Welcome back, J.J.
In the “that’s not fair” department, a healthy J.J. Watt returns to a Houston defense that ranked No. 1 last year. Back from two back surgeries that limited him to 13 games last year, Watt seems primed to restart a career in which he won three AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards in his first five seasons. And what better way for a wrecking-ball pass rusher to jumpstart things than a home opener against Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles?
Super Bowl hangover cure
So how will Atlanta handle being the best team in the league for all but the last 20-some minutes of Super Bowl LI? When we last saw the Falcons, they were blowing a Super Bowl-record 25-point lead en route to an overtime loss to the Patriots. The cure for a Tom Brady-induced hangover could be a trip to Chicago, where the Bears send out Mike Glennon, who is 5-13 and hasn’t started a game in three years.
Elliott free as league considers appeal
Who knows what’s going to happen from Weeks 2-7 in the ongoing Ezekiel Elliott suspension saga. All we know right now is the reigning NFL rushing champion is eligible for Week 1 and will be dressed and raring to go for the Cowboys at home against the Giants in a battle that will set the early tone in the NFC East. Ironically, it’s the Giants who might be without their star, Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle).
The 49ers can’t get much worse than last year, when they were 2-14 and last in points allowed (30.0). They have new leadership, new players and could catch the Panthers at the right time. Quarterback Cam Newton, coming off a shoulder injury, threw only two preseason passes. And don’t underestimate Brian Hoyer, who threw three touchdown passes to upset the Vikings in his Browns debut in 2013.
Week 1 Comeback Bowl
On Christmas Eve, just hours apart on different fields, two of the more promising young NFL quarterbacks broke their right fibulas playing in their teams’ second-to-last games of last season. Sunday, Oakland’s Derek Carr, 26, and Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, 23, will be back on the same field as starters in Tennessee. The league needs young guns like this to stay healthy. Last year, they combined for 54 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.