The Associated Press
Saturday, September 8, 2018
TOM CANAVAN EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
GIANTS VS. JAGUARS The old and new will be crossing paths at MetLife Stadium when the Jacksonville Jaguars open the season against the New York Giants.
The game will be the first for Jaguars executive vice-president of football operations Tom Coughlin against the Giants, the team he led to two Super Bowl titles before resigning in January, 2016, after a dozen seasons as coach.
It also will be Pat Shurmur's first regular-season NFL game as coach of the Giants, a team that has made the playoffs once (2016) since winning the Super Bowl in February, 2012.
"Those who are around know the history," said Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie, who was a member of both Super Bowl teams. "We know Coughlin will have them fired up. It is the first game and everyone wants to get off on the right foot. I can't say it will be an extra motivator, but it's something we are aware of, and it doesn't change our approach."
The Giants are just looking to play a lot better than last season. They went 3-13 and saw coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese get fired in early December.
Shurmur and new general manager Dave Gettleman have turned around much of the roster and they will get their first true peek at the new product this weekend in a very tough matchup.
The Jaguars (12-7) blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against the New England Patriots in the AFC title game in January. A trip to the Super Bowl was within their grasp.
"I think we're taking a good approach as a team ... everybody that was a part of what happened last year so badly wants to get back to that AFC championship game and change that outcome," quarterback Blake Bortles said.
Coughlin did not talk to the media in Jacksonville this week, but coach Doug Marrone said the vicepresident has not changed his approach with the return to New York.
"We know we've got a tough road ahead of us and we know we've got a tough game on the road opening day up in New York," Marrone said. "They'll be fired up and ready to go." STEVE REED CHARLOTTE PANTHERS VS. COWBOYS Dak Prescott and Cam Newton find themselves in similar situations entering Sunday's regular-season opener at Carolina. Both quarterbacks are adjusting to a new group of receivers and playing behind banged-up offensive lines.
The Cowboys will be looking to replace wide receiver Dez Bryant, the team's career leader in touchdown catches, as well as tight end Jason Whitten, who retired after 15 seasons.
That's no easy task.
Dallas's primary options to be slot receiver are Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup. But Tavon Austin and Terrance Williams could be factors, too. Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin are the top two tight ends.
"I think each of the guys we have who are going to be up for this game are versatile," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "You can put them in different spots."
Dallas also has holes to fill up front with All-Pro centre Travis Frederick battling a rare auto-immune disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome and is doubtful for the game. Six-year veteran Joe Looney will get the start alongside rookie left guard Connor Williams. Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin is set to start after dealing with a hyperextended left knee in the second preseason game.
Newton faces similar issues in Carolina.
The Panthers upgraded their speed at wide receiver in the off-season by trading for veteran Torrey Smith, signing free-agent slot receiver Jairus Wright and using a first-round draft pick on D.J. Moore. All three figure to play a role in the passing game alongside returning No. 1 receiver Devin Funchess.
"We don't know what we have yet and that is why Sunday is so important for everybody - because we finally find out," Newton said.
Carolina's offensive line was going to have a difficult time replacing All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell - and that was before it got hit hard by the injuries. Second-team All-Pro right tackle Daryl Williams, left tackle Matt Kalil and Norwell replacement Amini Silatolu all went down with knee injuries in the preseason.
JOE REEDY CARSON, CALIF.
CHARGERS VS. CHIEFS Division games are always big. But when one pits division favourites against one another in the opening week of the season, the match-up takes on added significance.
Such is the case on Sunday when the Chiefs travel to Los Angeles to face the Chargers in an AFC West game.
Kansas City has won the division the past two seasons, but comes into 2018 with Patrick Mahomes taking over at quarterback. The Chargers closed last season by winning nine of their final 12 games, but are well aware that a 0-4 start is what kept them out of the postseason.
"I love the challenge; I know our players love the challenge," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "They are a good football team, so why not, right? Let's go play and who knows what happens down the road. It's a neat thing to start off that way."
Kansas City has dominated the series recently, winning eight straight by an average margin of 12.4 points. And, while Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw only 10 interceptions last season, six came against the Chiefs.
Most of the focus going into the opener has been on Mahomes, who moves into the starting job after Alex Smith was traded to Washington in the off-season. Mahomes, who was the 10th pick overall in the 2017 draft, showed off his athleticism and lively arm in last year's regular-season finale against Denver, throwing for 284 yards in a 27-24 victory.
Mahomes's second start will also be on the road against a division opponent, which he said is a benefit after experiencing that last season.
"We want to attack every aspect of the field," Mahomes said. "I feel like we have the weapons that [allow us to] attack short, run the ball, stretch the defence deep. We can attack the middle with the guys that we have. We just have to make sure we keep the defence honest on every single play."
The Chargers have scouted Mahomes's games from Texas Tech and the preseason. But there is still a share of the unknown when it comes to preparing for a game against a new quarterback.
ARNIE STAPLETON DENVER BRONCOS VS. SEAHAWKS The Seattle Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" blew up with Kam Chancellor's neck injury and Richard Sherman's exit. The Denver Broncos' "No Fly Zone" was grounded by Aqib Talib's trade and T.J. Ward's departure.
Not so fast, insist the holdovers.
