As in every new NFL season, there are plenty of things to take note of, including big-name players switching cities and record books waiting to be rewritten.
Let’s kick things off
As defending Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles will host the Thursday night kickoff opener, and will face Atlanta. The Eagles have won their last two games on kickoff weekend and six of their last seven. Denver has the league’s longest win streak on kickoff weekend at six games. Green Bay has the NFC’s longest such streak at three games. On the road, Tennessee is atop the charts, as the Titans have won their last four openers away from home. Seattle, which goes back and forth with Kansas City for the loudest crowd, has won a league-best nine consecutive home openers. For the Seahawks, their home opener doesn’t come until Week 3 when they host Dallas. Only two active coaches have won at least 10 games on kickoff weekend: New England’s Bill Belichick (15) and Kansas City’s Andy Reid (11).
Among the aspects of the NFL that have made the game so popular is the notion that, unlike some leagues, virtually every team has a legitimate chance of winning the Super Bowl in a given year. The margin between good teams and so-so teams is pretty thin, and luck is a big factor. For instance, since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have made the postseason that hadn’t the year before. Eight teams that missed the playoffs in 2016 made them a year later: the Rams, Buffalo, Carolina, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Tennessee. The Eagles joined the 2009 New Orleans Saints as the only teams since 2003 to go from last to first in a season and win the Super Bowl. Jacksonville came within one win of making it an all-worst-to-first Super Bowl, but the resurrected Jaguars lost to New England in the AFC title game.
A rookie running back has led the league in rushing in each of the last two seasons. That’s Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 (1,631 yards) and Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt last season (1,327). The New York Giants would love to see No. 2 pick Saquon Barkley extend that streak.
In the last decade, six NFL clubs have had a winning percentage of at least .600 during the first month of the season: Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Green Bay and New England. During that span, those franchises have accounted for 37 playoff berths, nine Super Bowl appearances and five Lombardi Trophies.
Who wants it more?
Fourteen games last season were decided in overtime. Green Bay and Indianapolis led the league with three overtime games each, and five other teams — Arizona, Chicago, Cleveland, Jacksonville and San Francisco — went twice. The Packers made team history by winning overtime games in back-to-back weeks. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri made a winning 51-yard field goal in overtime against San Francisco in Week 5, marking his NFL-record 10th game-winning kick in overtime.
125th — Grant Dilbert signs the first-known professional football contract (1893).
120th — The Morgan Athletic Club forms in Chicago (1898) and later becomes known as the Normals, then the Racine Cardinals, the Chicago Cardinals, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals, and in 1994, the Arizona Cardinals. The franchise remains the oldest continuing operation in pro football.
85th — The Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles join the NFL (1933), and the forward pass becomes legalized from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.
75th — The league approves the mandatory use of helmets for all players (1943).
60th — On Dec. 28, 1958, Baltimore defeats the New York Giants in the first sudden-death overtime in an NFL championship game. It’s known today as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
55th — The Pro Football Hall of Fame is established in Canton, Ohio (1963).
35th season — The Colts relocate from Baltimore to Indianapolis (1984).
30th — The NFL approves the Cardinals to move from St. Louis to Phoenix (1988).
25th — Miami beats Philadelphia, giving Dolphins coach Don Shula his 325th victory, an NFL record.
Tom Brady, New England QB, needs 21 touchdown passes (including postseason) to surpass Peyton Manning (579) for the most touchdown passes in league history.
Drew Brees, New Orleans QB, needs 1,496 yards to surpass Manning (71,940) as the NFL’s all-time leading passer. In 17 seasons, Brees has 70,445 passing yards.
With at least 4,000 yards passing, Philip Rivers, Chargers QB, would join Manning and Brees as the only players in NFL history with 10 seasons of at least 4,000 yards passing.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona WR, needs 48 receptions to pass Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (1,281, San Francisco) for the most catches for one team in league history.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh WR, needs three games with at least 10 receptions to tie Andre Johnson (22) for the most career games with at least 10 catches.
Jarvis Landry, Cleveland WR, needs 27 catches to break Fitzgerald’s mark (426) for most receptions by a player in his first five seasons in the league.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants WR, needs seven receptions in his first three games to surpass Lionel Taylor (319) for the most receptions by a player in his first 50 games.
Stephen Gostkowski, New England K, has led the league in scoring five times, and can surpass Don Hutson and Gino Cappelletti to become the only player to win six scoring titles.