand.
Houston at San Francisco:
Houston: The Texans defense can’t be evaluated, as they will be without uber-defender J.J. Watt and former #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney for the preseason. Instead, the Texans will get a look at their big free agent acquisitions Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller. 2015’s AFC South winners are hoping to return to the mantle they earned by default in a much improved division, and they will need big years out of Miller & Osweiler to return to glory. They’ll get the first look at their new and improved offense Sunday in San Francisco.
San Francisco: The messiest quarterback situation in the NFL will get some clarity on Sunday, as Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick are listed as the co-number one starters on the first official depth chart. They’re taking on a stout Texans defense. Gabbert has the lead, but as long as new 49ers head coach Chip Kelly has been in the NFL, he’s been wanting a player like Kaepernick. Gabbert definitely represents the higher floor, but Kaepernick has the higher ceiling. The Chip Kelly Offense has turned bad quarterbacks into decent options before (remember Nick Foles?), so the winner of this battle could earn himself some respect around the NFL.
The NFL is back, and by the time you head out to work on Monday morning, no matter who your team is, you will have something to talk about. While the games aren’t real, the teams have a ton riding on the outcomes of the performances. Worst case scenario is we’re one step closer to the regular season.