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Top storylines for Week 1 of the NFL season

Vincent Frank
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 of the NFL season is finally here. After months of talk and several weeks of meaningless football, teams will now start showing what they have to offer.

Often-injured Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is in for a pressure-filled 2019 season. We’re interested to see how he responds against a lesser Redskins team. There’s a new era of football in Cleveland. Can the Browns live up those expectations starting Week 1?

Meanwhile, two games will define the opening slate of NFL action. The Green Bay Packers are hoping to make an immediate statement Thursday night against the Bears in Chicago. And on Sunday evening, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to New England to take on the defending champion Patriots.

These are among the top storylines for Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season.

Carson Wentz and his shiny weapons

The Philadelphia Eagles should have a relatively easy time of it at home against the Washington Redskins Sunday afternoon. Head coach Doug Pederson and Co. have built up one heck of a skill-position group around oft-injured quarterback Carson Wentz.

Rookie second-round pick Miles Sanders joins former Pro Bowler Jordan Howard in the backfield. DeSean Jackson returns to his original Eagles team after five seasons away from Philadelphia. These new weapons should be on full display against a Redskins squad that will likely finish closer to the NFC East cellar than first place. It’s now time for Wentz to live up to his shiny new contract and remain healthy. It starts Week 1.

A new era in Cleveland

It’s not hyperbole. The Cleveland Browns enter Week 1’s game against the Tennessee Titans with legitimate playoff aspirations. Cleveland won five of its final seven games with Baker Mayfield under center to conclude the quarterback’s rookie season. That came after a stretch that saw this long-downtrodden organization win six of its previous 60 regular-season games.

The backdrop is real. Star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will be making his Browns debut Sunday. Mayfield also has Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry and a stud young back in Nick Chubb to rely on. Taking on a Titans team at home this week that many expect to be average, it’s the Browns’ chance to prove that they have really made it. Anything less than a convincing win might lead to speculation that the preseason hype was a bit too premature.

Early-season pressure in Tampa Bay

Jameis Winston taking on Jimmy Garoppolo in a battle between two quarterbacks with a ton of pressure heading into this season. Garoppolo returns after missing 13 games to a torn ACL last season. His return comes amid the quarterback playing under a five-year, $137.5 million contract and with San Francisco boasting legit playoff hopes. Taking on a bad Buccaneers defense, Garoppolo must shine in this one.

As it relates to Winston, he’s facing pressure for a completely different reason. The former No. 1 overall pick is entering his contract year with the Buccaneers. They hired head coach Bruce Arians to help instill confidence in the turnover-prone quarterback. Said relationship really starts Sunday against what promises to be an improved 49ers defense. What we see from these two quarterbacks in Week 1 could be a harbinger of things to come moving forward this season. Good or bad.

Defining Week 1 game at Soldier Field

The Green Bay Packers are heading into Soldier Field Thursday night with a renewed sense of optimism. It starts with first-year head coach Matt LaFleur and his relationship with franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers. We didn’t see what these two could bring to a new offense during the preseason. Week 1 gives us our first glimpse of it.

The Packers are also going to want to make a major statement against the defending division champs on the road in front of a national audience. For the Bears, this is their opportunity to prove that last season was in no way a fluke. We couldn’t have envisioned a bigger Week 1 game around the NFL.

Triplets look to knock off defending champs

Gone are Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ championship contending seasons. It really is something to behold. Losing two future Hall of Fame players in the prime of their careers while not necessarily taking a step back. That’s the biggest story surrounding the Steelers heading into Sunday Night Football against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

We’re highly intrigued to see how third-year back James Conner performs after a stellar sophomore campaign. It’s also going to be interesting to see how JuJu Smith-Schuster takes the mantle from Brown as Pittsburgh’s top receiver. Is he going to take a step back now that teams don’t have to focus on Brown? All the while, Ben Roethlisberger is looking to put last season behind him after he led the NFL with 16 interceptions.

Moving on without Andrew Luck

Newly-extended Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett will by thrust right into the fire Sunday against a championship-contending Los Angeles Chargers squad. It will be his first start since Luck abruptly retired during the preseason. Indianapolis’ brass might be saying all the right things publicly, but we have no idea how Brissett and the rest of his Colts team is going to respond.

Indy had clear conference championship aspirations heading into the season. It still has a nice core group to at least contend for a playoff spot. It’s going to be all about Brissett’s performance after he struggled to a 4-11 record in Luck’s stead two seasons ago.

Statement game for Jags in Duval

What better way for the Jaguars’ to prove that they are back then against the Kansas City Chiefs in Duval this weekend? Jacksonville entered last season with clear Super Bowl aspirations after earning an AFC Championship Game appearance the previous year. What resulted was one of the most-disappointing seasons in recent NFL history. Jacksonville finished the 2018 campaign with five wins before jettisoning Blake Bortles out of town.

Now that the Jaguars have former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles under center and a rejuvenated running back in Leonard Fournette, the hope is that their offense is vastly improve. Though, this team’s calling card will continue to be on defense. Will Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Co. be up to the task against the game’s most-dynamic offense this weekend?

Kirk Cousins’ shot at redemption

The Minnesota Vikings could not ask for a better matchup in Week 1. They take on a Falcons defense that ranked in the bottom eight of the NFL in points allowed last season. Despite being led by a defensive-minded head coach, the Falcons have had their fair share of high-scoring affairs during Dan Quinn’s tenure.

It’s in this that Cousins needs to start the 2019 season out in a strong manner at home. If the high-priced quarterback were to struggle in what should be a good matchup for him, it would tell us all we need to know about Cousins this season. The time is now for him to step up and act the part of a starter-caliber quarterback. It’s that simple.

Super Bowl preview in the Bayou?

We can question the plethora of trades the Houston Texans made last weekend until we’re blue in the face. Getting pennies on the dollar for Jadeveon Clowney seemed to be a miss. Sending out a bounty for Laremy Tunsil was a vast overpay. Even then, Houston has the core pieces in place to contend for a Super Bowl appearance.

Monday night’s game against another Super Bowl contender in that of the Saints in New Orleans will be telling. Can Houston’s defense contain Drew Brees and Co.? What can we expect from the Texans’ new-look offensive line in front of Deshaun Watson? What happens Monday night will be telling for both teams moving forward on the season.

Interesting AFC East matchup

No one really expects the Bills and Jets to contend with the powerhouse that is the New England Patriots this season. With that said, both could have an outside shot at a wild card appearance in the AFC. We’re talking about two young teams with untapped potential.

This Week 1 game is pretty darn intriguing in that it could set into motion early-season success for the winning squad. It pits two second-year quarterbacks in Josh Allen and Sam Darnold against one another in Jersey. Of the two, which quarterback is prepared to take the next step? We’ll find out soon enough.

Ezekiel Elliott’s return

Finally. This Pro Bowl running back has made his return to Dallas after holding out throughout the preseason and training camp. Elliott returns as the richest running back in NFL history and with the pressure to lead the Cowboys to Super Bowl contention. How is he going to look after such an extended absence?

The backdrop here is real, too. Dallas should be able to dominate a lesser New York Giants squad at home Sunday afternoon. However, reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year Saquon Barkley might have something to say about that. Imagine if Barkley vastly outplays his richer counterpart en route to leading New York to an upset win. The narratives will be flying.