101 Days Before Kickoff, Here Are 101 Reasons to Get Excited About the NFL

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterMay 31, 2018

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo speaks to reporters at the team's football facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, April 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Where has the time gone?

It feels like only yesterday that the Eagles were smudging up the Lombardi Trophy with their fingerprints. Now, there are just 101 days left until the first Sunday of the NFL season.

That's right: Soon school lets out, then some fireworks, then training camp and, before you know it, you will be setting your fantasy lineups and settling in for 11-hour Sunday football binges.

But this is no time to contemplate how swiftly life is passing you by. It's time to celebrate!

There are 101 reasons to get excited for the upcoming season. Actually, there are many more, but we're going with a theme here. This countdown of everything we have to look forward to in autumn will make the long summer of great weather, family bonding and vacation opportunities zip by in the wink of an eye so we can get back to what really matters: football.

         

101. Eagles imitators. Get ready for a season of fourth-down gambles and trick plays at the goal line. It will be nothing but thrills until the first triple-reverse on 4th-and-8 gets stuffed and coaches around the league curl up into the fetal position and go back to mumbling, "Establish the run, defense wins championships, establish the run..." into their headsets.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 14:  Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys high fives Jason Witten #82 after a touchdown in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 14, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo b
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100. Jason Witten in the booth. Tony Romo can call plays before they are run, and Witten shares a telepathic link with Romo. Therefore, Witten can predict what's happening in other games. Watching his telecast will be like watching NFL Red Zone.

99. Jimmy Graham in Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers finally has a weapon over the middle of the field to ignore while he scrambles toward the sideline in search of an 80-yard touchdown.

98. Breakfast with the Chargers. San Diego's Oct. 21 London game against Tennessee will start at 6:30 a.m. California time. It's what watching Wimbledon would be like if Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa could make a sandwich out of Roger Federer.

97-93. The Cowboys offensive linemen. They're back, bigger and badder than ever and ready to pave the way as Ezekiel Elliott runs the ball 30 times per game because the Cowboys receiving corps wouldn't cut it in the Big 12.

92. John Ross' rookie-year mulligan. If the record-setting combine speedster has a great season at wide receiver for the Bengals after losing 2017 to injuries and organizational weirdness, can we award him Rookie of the Year, or is that just a Ben Simmons NBA thing?

91. Kickoffs. Under the new rules, Tyreek Hill could blow past a coverage unit before it reaches midfield.

90. The Broncos pass rush. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb should combine for 20 sacks unless Chubb gets carried away with quarterback towel-snatching and tries to grab one from John Elway. Dirty golf clubs make the Broncos president grumpy.

89-72. Eighteen new offensive coordinators. That's right, more than half the league's teams will turn their offenses over to new coaches this year. You probably didn't notice because most of the hires were:

• Promotions from within, like Mike Groh in Philly and Eric Beiniemy in Kansas City.

• Totally nondescript randos, like all three new AFC coordinators.

• Retreads/objectively awful hires, like Brian Schottenheimer (Seahawks) and Norv Turner (Panthers).

• Franchise-consuming territorial wars waiting to happen (mainly Todd Haley in Cleveland).

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

So why get excited? Well, there are a few potential winners in the group, like Mark Helfrich in Chicago and John DeFilippo in Minnesota. And the retreads and randos bring their own layers of intrigue. You may not want to see Russell Wilson and Cam Newton held back by Scottenheimer and Turner offenses, but you won't be able to look away, either.

71. The Dolphins, maybe? Someone has to be excited about the upcoming Dolphins season, right? Ryan Tannehill is coming back. Is that a thing that interests you?

70. Richard Sherman returns to Seattle. No one will make a big deal out of this Week 13 event. Meanwhile, somewhere in the Bay Area, Sherman is practicing his December trash talk in front of a mirror.

69. The first "What's Not a Catch" controversy. It will probably be the Week 3 Sunday nighter, when Rob Gronkowski scores a touchdown by waving at a Tom Brady pass and Lions fans scream "WHAT THE ACTUAL F--K?"

68-65. Four Raiders Preseason Games. Well-known veterans and last-legs reclamation projects will be battling for their professional lives against other team's undrafted rookies in August fourth quarters. It will be like The Hunger Games, but with Katniss Hackenberg.

64. Season Three of The Good Place. The cliffhanger of this twisty comedy isn't whether the gang is in heaven, hell or elsewhere; it's whether Jason will discover that, back on earth, his hero Blake Bortles and the Jaguars are actually successful.

63. Yoked-Up Christian McCaffrey. The speedy Panthers all-purpose back looks bulkier this year. There's nothing NFL coaches like more than taking a uniquely shaped peg like McCaffrey and hammering him into one of their many round holes.

62. New Jack City. That's the name that Jets safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye coined for their secondary. It's a lot easier to get pumped about a pair of second-year defenders when a team also has a little hope at quarterback.

61. The RPO. The run-pass option is just what the NFL needed: play action for the "Umm, actually" crowd.

60-54. Great Thursday night games. We count seven that are certified fresh: the Eagles-Falcons opener, Vikings-Rams in Week 4, Panthers-Steelers Week 10, Packers-Seahawks Week 11, Saints-Cowboys Week 13, Jaguars-Titans Week 14 (don't snicker, it'll be good) and Chargers-Chiefs Week 15. Browns-Jets in Week 3 will even be compelling if neither team screws up its rookie quarterback situation, but let's not ask that much of Thursday Night Football.

53. No Color Rush uniforms. "Thank you, NFL! Sincerely, our retinas."

52. David Johnson's return. You'll remember that the NFL still has a franchise in Arizona every time you set your fantasy lineup.

51. The new Bears offense. It's got some Matt Nagy Chiefs stuff, Mark Helfrich Ducks stuff, a young quarterback, Jordan Howard, a Human Joystick, Allen Robinson and the Philly Special guy. The last time a Bears offense was this interesting, Sid Luckman was the quarterback.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

50-35. A whole season of Deshaun Watson. (Hopefully.) His six starts last year whetted our appetites. We're hungry for the main course.

34. Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones on the same field. The Falcons offense would rank 15 spots higher if Steve Sarkisian were coaching at some vocational high school somewhere.

33-27. Seven Jaguars defensive touchdowns. That's how many the Jaguars produced last year, anyway. They are unlikely to duplicate that total, but it's going to be a blast watching them try.

26. Sophomore running back encores. Alvin Kamara will carry a bigger load with Mark Ingram suspended. Dalvin Cook must return from injury to help the Vikings over the top. Kareem Hunt will be asked to take pressure off Patrick Mahomes II. Leonard Fournette must provide the "ground" for the Jaguars' ground-n-pound philosophy. They aren't just thrilling runners who generate highlights and stats; they'll have a major impact on the playoff race.

25. A politics-free season. The NFL's new anthem policy took care of that, amiright? But in the unlikely event that a teensy bit of protesting seeps through the airtight new doctrine somehow, we'll get to enjoy Mike Pence walking along the sideline with a tape measure to make sure players are standing up straight enough.

24-23. The Titans and Buccaneers. Your annual reminder that these teams have young quarterbacks and lots of talent and should therefore be entertaining once in a while.

22. Patriots position battles. There will be well-known veterans (Kenny Britt, Jeremy Hill) battling incumbents (Malcolm Mitchell, Mike Gillislee) and rookies (Braxton Berrios, Sony Michel) for second- and third-string roles in training camp. Don't pretend you know how things will turn out, or that you won't be praising the Patriots for amassing all this depth while laughing at the Raiders for doing the same darn thing.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

21. Garoppo-Mania in San Francisco. The Star Wars prequel of reasons to get excited about the NFL. It will be kinda fun but won't come close to the hype.

20-16 Five compelling quarterback battles. Every first-round rookie has a real shot at starting, and none of them—not even Baker Mayfield in Cleveland—is getting thrust into a no-win scenario. Jets-Bills and Browns-Ravens games never looked so good on the schedule.

15-12 Veteran QBs in new places. Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Alex Smith and Tyrod Taylor prove that if you can't achieve true greatness, you can at least spice things up by rearranging your ordinariness now and then.

11. New Steelers weapons. Watching Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and JuJu Smith-Schuster is always a delight. But this season we'll also see James Washington in the slot, Jaylen Samuels lined up all over the field and Mason Rudolph trying to avoid direct eye contact with Ben Roethlisberger for six months.

10. J.J. Watt's return. It's gonna be like Thor flying in wielding Stormbreaker.

9. Mahomes Unleashed. A young hotshot replaces an aging, much-maligned veteran in Andy Reid's weapon-laden offense. What could possibly go wrong? *Googles "Kevin Kolb"* Er, what could possibly go wrong this time?

8-6. Three new Rams defensive maniacs. Who needs a Suicide Squad sequel when Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters now share a locker room with Aaron Donald and take orders from Wade Phillips?

5. Carson Wentz's return. You may want to mute your brother-in-law on Facebook now before he screams for Nick Foles after Wentz's first incompletion.

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

4. Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley take the Meadowlands. Grace and power. Lightning and thunder. Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside. The guy getting held back by Eli Manning and the guy getting held back by the Giants offensive line (and also by Eli Manning).

3. The Aaron Rodgers revenge tour. We're talking about his vengeance on the NFC, not the Packers front office.

2. The inevitable Patriots "disrespected underdogs" narrative: Can't wait to hear that their transformation into a bunch of prickly egomaniacs who can barely tolerate one another is actually the media's fault.

1. Andrew Luck's first throw since the 2016 season. Waiting for it last year was so nice, why not wait twice?

                   

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.

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