With every season, churn, churn, churn. Like every NFL season, there are plenty of changes this year, including new rules and tweaked old ones, big-name players switching cities, and record books that are waiting to be rewritten. Sam Farmer takes a look back and forward at the season to come.
Celebrations — The rules are now relaxed on celebrations, giving players more room to have fun in celebrating big plays. Group celebrations are allowed now, and players can use the football as a prop. It isn't anything goes, though. Anything the league determines is violent, sexually inappropriate, or taunting will constitute a penalty.
Shorter overtimes — The length of the overtime period has been reduced from 15 to 10 minutes. It's still, however, at 15 minutes for the postseason.
Replay reviews — No more sideline monitors for officials. They'll now review plays on hand-held devices, and designated members of the NFL officiating department in New York will be authorized to make the final call on replay reviews.
You're grounded — Defensive players can no longer run and jump over offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage in order to block a field goal or extra point.
Touchbacks — Like last season, a touchback resulting from a kickoff or safety kick will be placed at the 25-yard line, as opposed to the 20. Once again, the rule is not permanent, but on a year-to-year basis.
Two strikes, you're out — If a player is penalized twice in the same game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, he's automatically ejected. Those fouls include throwing a punch or kick (with or without making contact), use of threatening or abusive language, and any act that constitutes taunting. The league tried this rule on a temporary basis last season, and now has made it permanent.
POINTS OF EMPHASIS
Quarterback protection — Officials will be particularly attune to players trying to make forcible contact to a quarterback's knee area or below. Driving the helmet, shoulder, forearm or chest into the knee or below of a quarterback is a foul. It's the defender's responsibility to avoid this kind of contact. Once the quarterback tucks the ball and takes a running posture, or moves outside the pocket and throws on the run, he no longer gets protection from those types of hits.
Illegal hits — Officials have been advised to be especially aware of illegal blindside blocks, "launching" — a player leaving his feet to make forcible contact by using his helmet — and unnecessary hits away from the play.
Downfield contact — The competition committee is looking to further clarify the rules involving pass interference, defensive holding, and illegal contact. So officials will pay particular attention to actions coming off the line of scrimmage and at the top of pass routes, including defensive players grabbing receivers, or receivers pushing off to create separation.
CB Stephon Gilmore, New England — Gilmore had a career-high five interceptions for Buffalo last season, and made the Pro Bowl for the first time.
WR Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia — Jeffery leaves Chicago and figures to be the best receiver for the Eagles, who also signed Torrey Smith.
RB Marshawn Lynch, Oakland — How much does Beast Mode, a onetime fixture in Seattle, have left? We'll see, but the Oakland native is already a feel-good story for a team that could be a three-year lame duck in that city.
T Russell Okung, Chargers — Okung won a Super Bowl in Seattle, moved on to Denver, and now has signed a deal that's potentially worth $50 million in Los Angeles.
RB Adrian Peterson, New Orleans — Peterson, 32, joins a team that already has a starting running back in Mark Ingram. It's likely that the former Minnesota star will wind up the situational back.
LB Lawrence Timmons, Miami — Timmons was in Pittsburgh for a decade and last season led the Steelers in tackles. He joins a Dolphins defense ranked 30th against the rush last season.
The five teams that travel the most and least this season (in miles):
1. Rams — 32,600
2. Oakland — 30,899
3. Arizona — 30,035
4. Miami — 27,520
5. Chargers — 26,134
1. Pittsburgh — 6,694
2. Cincinnati — 7,662
3. Green Bay — 8,074
4. Detroit — 8,218
5. Chicago — 8,318
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott tied the NFL rookie record last season with 13 wins, matching Ben Roethlisberger's total from 2004, and had a 104.9 passer rating, the highest by a rookie quarterback in league history.
Highest passer rating by a rookie, single season
Dak Prescott (2016, DAL) 104.9
Robert Griffin III (2012, WAS) 102.4
Russell Wilson (2012, SEA) 100.0
Ben Roethlisberger; (2004, PIT) 98.1
Dan Marino (1983, MIA) 96.0
New England's Tom Brady has directed the Patriots to 14 division championships, the most by any quarterback in league history, including an NFL-record eight consecutive AFC East titles. He has 208 wins (including playoffs), easily the most in league history, and figures to increase that lead this season.
Most total wins by a quarterback in NFL history:
Tom Brady (NE) 208
Peyton Manning (IND, DEN) 200
Brett Favre (ATL, GB, NYJ, MIN) 199
John Elway (DEN) 162
The Patriots, the league's defending champions, are the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls, doing so at the end of the 2002 and '03 seasons. Here's how the previous 10 Super Bowl champions fared the following season:
Season: Defending Super Bowl champion — Next season
2006: Indianapolis — Lost in divisional round
2007: New York Giants — Lost in divisional round
2008: New England — Missed playoffs
2009: New Orleans — Lost in wild-card round
2010: Green Bay — Lost in divisional round
2011: New York Giants — Missed playoffs
2012: Baltimore — Missed playoffs
2013: Seattle — Lost Super Bowl
2014: New England — Lost AFC championship game
2015: Denver — Missed playoffs
Fifteen players who went undrafted made the Pro Bowl last season:
Lorenzo Alexander, LB, Buffalo
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle
Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle
Matt Bryant, K, Atlanta
Morgan Cox, LS,Baltimore
Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver
Johnny Hekker, P, Rams
Jake McQuaide, LS, Rams
Donald Penn, T, Oakland
Jason Peters, T, Philadelphia
Matt Prater, K, Detroit
Darian Stewart, S, Denver
Mike Tolbert, FB, Carrolina
Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore
Cameron Wake, DE, Miami