Matchup of weak teams in opening spotlight. Why? QBs.
All you need to know is the quarterbacks involved. You don't even need more than their first names, Jameis and Marcus.
In a brilliant scheduling move, the league gets a matchup of the top two picks in May's draft, when Tennessee and No. 2 choice Marcus Mariota visit first selection Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers on Sunday. Both own Heisman Trophies and both are the primary building blocks for downtrodden franchises.
Yet to expect a whole lot from either of them in their pro debuts would be unfair.
''Ever since I was a kid, I was a very competitive person and I don't take losing very well, and I think that's kind of what made me the player that I am today,'' Mariota says. ''So going forward, obviously, there's going to be ups and downs. You've just, obviously, got to take it on the chin and go from there.''
The Titans have taken it on the chin a whole lot lately, going 38-58 since last making the postseason. Tampa Bay has been worse with a collective 30-66 mark. The prize for last year's 2-14 campaign was having Winston head south from Tallahassee to Tampa.
Winston brings tons of confidence to the Bucs.
''Just because you're a rookie doesn't mean you can't play football,'' he says.
Ready to go on Thursday night in the kickoff game to the regular season was Tom Brady, who threw for four touchdowns, three to All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, as Super Bowl champion New England beat Pittsburgh 28-21. Brady now has 161 wins as a starter, the most with one franchise of any quarterback in NFL history.
Green Bay at Chicago
The Packers have won nine of 10 in the oldest rivalry in pro football; this is meeting No. 191. They seek a fifth straight NFC North crown without top receiver Jordy Nelson, but with an otherwise strong roster led by 2014 league MVP Aaron Rodgers.
John Fox makes his debut as Bears coach. Known for turning around struggling franchises, as he did in Carolina and Denver, Fox hopes his best wideout, Alshon Jeffery, is not limited by a calf problem that sidelined him for nearly a month.
Baltimore at Denver
These clubs have had some juicy matchups, including the wild double-overtime victory for the Ravens in the Mile High City after the 2012 season. Both have defenses with impact players - Denver's Von Miller and Baltimore's Terrell Suggs, for instance - who need to step up against Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco.
Gary Kubiak, a longtime backup to John Elway and then an offensive coordinator in Denver, returns as head coach. He wants more of a running game to complement the 39-year-old Manning, who could be in his final season.
Seattle at St. Louis
A good first test to see if the Seahawks have any lingering pain from their last-minute Super Bowl loss. The Rams will get after the passer with their dynamic front line featuring Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald. Seattle will counter with Beast Mode, running back Marshawn Lynch, and the creativity of quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Seahawks are missing a key ingredient from the Legion of Boom: aggressive safety Kam Chancellor, a holdout.
Minnesota at San Francisco, Monday night
Adrian Peterson returns to the Vikings after missing all but one game while on the commissioner's exempt list after charges of child abuse. He could be rusty, or the year off will have further stoked his fire and allowed him to get in even more phenomenal shape than usual. Bet on the latter.
The 49ers have had so many defections through retirement, free agency or players being released that they are almost unrecognizable. Jim Tomsula was promoted to replace coach Jim Harbaugh.
Philadelphia at Atlanta, Monday night
Perhaps the NFL's most intriguing team is Philly. Coach Chip Kelly was given full personnel power after his second straight 10-6 season, which he said ''isn't good enough.'' It wasn't good enough for a 2014 playoff spot, so he tore up much of the roster. Injury-prone Sam Bradford is the new quarterback, offensive Player of the Year running back DeMarco Murray left Dallas and replaces LeSean McCoy - just two of Kelly's myriad moves.
Dan Quinn, who oversaw Seattle's powerful defense the last two years, tries to rebuild Atlanta's unit, a difficult chore.
Indianapolis at Buffalo
Rex Ryan moved a few hundred miles northwest from the Jersey Meadowlands to the Buffalo area. Already an icon in Western New York, Ryan, his rugged defense and the addition of McCoy have fans thinking the Bills' 15-season playoff drought will end.
New Orleans at Arizona
The Cardinals were the best team in the league halfway through last season. Then injuries hit and they stumbled into the playoffs before losing in the wild-card round. With QB Carson Palmer looking fit and eager, the defense looking ravenous, and with the best coaching staff in the NFL, Arizona believes it will push Seattle in the NFC West.
New York Giants at Dallas
Few teams had a rougher preseason injury-wise than the Giants, whose secondary and defensive line were hit especially hard. Without pass-rushing specialist DE Jason Pierre-Paul and no standouts at linebacker if Jon Beason isn't healthy, the onus is on Eli Manning and 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr., to produce.
Dallas also has some issues in the secondary and perhaps overall on defense. But with the NFL's best offensive line, a happy (and rich) WR Dez Bryant and, finally, a postseason victory on their resume, the Cowboys are thinking Super Bowl. Getting there without top rusher Murray will be challenging.
Kansas City at Houston
So what can J.J. Watt do for an encore? The unanimous choice for Defensive Player of the Year was unblockable in 2014, and if No. 1 overall draftee from that year, LB Jadeveon Clowney, is healthy, Houston could test anyone.
If the Chiefs can avoid the infirmary, they should push Denver in the AFC West. Linebacker Justin Houston anchors a superb group, and safety Eric Berry is back after battling lymphoma. QB Alex Smith has a true deep threat in WR Jeremy Maclin one season after no KC wideout caught a TD pass.
Miami at Washington
With Robert Griffin III sidelined by a concussion and having lost his job to Kirk Cousins, everything should be back to normal in the nation's capital, right? Don't count on it; rarely do the Redskins have anything go routinely.
Miami is a fashionable choice to push the Patriots in the AFC East. To do so, QB Ryan Tannehill must convert the potential that earned him a big second contract into production. Watch the Dolphins' pass rush led by Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and newcomer Ndamukong Suh.
Detroit at San Diego
If the Chargers are beginning their final season in San Diego before a move to Los Angeles, doing so without star tight end Antonio Gates (suspended) is a difficult way to start. QB Philip Rivers got a big contract extension - and a college standout running back in first-rounder Melvin Gordon.
Detroit could be special on offense, particularly passing the ball, but with Suh and fellow DT Nick Fairley gone, how strong is the defense?
Cleveland at New York Jets
Todd Bowles replaces Ryan in New York and could have a powerful defense. With Brandon Marshall added to catch passes, the offense might be improved whether it's Ryan Fitzpatrick or, when his jaw heals, Geno Smith chucking the ball.
Cleveland is another team plagued by injuries. Its strength seems to be the offensive line and secondary.
Carolina at Jacksonville
Cincinnati at Oakland
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