The NFL is officially back! The season opened up with the Carolina Panthers going into Denver and losing to the defending champion Denver Broncos by a score of 21-20 in a rematch of last years big game. The Panthers had their chance, but Graham Gano missed wide left at the end of the match. But that was just the start of the fun, as it was game one of week one, in a season that goes for 17 regular season games.
As for the rest of week one, more fun will begin this Sunday, September 11th. There will be nine games at 1:00 EST, three at 4:00 EST, another one at 8:30 EST plus two games on Monday night! Of those fifteen remaining games for the opening week, one of the more intriguing match-ups comes down in Florida, and it will see the Green Bay Packers take on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Super Bowl contenders out of the NFC North will travel south to take on the sleepers out of the AFC South in a fun opening week match-up. Aaron Rodgers will lead his high-powered offense against the underrated offense that is led by Blake Bortles, who has just as many weapons as the Packers at his disposal.
This is set to be an explosive game with plenty to watch for. But to help narrow things down a bit, here are five key questions to take into the game, as the answers may very well determine what path these teams take this season.
Is Jordy Nelson truly healthy?
Last season was a lost season for Jordy Nelson. The Packers number one wide receiver suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during the preseason last year, and would go on to miss the entire season in which the Packers played musical chairs at the position. So needless to say, the return of a healthy Jordy is critical to the team from Wisconsin.
Then we came to the start of this season, and Nelson was limited for OTA’s. Despite being limited, everyone was saying he was on pace for a week one start. At the opening of camp, Nelson was placed on the PUP, which was not a surprise given he was still over a year since suffering the injury. Things were still on track according to the organization.
Then on July 25th, 2016, Jordy tweaked his left knee, which was not the knee that had the torn ACL. The diagnosis was tendinitis in the left knee from the rehab and was deemed minor. Things remained on track for week one, despite now having some questions regarding not one, but two knees.
August 17th, roughly three weeks later, saw Nelson’s activation from the PUP. Nelson would begin participating in warm-ups for games and practices. He would go on to sit out every game in the pre-season, but got plenty of one-on-one work with Aaron Rodgers. He took part in his first 11-on-11 practice for the season on August 29th, which is just under two weeks before the team’s match-up with the Jags.
Entering the game, Nelson is not listed on the injury report and expected to be a full go for week one. But the question remains, will Jordy be the same Jordy from two seasons ago? Will either of the knee issues creep back up on him this season? How explosive will he be in this game? Nelson’s burst and route running should be watched closely this week, as it could tell us a lot about how his season will turn out. And ultimately, the team’s success will hinge partly on the answer to that question.
Will the Jaguars O-line be their downfall this season
The Jaguars are a team that many people may not realize are loaded with talent. Blake Bortles will enter his third season in the league, and looks to take the next step forward. The 24 year old signal caller will be surrounded by a tremendous supporting cast of skill players. At receiver he has a star in the making in the form of Allen Robinson, plus role player Allen Hurns. Julius Thomas should provide a formidable threat, especially in the red zone. Add in his two running backs TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory and the team has a ton of skill players.
The defense has potential to be solid as well. Dante Fowler, who missed all of last season due to a torn ACL, will enter the season fully healthy and with a ceiling as high as any. Malik Jackson comes over from the Denver Broncos, who had one of the best, if not the best, defenses in the league last season. Add in this years first round pick Jalen Ramsey who will sure up the secondary, plus a second round pick in the form of Myles Jack, who had top-five pick talent, but dropped due to injury risk. Jack looks solid and healthy, and could be a special talent for the Jags this season.
That leads us to the offensive line, which leaves a lot to be desired. Luke Joeckel has been a total disappointment since being taken second overall back in 2013, and is playing in a contract year. He will need to prove himself if he wants any kind of future in the league. Brandon Linder will man the center position, and likely becomes the teams best lineman after missing 13 games with a torn labrum last year.
Kelvin Beachum was brought over from the Pittsburgh Steelers this off-season to sure up the line but has been dealing with a bad knee after tearing his ACL last year. He has been on and off when it comes to practicing and is no lock to be at his best if he plays.
AJ Cann and Jermey Parnell are both average lineman at best and round out the starting five when all are healthy. The unit as a whole is not great in either pass protection or setting up the run game. Over the last three seasons, the team has allowed 172 sacks, with 51 coming to Bortles last year alone.
This kind of poor pass protection is not going to help Bortles grow and cut down on the interceptions. It will lead to many rushed throws, and the team will suffer as a whole because of it. The skill players are in place, but the team can only go as far as their offensive line will take them.
