NFL·Preview

4 NFL storylines that'll make you do a double take ahead of Week 1

The NFL season kicks off this week with a full slate of games. Here are all the key storylines you need to know for the 2019 campaign.

Zeke gets paid, Luck is booed off into the sunset and a Super Bowl prediction

Patrick Mahomes enjoyed a celebratory MVP season in Kansas City last year, but just missed out on the Super Bowl after the Chiefs lost in OT of the AFC Championship to the New England Patriots. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The New England Patriots won Super Bowl LIII all the way back on Feb. 3, a 13-3 slog of a win over the LA Rams. It was the sixth time the Patriots have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy this century.

That game was short on excitement.

The last real, entertaining football games we witnessed were two weeks prior in each conference championship. That was when Patrick Mahomes' Kansas City Chiefs never touched the ball in OT of a 37-31 loss to the Patriots in the AFC bracket.

It was also when the refs famously missed a blatant pass interference call against the Rams, costing the New Orleans Saints a chance to run out the clock and kick a last-second field goal. Instead, Jared Goff led Los Angeles to OT and an eventual win.

The Saints and their fans spent all summer complaining about the missed call. They even tried to take it to court. Now, NFL teams are allowed to challenge the subjective penalty, meaning there will be more reviews, longer games and inevitably, somehow, less clarity.

At least we know who to blame. Some other storylines:

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott got paid … how much?

That would be six years and $50 million US guaranteed, with potential to reach $90 million. The contract comes at a time when the value of running backs is being questioned more than ever. Passing the ball is en vogue; the shelf life of an RB is becoming increasingly short; there's an over-saturation of guys who can pick up 3.5 yards per carry. Thus: why waste a significant portion of your salary cap on an unimportant, volatile and replaceable position?

Elliott is different. He's led the league in touches, yards and 100-yard rushing games since entering the league in 2016. And that's including eight missed games (six of which came in 2017 for a domestic violence suspension). Plus, there's the Jerry Jones factor. That is, he's 76 years old and this is the most talented Cowboys team he's had in years. He's willing to pay up for a run at the Super Bowl, and Elliott counts as a key ingredient.

It's still probably too big a contract. It might just be worth it.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck retired … at what age?

Twenty nine years young to be exact. The former No. 1 pick battled a number of injuries throughout his career, and was dealing with another in training camp. When healthy last season, he led Indianapolis back to the playoffs and was named comeback player of the year after missing the entire prior campaign. Now, he's gone again.

Luck walks off the field following reports of his retirement during a Colts pre-season game. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

He earned nearly $110 million in his NFL career, and he has an architecture degree from Stanford. The decision to walk away was logical. The reaction, however, was not. News of Luck's shocking choice was reported during a Colts home pre-season game with the QB on the sidelines. As he ran off the field, fans booed. But then the backlash came, and those fans were derided. Luck made a health decision. In some ways, considering football's concussion problem, he made a quality-of-life decision. Many applaud him. 

As always, there is a middle ground. Luck should do what he feels is best for himself and for his life, which exists outside of football. That awareness of an outside existence just isn't there with a lot of football guys. But fans do have the right to be angry — their franchise QB just retired two weeks before the season! Booing Luck was going too far, but the emotion behind the reaction is legitimate. And so now, the Colts put their offence back in the hands of Jacoby Brissett.

The Browns are projected to win … how many games?

Oddsmakers have set their over/under win total to 9.5. A reminder: In 2017, the Browns went 0-16. Now led by fiery young QB Baker Mayfield, it would be a disappointment if they miss the playoffs. What a world.

Cleveland loaded up its offensive arsenal since last year, when it won seven games. The biggest addition came via trade with the New York Giants to land top receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The biggest subtraction came last season, when the Browns fired their historically awful head coach Hue Jackson, who went 3-36-1 over two-plus years with the team. 

Playing for the Browns is fun again, right Baker Mayfield? (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Browns' AFC North Division is up for grabs, too, with the Ravens having lost key defensive players and the Steelers having lost key offensive players in Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

Speaking of Brown, his first training camp with the Oakland Raiders was … noteworthy. After showing up with severe frostbite on his feet caused by too much time in a cryogenic chamber (you read that correctly), he threatened to retire over the NFL's new helmet regulations, which prevented him from wearing the bucket of his choice. Some things never change with the Raiders.

The best QB in the league right now is ... wait, who?

Not Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees. It's Mahomes, the reigning MVP. And yeah, if you've followed football the past year, this wasn't a double take. But Mahomes' play on the field will surely cause a few after he put together a highlight reel of left-handed and no-look passes last season en route to 5,097 passing yards and a league-leading 50 touchdowns. He is the Vegas favourite to repeat as MVP.

A prediction to wrap things: Mahomes will lead the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory over the Rams. And it'll be a better game than the last one. The Chiefs and Rams played perhaps the best regular-season football game ever last season, a 54-51 Rams win. A repeat of that showdown should be another offensive bonanza.

Besides, it's pretty impossible for it to be worse than last year. And at the very least, it wouldn't feature the Patriots.

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, the CBC Sports daily newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing below.

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