Sundays finally belong to football again now that Week 1 of the 2015 NFL regular season is here.
Thursday saw the New England Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21 at home to open the season, but the vast majority of football fans didn't have a stake in the outcome—well, unless you count fantasy football. Then you're either cursing or praying to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who snagged three touchdowns to start what should be another brilliant season in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Regional coverage divvies up the football nation into several different territories. For a look at what's playing in your neck of the woods, here's a link to the coverage maps, via 506 Sports:
There's plenty to love about Week 1 in the NFL, most importantly the fact that it's simply here after a long summer's wait. Here's the full TV and live stream schedule for the first week of regular-season action:
|Sunday, September 13|
|Time (ET)||Matchup||TV||Live Stream|
|1 p.m.||Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|1 p.m.||Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans||CBS||NFL Sunday Ticket (subscription required)|
|1 p.m.||Cleveland Browns at New York Jets||CBS||NFL Sunday Ticket (subscription required)|
|1 p.m.||Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills||CBS||NFL Sunday Ticket (subscription required)|
|1 p.m.||Miami Dolphins at Washington Redskins||CBS||NFL Sunday Ticket (subscription required)|
|1 p.m.||Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|1 p.m.||Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|4:05 p.m.||New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|4:05 p.m.||Detroit Lions at San Diego Chargers||Fox||Fox Sports Go|
|4:25 p.m.||Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||CBS||NFL Sunday Ticket (subscription required)|
|4:25 p.m.||Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Raiders||CBS||NFL Sunday Ticket (subscription required)|
|4:25 p.m.||Baltimore Ravnes at Denver Broncoso||CBS||NFL Sunday Ticket (subscription required)|
|8:30 p.m.||New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys||NBC||NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Monday, September 14|
|Time (ET)||Matchup||TV||Live Stream|
|6:55 p.m.||Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|10:15 p.m.||Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers||ESPN||WatchESPN|
The Games Everyone Can Watch
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Whether or not you agree with the nickname, starting off Sunday Night Football deep in the heart of Texas with "America's Team," the Dallas Cowboys, feels wholly appropriate. The fact that last season's biggest rookie sensation, Odell Beckham Jr., is coming to town with the visiting New York Giants makes it even better.
Beckham Jr. soared to fame in Week 12 last season with the catch that launched a thousand Vines against none other than, that's right, the Cowboys. That and the other 90 catches he racked up last season made him a megastar seemingly overnight. Wideout Victor Cruz, unfortunately, is out for the opener, per Giants.com's Michael Eisen. However, Dallas can't simply hone in on Beckham Jr. with the capable Rueben Randle (938 yards, two TDs last season) in the fold.
The solid receiving corps, and what could be a robust running game featuring Rashad Jennings, sets up Eli Manning nicely for an old-fashioned shootout with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Star wideout Dez Bryant (1,320 yards, 16 TDs in 2014) is still in the fold, as is Terrance Williams and the sure-handed, if aging, tight end Jason Witten.
The running game is a bit of a question mark, with last year's league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray now toting the pigskin in Philadelphia. Joseph Randle appears to be the feature back in a group that also features Darren McFadden and newly added Christine Michael, per the Dallas Morning News' Brandon George:
Whether Joseph Randle starts Sunday or not won't be nearly as significant in determining the Cowboys' lead option in their running back-by-committee approach for replacing DeMarco Murray. What's more telling is which running back will receive the most carries.
All indications point to Randle as being the Cowboys' No. 1 option in their backfield to begin the season.
Cowboys coaches wouldn't say this week which running back would start against the Giants. But if practice is any indication, it will be Randle.
Even in the aggregate, Dallas running backs don't need to match Murray's rushing total from last season. All Randle and company need to do is move the chains and keep defenses honest, and Romo—who, per ESPN.com, posted the top total QBR last season at 83.6—can put up big numbers on the board.
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons
LeSean McCoy is gone, traded to Buffalo. Quarterback Nick Foles is gone too, shipped out in a deal with the St. Louis Rams. No more Jeremy Maclin, either. Seeing the departure of three key offensive players in one offseason would indicate a rebuild for most teams, but then again, most teams aren't run by Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly.
Murray, Ryan Mathews, Sam Bradford and rookie wideout Nelson Agholor are in, and they will look to keep the offense-minded laboratory Kelly has constructed in Philly bubbling as they take on one of the league's weakest defenses in Atlanta on Monday night.
