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What you need to know for NFL Week 1: Deshaun Watson’s proving grounds, Tony Pollard ready to run

Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers insists he’s not interested in proving last year’s sub-par season was a fluke.

Rodgers, a future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is prideful like any other high-functioning athlete. He might not admit it, but he’d love to show the rest of the NFL and Green Bay in particular that he can still play at the highest of levels at age 39.

Rodgers will make his regular season debut Monday against the Buffalo Bills.

Last year, Rodgers passed for 3,695 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. It represented the lowest passing yardage of his career when he’s played an entire season. It was his lowest touchdown total since throwing 25 in 2018 and his highest interception total since he threw 13 in 2008, his first year as a starter. Rodgers has thrown double-digit interceptions just three times in his career.

“I’m not looking at this like I have to bounce back or do anything. I just have to play the way I know how to play,” Rodgers told reporters. “I’ve been working my ass off for the last six months to try and put a better product on the field than last year, and I expect to.”

The Bills should provide a quality test, either because the Jets’ offense must keep pace with Buffalo’s high-scoring unit or because the Bills’ defense offers a stiff test.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of ideas about how good we’re going to be, how good everybody else is going to be,” Rodgers said. “Nothing really matters until you get on the field and you go out there and play. It takes a few weeks to figure out kind of your identity on both sides of the ball. We’re going to be a work in progress, but we’ve got some good tests out of the gate, and we’ve got to start fast on Monday.

“There’s a part of that’s speaking things into existence, the idea of manifestation. The other part is a realistic look at the locker room and knowing that there’s anywhere from 6-12 teams every year that can do it and that we’re one of those 6-12 teams.”

Here’s a look at some other interesting aspects of the NFL’s opening weekend.

Tony Pollard ready to run with starter role in Dallas

tony pollard
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard, who made Ezekiel Elliott expendable, has been waiting for an opportunity to be the No.1 running back for longer than you can imagine.

It goes all the way back to high school.

He shared the position in high school, in college at Memphis, and during his first four seasons with the Cowboys.

The wait is over, and he’ll debut his new status on the road against the New York Giants in a key NFC East game.

“I’ve been ready for this moment. The time is now,” Pollard said. “I’m very excited.”

He gained 1,007 yards while averaging 5.2 per carry. He averaged 25.0 yards on his 12 touchdowns, the highest average for any player with double-digit touchdowns.

“I’m ready for the challenge, to be the lead back and show what I can do. I’m ready to make an impact,” Pollard said. “I’m good. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I’m good and ready to go.”

Related: 2023 NFL Power Rankings: Evaluating all 32 teams before Week 1

DeShaun Watson: ‘I have a lot to prove’

deshaun watson
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson didn’t play like an NFL star for the Browns last year in his first season back after missing the entire 2021 season.

The NFL  suspended him for the first 11 games of last season, fined him $5 million, and demanded he undergo mandatory treatment and counseling.

When he returned to the field, he looked like a dude who hadn’t played since 2021.

He completed just 58.2 percent of his passes for 183.6 yards per game, with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

“I’m not the same guy. I feel like I’ve evolved to a new level, and I’m ready to be able to show that,” Watson told reporters. “Last year was a tricky time, where I was learning everything, but I don’t want to just get caught up on, hey, Houston this, Houston that. I had a lot of fun, a lot of success in Houston, but I want to have that success and start something new in Cleveland.

“I think each and every game is an opportunity for myself to go out there and show who I am. And I have a lot to prove. And I want to go out there and prove it, not just for people in general, but just for myself because that’s the type of competitor I am, and I just want to go out there and be the best I can and help this team win.”

Related: NFL QB Rankings: Who’s the NFL’s worst starting QB?

Rookie Jalen Carter looking to show Eagles got steal of NFL draft

jalen carter
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive tackle Jalen Carter should’ve been the first player taken in the April NFL Draft if it was all about talent.

His off-the-field issues made him drop to Philadelphia, which snatched him with the 10th pick.

By all accounts, he’s been a dominant force in practice since training camp began. The Eagles have done their best to put a tight circle of mentors around him.

Now, the team needs him to play to his pedigree. Carter gets his first opportunity on Sunday against New England.

“I’ve been around a lot of great D-tackles. I’ve been around (Ndamukong) Suh, Haloti Ngata, Fletcher Cox himself, Javon Hargrave. You know, I’ve been around a great group of guys that played the D-tackle, man, and I’m trying to tell you here, Jalen Carter, man, this kid is just very, very dominant,” veteran cornerback Darius Slay said. “ He’s very physical, quicker than what you think, and stronger than how he looks.

“ He looks like a baby rhino. You ever seen a baby rhino? Man, he’s just crazy.”

Related: Top 2023 NFL Rookie of the Year candidates: Bijan Robinson tops the list

Bill Belichick begins season on hot seat

bill belichick
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

After New England coach Bill Belichick won his first Super Bowl in 2001, the Patriots won 17 AFC East titles and six championships. But Tom Brady left after the 2019 season, and New England has finished third, second, and third in the AFC East.

Owner Robert Kraft is tired of it, and that puts Belichick’s job in jeopardy.


“Look, I think Bill is exceptional at what he does. And I’ve given him the freedom to make the choices and do the things that need to be done,” Kraft said at the league’s meetings in March. “His football intellect and knowledge are unparalleled from what I’ve seen, and when you talk to him, the small things analytically that he looks at.

“But in the end, this is a business. You either execute and win, or you don’t. That’s where we’re at. I think we’re in a transition phase. I think we’ve made some moves this year that I personally am comfortable with, and I still believe in Bill.”

Until he doesn’t.

Related: NFL coaching hot seat: 9 NFL head coaches on the hot seat in 2023

Jean-Jacques Taylor is an NFL Insider for Sportsnaut and the author of the upcoming book “Coach Prime“, with Deion Sanders. Follow him on Twitter.