There’s more to NFL kickoff weekend than what’s being featured in primetime. A number of intriguing contests that are flying under the radar could wind up producing the most drama Sunday.
In the wide-open AFC, a few of the teams that are facing off Sunday may find themselves battling for a wild card berth at the end of the season. The matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets comes to mind, as does the affair between the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills.
Heading into every NFL season, there are a couple of teams that get highlighted more than others. But here at SB Nation, we take pride in pointing out those who are overlooked. These games may not be getting a lot of publicity, but they should keep you glued to your TV throughout the day Sunday:
Alex Reimer: One early favorite is a matchup between two teams that both finished with losing records last season — the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. It will be Robert Griffin III’s regular season debut with Cleveland and Carson Wentz’s first career NFL start. The product may be ugly, but it’s difficult to find two teams with more intriguing quarterback storylines than that.
Sarah Hardy: The report that the Browns were unimpressed with Wentz during the draft (congrats, future NFL MVP Carson Wentz) adds a bit more of a hook to this matchup, too. But I want to see what happens with the other quarterback in this game — and a former quarterback. I’m really rooting for the RG3-Terrelle Pryor connection to succeed.
RG3 has gotten a bit of a bum rap after injuries overshadowed his impressive rookie season. Pryor, meanwhile, went all-in on becoming an NFL wide receiver just over a year ago. Here’s a chance for not just one, but two comeback stories, each distinctive yet intertwined. Cleveland appears to be in tank mode this season, but if that duo can flourish, then maybe the Browns can win more games than anyone expects them to.
Either way, I’m pretty sure the Browns’ 2016 season is meant to distract us from the fact that the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
Jeanna Thomas: The Eagles’ matchup with the Browns is intriguing simply for the fact that Wentz barely got any NFL experience in the preseason after cracking his ribs in Week 1. Wentz completed just 12 of 24 passes in the first week of the preseason for 89 yards, one interception and no touchdowns. It wasn’t exactly a stellar outing, and now he’s starting against the Browns.
Back in July, with Sam Bradford still on the roster, Doug Pederson identified Wentz as potentially being the third quarterback on the roster and even went so far as to suggest Wentz might remain inactive on game days this season with Bradford and Chase Daniel ahead of him on the depth chart. The Eagles’ commitment to patiently developing Wentz into an NFL-ready quarterback has evaporated, and it will be interesting to see how prepared Wentz is against the Browns.
Adam Stites: And while the Browns and Eagles are upgrading the passing offenses, other teams look like they’re building for a Super Bowl run in the 1970s. It’s why I’m looking forward to seeing what the heck the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans game will look like.
The injury to Teddy Bridgewater means the Vikings are hoping Sam Bradford can get the team back to the playoffs. And by "get them back to the playoffs," I mean give the ball to Adrian Peterson a ton and not throw too many interceptions.
Meanwhile the Titans traded Dorial Green-Beckham and added serious beef in the backfield with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.
It’s 2016 so neither team is planning to run the ball 50 times per game, right? But really ... maybe they are.
Sarah: Yessss, gimme some of that "exotic smashmouth" style of football. (Sorry if I just got "All Star" stuck in your head. I’m a monster.)
As much as I like the idea of Murray and Henry beasting down the field, I mostly want to know what the Titans’ emphasis on the run will mean for Marcus Mariota and his development as a passer.
The Vikings’ defense presents a tough task for the Titans, though. Mike Zimmer has really transformed that side of his ball in just two years. So it seems like no matter who starts at quarterback for the Vikings in Week 1 — and it sounds like it will be Shaun Hill, at least this week — this game is going to be a grind. But those can be fun too.
Adam: The "exotic" part of the offense might add enough flair to the grind that it ends up being a pretty wacky game too. Mularkey says he got the exotic smashmouth from the Pittsburgh media when he was the Steelers offensive coordinator and that team ran 140 trick plays in 2001. One. Hundred. Forty.
We already got a chance to see it some in preseason with the Titans. They tried everything from a Statue of Liberty with Delanie Walker to a flea flicker one week later. And with a guy like Mariota to toy around with at quarterback, the whole book of tricks can be used.
Who doesn’t love trick plays? Even when they don’t work, you still get to point and laugh (shoutout to Griff Whalen).
Sarah: Speaking of the Colts and their failures, are they ... are they going to be bad again this year? Because I think they’re going to be bad! Andrew Luck is back, but it’s possible he’s not even 100 percent after he was limited in practice with some kind of shoulder injury. His return might not be enough, anyway. Think about that defense: Can you name more than three players off the top of your head?
At least they get to start the year against the Lions, but the secondary — made up of, I dunno, Snuffy, Al, Leo, Little Moe with the gimpy leg — going up against Matthew Stafford and a solid receiving corps (already miss u, Megatron) won’t be easy either.
Jeanna: This matchup gets even trickier for the Colts because of the secondary. Cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Clayton Geathers, both starters, have been ruled out already, and that should make things a lot easier for the Lions.
At least Jack Mewhort is apparently healthy enough to play. It looked like his season might have been over during the preseason, but he’s healthy and ready to try to help keep Andrew Luck from lacerating another major organ this season.
Sarah: I’m going to be worried about that big ol’ goofball all season.
Hmmm, am I just weirdly attached to the 2012 NFL Draft class?
Anyway, I don’t want to say that Eagles-Browns will be some good footballin’, but I think we all agree that there are enough compelling storylines — RG3’s second chance, an incredibly young Browns team, the start of the Wentz era in Philly — that make this our secretly must-watch game of the week.