These two teams may not have the star power in their respective secondaries that they've boasted in years past, but they still have formidable, youth-infused defensive backfields.
When Talib was traded to the Rams in the spring, he suggested the "No Fly Zone" no longer existed.
Nonsense, retorted cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "I started the 'No Fly Zone,' so it's going to always be here," said Harris, who has new co-pilots in cornerbacks Tramaine Brock, Adam Jones and Isaac Yiadom backing up Talib's replacement, Bradley Roby.
At safety, the Broncos had hoped to add some pop to go with Darian Stewart's heady play, and they acquired Su'a Cravens from Washington. But he's on IR with a sore left knee, leaving Will Parks and Dymonte Thomas to step up.
Behind Sherman's swagger, Seattle's secondary became a catchphrase across the NFL. The "Legion of Boom" was so well known, the names of Sherman, Chancellor and Earl Thomas were always associated with that moniker. Not anymore.
Sherman is now with San Francisco. Chancellor's career is likely over after a neck injury last season.
Thomas only returned to the team on Wednesday after a holdout that produced neither the contract extension nor the trade he hoped for.
Otherwise, Seattle's secondary features Shaquill Griffin and Dontae Johnson at cornerbacks, Bradley McDougald at strong safety and some combination of Thomas and Tedric Thompson at free safety.
Not quite "Boom" worthy just yet: Griffin is on his way to being Seattle's next secondary star. He showed the skill last year as a rookie playing opposite Sherman and may eventually take over as the leader of the unit. Johnson was a starter last year in San Francisco, and McDougald may be one of Seattle's most versatile players with the ability to bounce between both strong safety and free safety.
BOB BAUM GLENDALE, ARIZ.
CARDINALS VS. WASHINGTON Coach Jay Gruden brings his Washington team west in search of his first season-opening win in five tries.
The Arizona team he's facing is a bit of a mystery.
The Cardinals have overhauled almost everything in the wake of the retirement of coach Bruce Arians.
New coach Steve Wilks, defensive co-ordinator at Carolina last season, is promising a physical, powerrunning approach. But Gruden isn't sure just what to expect when the teams meet Sunday in newly renamed State Farm Stadium.
"That's a great challenge really. There's a lot of film to look at from their past history ... ," Gruden said. "Obviously, in Carolina and coach [offensive co-ordinator Mike] McCoy, we've got a lot of stuff on tape when he was a co-ordinator and a head coach.
It's just hard to figure out how they're going to use the personnel that they have and how they're going to go about putting their Xs and Os together."
The 125th meeting in the history of the franchises will feature veteran quarterbacks making their debuts with their new teams, Alex Smith for Washington and Sam Bradford for Arizona.
Smith, acquired in a trade with Kansas City, hasn't lost an opener since 2014, but doesn't overemphasize the game just because it's the first one.
"Every team wants to start fast, every team wants to go 1-0 this week, but at the same time, I mean, realize that, you know, it's football," Smith said.
"Someone's going to win and someone's going to lose, it's not the end of the world. It's not going to define us."
Bradford is especially eager to get back on the field. He's coming back from yet another significant left-knee injury. He said he feels better than he has in "a long time."
The offence he directs will revolve around the multitalented David Johnson, who returns after fracturing his left wrist in the season opener last year.
"I feel good," said Johnson, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns two seasons ago, "probably the best I've ever felt coming into a season, and I can't wait to get started." GENARO C. ARMAS GREEN BAY, WISC.
PACKERS VS. BEARS A blockbuster deal brought a new wrinkle to the NFL's oldest rivalry.
The Chicago Bears visit Lambeau Field on Sunday night, just in time for star pass-rusher Khalil Mack to potentially make his debut in the season opener against the Green Bay Packers.
A premier player joins what figures to be an already tough defence. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks can't hide his glee.
"When we got him, I was just so excited just to have such a prolific pass-rusher next to me. It's going to be phenomenal," Hicks said.
He led the Bears last year with a career-high 81/2 sacks. Mack is second in the NFL since 2015 with 361/2 sacks. Promising third-year player Leonard Floyd, a 2016 first-round draft pick, will line up at the outside linebacker spot opposite Mack.
This could spell trouble for offensive lines.
"You usually have to game-plan around him, and then when you game-plan around somebody, regardless of what position it is, then there's an advantage somewhere else," coach Matt Nagy said.
"That gives the advantage to other players on defence, so those guys need to step up when given opportunities."
The Packers looked into trading for Mack. Now they have to face him.
"Yeah, I was lying in bed scrolling through Twitter like, 'Dang, man. Gotta see him twice a year now,' " Packers receiver Randall Cobb said about his reaction to the Bears' deal for Mack.
The primary responsibility for blocking Mack will fall to veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who will be playing his first game since tearing his right ACL in November. At least Bulaga has had some time on the practice field this preseason, unlike Mack, who held out before being traded by the Raiders.
He might get some help at times from the Packers' deep tight end group, reinforced during the offseason with the additions of free agent Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis to join veteran Lance Kendricks.
They'll be tasked to give enough time to the ultimate equalizer: quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
PAUL SANCYA/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JOHN BAZEMORE/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NICK WASS/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TONY AVELAR/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
GREGORY BULL/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JEFFREY PHELPS/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS