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NFL Week 1 Preview — Are We Still Talking About the Patriots’ Balls?

Tom Brady
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The 2015 NFL season officially kicks off Thursday night in New England, where the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots will begin their quest to repeat with a tough first-week game against the Steelers. The rest of the league gets started on Sunday. (Be sure to check our AFC and NFC previews.)

Here’s what you need to know about Week 1:

Thursday, September 10

How Many Times Will You Hear ‘Deflategate’ Tonight?

Pittsburgh at New England | Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass. | 8:30 p.m. (ET); NBC-TV

Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots
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New England quarterback Tom Brady has become known for his balls this off-season, but his five previous Super Bowl appearances should at least demonstrate that his accomplishments in 2014 were not overinflated. The Pats QB fought the NFL and sidestepped his four-game suspension for his role in the “Deflategate” controversy in last season’s AFC title game against the Colts. For now.

The Patriots might rather people keep talking about things ending in “gate” (Spygate, Deflategate) than their weakened secondary, which lost starting cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to free agency. New England will also be without receiver Brandon LaFell, who is injured, and running back LeGarrette Blount, who was suspended one game for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hopes to exploit the Pats’ DBs, but he’ll be without running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Martavis Bryant, who were suspended two and four games, respectively, for violations of the substance-abuse policy. Pittsburgh’s All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey is out till November with an ankle injury, meaning Big Ben won’t be as tightly protected as usual. The real worry: the Steelers defense will have no answer for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and other prime targets they’ll face this season.

Sunday, September 13

The Battle of the Rookie QBs

Tennessee at Tampa Bay | Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. | 4:25 p.m. (ET); CBS-TV

Jameis Marcus
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Everyone loves the debut of a franchise quarterback, especially when your franchise is perennially terrible. Tampa’s Jameis Winston and Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota were selected No. 1 and 2 respectively in this spring’s NFL Draft. College football’s last two Heisman Trophy winners get to see each other again in their first NFL game, albeit surrounded by talent that isn’t quite first-round caliber. Fortunately for them, the respective defenses aren’t any good either.

Paring Down Peyton’s Plays

Baltimore at Denver | Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver | 4:25 p.m. (ET); CBS-TV

Denver Broncos v Houston Texans
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Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning seems ageless, until he doesn’t — like during last season’s playoff loss to the Colts. New Denver head coach Gary Kubiak is likely to shift the team’s offense to a more run-focused attack rather than ask Manning to be a superhero each week — like he was while throwing for seven TD passes and nearly 500 yards against the Ravens in Week 1 of 2013. Baltimore and John Harbaugh really don’t care about all of this; they like to hit whoever has the ball and grind teams into submission. The big key to the game is whether Ravens running back Justin Forsett can pile up yards and help Baltimore win the time-of-possession battle.

Beckham vs. Bryant

New York at Dallas | AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas | 8:30 p.m. (ET); NBC-TV

Beckham Bryant
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In past Giants-Cowboys match-ups, Eli Manning and Tony Romo were the marquee names, but their athletic receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant are nearly at the peak of their profession right now. While the veteran quarterbacks will be charged with getting the stud wideouts the ball, the shaky secondaries of each team will have to scheme to stop them. Expect another shootout like the two games the teams played in 2014, both won by Dallas.

Monday, September 14

Bird Fight!

Philadelphia at Atlanta | Georgia Dome, Atlanta | 6:55 p.m. ET; ESPN-TV

Sam Bradford
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The NFL concludes its strong slate of Week 1 games with a Monday night doubleheader, including a clash of intriguing NFC teams in the Georgia Dome. If Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford is fully recovered from multiple season-ending knee injuries, he’ll be the force behind coach Chip Kelly’s dynamic, fast-break offense, which added NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray to its backfield this off-season.

After two consecutive disappointing seasons, the Falcons jettisoned head coach Mike Smith for Dan Quinn, whose defense should be much improved this season. It couldn’t get worse; Atlanta’s D allowed the most yards per game (398.3) in the league and rarely pressured the quarterback. The Falcons’ offense remains a strength with quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones still in the nest.

Other Games

Sunday, September 13

Green Bay at Chicago | Soldier Field, Chicago | 1 p.m. (ET); FOX-TV

Kansas City at Houston | NRG Stadium, Houston | 1 p.m. (ET); CBS-TV

Cleveland at New York Jets | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. | 1 p.m. (ET); CBS-TV

Indianapolis at Buffalo | Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, N.Y. | 1 p.m. (ET); CBS-TV

Miami at Washington| FedEx Field, Landover, Md. | 1 p.m. (ET); CBS-TV

Carolina at Jacksonville | EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla. | 1 p.m. (ET); FOX-TV

Seattle at St. Louis | Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis | 1 p.m. (ET); FOX-TV

New Orleans at Arizona | U. of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. | 4:05 p.m. (ET); FOX-TV

Detroit at San Diego | Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego | 4:05 p.m. (ET); FOX-TV

Cincinnati at Oakland | Coliseum, Oakland, Calif. | 4:25 p.m.(ET); CBS-TV

Monday, September 14

Minnesota at San Francisco | Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara | 10:15 p.m. (ET); ESPN-TV


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