Bradford is the biggest question mark, having missed the entirety of the 2014 NFL season with a knee injury. He's got plenty of weapons around him, however, including a nifty safety valve out of the backfield by the name of Darren Sproles. The pint-sized back, along with Murray and Mathews, should provide a sold run game with which to ease Bradford into his new role as Philly signal-caller.
I feel like now I learned, just keep it simple. As a rookie, when I first came into the league, I wanted to solve every problem. I wanted to have every answer. I wanted to always be a step ahead. I wanted to be all these things. And almost, in a way, you start to overthink things. You overanalyze things... But you just have to go out and play football. It's nothing new.
The Falcons defense would've been hard-pressed to stop the plastic bag from American Beauty from moving down the field last season. They allowed an ugly 398.3 yards per game last season. The team's overall failings led to the ouster of coach Mike Smith and much of his staff. In his place are the defensive-minded Dan Quinn at head coach and Richard Smith at defensive coordinator.
There's hope for Atlanta in the form of rookie defensive end Vic Beasley Jr., the No. 8 overall pick out of Clemson. Here's a shot of him working New York Jets tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson in the preseason, via PhiladelphiaEagles.com's Fran Duffy:
Grantland's Bill Barnwell is also tipping cornerback Desmond Trufant for stardom:
This is the year Desmond Trufant gets recognized as one of the best cornerbacks in football. You can jump on that bandwagon now or you can wait until November, when it’s patently obvious. I’m not sure about the Falcons defense in Year 1 under Dan Quinn, especially if he doesn’t have the sort of secondary mind-melding that Pete Carroll seems to possess. The Atlanta secondary alongside Trufant might not be very good. Trufant, though, is the real deal, and with a legitimate NFL pass rush in front of him for the first time, those skills will be plain to see.
If Beasley can apply pressure and Trufant can shut down Bradford's top target—likely Jordan Matthews or Riley Cooper—the Falcons have a chance in this one. They should have their own high-flying passing attack, with quarterback Matt Ryan distributing the ball to the likes of Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Inked to a big-money contract, Jones could be in line for a monster season. Whether his efforts are enough in Week 1 to keep up with the Eagles' potentially potent attack remains to be seen.
Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers
After undergoing one of the strangest offseasons in recent memory, it will be something of a miracle if the 49ers can get to .500 as they did last season, especially in a tough NFC West division.
The exodus of talent was almost biblical in size and scope, including the retirements of Patrick Willis and rookie Chris Borland at linebacker, head coach Jim Harbaugh bolting to the University of Michigan and the loss of running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati and wideout Michael Crabtreei to free agency.
Stars like Colin Kaepernick, Anquan Boldin and linebacker NaVorro Bowman (who missed the entire 2014 season) remain, but it's going to be a remarkably tough task for new coach Jim Tomsula to mold this squad into a competitive unit.
The first game of the season, I think everyone will be amped up. But to have it on a Monday night, going in the all-black (uniforms), I think it will be even better. I know the guys in the locker room are excited to play in the black jerseys, and the fans are (excited) as well. It will be a rockin’ atmosphere come Monday.
The running back position will be one to watch, with Carlos Hyde vying for playing time alongside Reggie Bush and just maybe, Australian rugby star turned NFLer Jarryd Hayne.
Their first test is a tough one. The Minnesota Vikings could break out this year behind second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Under the guidance of offensive coordinator and renowned quarterback guru Norv Turner, Bridgewater completed 259 of 402 passes for 2,912 yards and 14 touchdowns against 12 interceptions as a rookie.
Peterson, 30, is ready to return to competition, warning his linemen he's going full speed ahead with or without them.
“I’m always pushing those guys to, ‘Hey, we need to go full speed because this is going to be what it is in the game, especially when I’m coming your way,” Peterson said, via ESPN.com's Ben Goessling. “I don’t want to run you over or find my face mask in your back. You’re not going to like that.”
In addition to Peterson, Bridgewater has a new weapon in wide receiver Mike Wallace, who caught 67 passes for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns last season with the Miami Dolphins. Wallace will compete with Charles Johnson for Bridgewater's attention in the passing game.
Buoyed by a promising defense featuring Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, this season could be a big step forward for Minnesota.