What To Watch For: NFL Week 1
The last seven months have felt like seven years, but at last, NFL football is back.
The Kansas City Chiefs kicked off the season with a 34-20 win over the Houston Texans on Thursday night. There are 15 glorious games left on the docket this week, so here are the top five matchups and storylines of the rest of Week 1:
- Packers at Vikings (Sunday, 12 p.m. CT): The top two teams in the NFC North face off right out of the gates. The game features two of the best running backs (Vikings' Dalvin Cook and Packers' Aaron Jones) and two of the best pass-rush duos in the league (Green Bay's Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith and Minnesota's Danielle Hunter and newly acquired Yannick Ngakoue). Vikings rookie receiver Justin Jefferson should immediately be a big part of the offense against a young, ascending Packers secondary, and Green Bay's excellent offensive line faces a tough test against the Minnesota front.
- Dolphins at Patriots (Sunday, 12 p.m. CT): Our first look at the Cam Newton experiment. Is Newton still capable of elevating mediocre supporting casts, as he did with the Carolina Panthers en route to a 15-1 season in 2015? If so, he'll need to start from Week 1. He has one of the worst WR groups in the NFL to throw to, he's facing an upgraded Miami defense and his team is dealing with a league-high eight players who opted out of this season. For the visiting Dolphins, veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick gets the Opening Day start, but Alabama fans will quickly tune in if backup Tua Tagovailoa gets a chance to enter the game.
- Chargers at Bengals (Sunday, 3:05 p.m. CT): Former LSU quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow is already the headliner in his first NFL action. He has sneaky-good players around him: wide receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd and running back Joe Mixon will make his life easier as a rookie. Former Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams will also make his NFL debut after missing all of last season due to injury. He'll be attempting to keep edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram away from the Bengals' young quarterback. Dual threat Tyrod Taylor takes over as the Chargers' starting QB and the versatile Austin Ekeler is in line for a breakout season as the Bolts' top running back.
- Cardinals at 49ers (Sunday, 3:25 p.m. CT): Arizona boasts one of the most exciting offensive trios in football with quarterback Kyler Murray, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back Kenyan Drake, an Alabama alum. Despite the 49ers having one of the league's best defenses in 2019, the Cardinals scored at least 25 points on them in both games. The Cards' defense was the problem in 2020, but San Francisco is thin at wide receiver with Deebo Samuel out due to injury. A key matchup to watch is rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons against 49ers' All-Pro tight end George Kittle. Arizona could put the league on notice and vault Murray into the MVP discussion with an upset win on Sunday.
- Buccaneers at Saints (Sunday, 3:25 p.m. CT): This might be the premier matchup in football for the 2020 season. Two of the top five quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, are playing in the same division, and they're throwing to three of the top 15 receivers in the league. Bucs wideout Mike Evans may miss the game due to a hamstring injury, but Tom Brady still has Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Alabama alum O.J. Howard and Leonard Fournette as his receiving options. The most important battle could be Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan against Tampa Bay's offensive tackles, their weakest position on offense, or Saints All-Pro corner Marshon Lattimore against dangerous Bucs receiver Chris Godwin. If you watch one NFL game this weekend, it should be this one.
As a bonus, we'll identify an Alabama alum to keep an eye on for each week of the NFL season. This week it's rookie wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who is expected to start for the Denver Broncos against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night at 9:20 p.m. CT. Broncos Pro Bowl wide receiver Courtland Sutton did not practice on Saturday and is listed as a game-time decision, so Jeudy could be one of quarterback Drew Lock's top targets in his NFL debut.