If the unit can just be average, this team can surely win the AFC South and win over eight games. But if they suffer from poor play, a sub-500 season could be in play. So play careful attention to how they protect Bortles and set up the two backs in this one.
Which Eddie Lacy will we get?
Eddie Lacy is a 26-year-old running back who showed immense potential in his first two seasons. Then last year in his third pro season, he looked out of shape and slowed. Now he enters his fourth season, which will be his contract year. So will the real Eddie Lacy please stand up?
In his first two campaigns in the NFL, Lacy ran for over 1,000 yards each season. The back ran for a combined 20 touchdowns over the course of those two years and averaged 4.35 yards a carry. He added on 77 catches for nearly 700 yards as well from those receptions. He was busting off longer runs every other game it seemed like, and it made him one of the best backs in the league leading into last season.
But then last season he showed up looking overweight and simply not football ready. And it showed on the field, with Lacy lacking the same burst and energy he flashed in his first two years. He failed to crack 800 yards on the ground, with only four rushes of 20+ yards on the entire season. He also fumbled the ball four times, which equaled his total of the prior two seasons. He was just not the same player, even though he was at a prime age.
Entering this season, Lacy showed up in tremendous shape. Given it is his contract year, he is likely to be motivated as well. But will these factors result in a successful season? The signs are positive, but it is time for us to see him do it on the field once again. Week one will provide our first look at Lacy for the 2017 season.
Given the young talent, the Jaguars defense possesses this will be a good opening test for the back. They are not seen as a top defense in the league, but the talent is there to put up a formidable test. It is time to find out who the real Eddie Lacy is.
How will Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon split the workload?
The Jaguars have one of the best one-two running back combos in the league. They have the explosive 22-year-old Yeldon, paired with the rough and tough 28-year-old Ivory. The combo should compliment one another quite well this season.
Yeldon enters his second NFL season, after only playing in 12 games last year because of a knee injury. He ran for 740 yards, on an average of 4.1 yards a carry, while scoring two touchdowns on the ground. He added 36 receptions and a touchdown in the air. Yeldon is a smaller back who is good at fitting into tight spaces and capable of catching passes. He also enters the season atop the depth chart at the position.
The team brought Ivory in via free agency this off-season from the New York Jets. He led the AFC in rushing last season with 1070 yards, with seven scores on the ground. He averaged solid 4.3 yards per carry as well. It was the best year of his career, and he put up three 100+ yard games rushing while adding 30 receptions and a receiving touchdown.
He is a type of back who is good at going between the tackles and getting the hard yards when needed. He is listed as questionable for this game because of a calf injury, as he has been limited in practice.
Now the question becomes, how will they split up the carries? Both men have the capability to catch passes. Either man can see the field for first downs. Ivory will likely be used for the goal line touches, with Yeldon seeing more of the pass catching downs.
But both men are expected to see plenty of snaps. But will either man run away with the job? Or will the mixture of the two keep both men fresh and producing better as the season wears on. Assuming Ivory plays, the distribution of carries is a point of interest for sure.
Are the Packers legit contenders this year?
Every year before the season starts, there are only a select few teams who are seen as legit contenders for the title. This year that list includes the likes of the Carolina Panthers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Arizona Cardinals, the New England Patriots, and the Green Bay Packers, amongst a few others.
The team will once again be led by Aaron Rodgers. The offense will run through him, and he will have his weapons. Eddie Lacy has sky high potential. Jordy Nelson is one of the best in the league when healthy. Randall Cobb compliments Jordy extremely well. Jared Cook is a solid pass catcher who now has a legit quarterback throwing him passes. The offensive line is not special, but it is solid. The same can be said of the defense.
Their division does not look to be much of an issue this season. The Minnesota Vikings looked like real threats, but then came the Teddy Bridgewater injury. The team will not be the same without their quarterback. The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears both have some glaring weaknesses. So the NFC North should be the Packers, baring any setbacks.
So can they come out and be a dominant force this week? How well will everyone mesh in week one? Can they handle the potential sleepers with ease, or will they struggle? It is a match-up that is no pushover, and it could tell us a lot about this Green Bay team.
This game is sure to be full of fun and explosive plays. Look for it to be a bit of an offensive duel, with two of the leagues best offenses squaring off against one another. The Jaguars will likely surprise most and give the Packers a good battle. But at the end of the day, their offensive line will ultimately cost them the game, and the Jaguars offense will not be able to match the numbers put up by Rodgers and the cheese-heads.
Prediction: Packers 28 – Jaguars 17