NFL News & Analysis

5 early NFL Week 1 storylines to keep an eye on

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky (10) and Kenny Pickett (8) celebrate after defeating the Seattle Seahawks at Acrisure Stadium. The Steelers won 32-25. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

• After two key pieces departed in the offseason and Tyron Smith went down injured, the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line will look vastly different in 2022.

Tua Tagovailoa is in a make-or-break year, and his Week 1 performance against the New England Patriots alongside a revamped offense will be telling.

• A winner of the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback battle has yet to be determined, with both Kenny Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky performing well in the preseason.

Estimated reading time: 6 mins

The NFL season is just a few days away, with the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams kicking off the Week 1 slate. Here are five of the biggest storylines entering the first week of the season.

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Can The Dallas Cowboys‘ Offensive Line Protect QB Dak Prescott?

The Cowboys finished the 2021 season with PFF’s No. 1-ranked offensive line. But that unit could not look more different entering the 2022 season. Tyron Smith will miss most, if not all, of the 2022 season with a hamstring injury. In addition, the Cowboys released La’el Collins (82.0 PFF grade in 2021) this offseason to free up cap space and left guard Connor Williams (76.1) left for the Miami Dolphins in free agency. 

2022 first-round pick Tyler Smith is expected to start at left tackle in Week 1 despite not working there during training camp or in the preseason. He's also nursing an ankle injury that kept him out of the final week of the preseason (he practiced only at left guard). Not only was he new to the position, but he wasn't the most “clean” college prospect. Smith racked up 13 penalties at Tulsa last season and had just 147 true pass sets. Despite him playing left tackle in college, it’s fair to expect Smith to struggle mightily early on during his rookie season. 

The Cowboys' top-ranked offense in the NFL last season was due to the depth of their offensive line. That's no longer the case, and they now have one of the weaker tackle duos entering the season. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys' young offensive line could be in for a brutal Week 1 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But if Smith does prove that he can hold up on the left side, maybe Dallas won't struggle as much this year on offense as many anticipate. We will learn a lot about the 2022 outlook for the Dallas Cowboys here in Week 1.

Can QB Jalen Hurts make a leap in Year 3?

There's a strong case to be made that no NFL team had a better offseason than the Philadelphia Eagles. They added Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown via trade. They drafted defensive tackle Jordan Davis in Round 1 and they shockingly acquired defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson just hours before the 53-man roster cutdowns

But despite all of Philadelphia's additions on both sides of the ball, the team still isn't the favorite in the NFC East. The Eagles' current odds to win the division sit at (+150), while the Dallas Cowboys are at (-140) despite losing wide receiver Amari Cooper, edge defender Randy Gregory and tackle La’el Collins in the same offseason. 

Part of the reason sportsbooks are hesitant to put Philadelphia's odds ahead of the Cowboys is due to quarterback Jalen Hurts. The former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback finished the season with a 69.2 passing grade in 2021, 20th in the NFL. That put him behind quarterbacks such as Jacoby Brissett, Teddy Bridgewater and Daniel Jones

If Hurts can improve as a passer this season, the Eagles could be legitimate Super Bowl contenders. If not, he could be the reason the team fails to win the division for the third consecutive season. Hurts and the Eagles need to get off to a fast start, and it begins with beating the Lions in Detroit in Week 1.

It’s now or never for QB Tua Tagovailoa

If a quarterback hasn't shown signs of promise by Year 3, it's time for the team to move on. That is where the Dolphins are at with Tua Tagovailoa going into his third season with the team. After a rough 2021 season during which he graded out as the 25th-ranked quarterback in the NFL, the Dolphins are hopeful that Tagovailoa can improve this season. 

Miami made sure to add a ton of weapons around him, including trading for six-time Pro Bowl receiver Tyreek Hill. Miami also signed Cedrick Wilson in free agency, who had a career year with Dallas last season. They also upgraded their offensive line, signing Terron Armstead and Connor Williams. All of these additions were made to help the former No. 5 overall pick thrive in Mike McDaniel's offense. 

Tagovailoa’s first test will be at home against the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. In three career starts against the Patriots, Tagovailoa has averaged just 152 passing yards per game and 6.08 yards per attempt. Another performance like that, and there is a chance Miami fans will already be calling for a new starting quarterback.

Mitchell Trubisky or Kenny Pickett in Pittsburgh?

The Steelers will open the 2022 season on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals. But the player who will be under center for them in this AFC North battle is not yet known. The team signed Mitchell Trubisky as a free agent this offseason, and he took most of the first-team reps during training camp. His performance in the preseason was impressive, earning him an 83.1 grade on 61 snaps.

But rookie Kenny Pickett also played well in the preseason, finishing with an 80.4 grade on 67 snaps. Pickett will become the Steelers' starter sooner rather than later, but will that be in Week 1 or do the Steelers want to give him some time to sit? That remains to be seen. 

However, the fact that head coach Mike Tomlin hasn't named a starter yet means that the Steelers may be thinking about throwing Pickett to the wolves (or, in this case, the Bengals) in Week 1.

How fast will Davante Adams jell with Derek Carr?

The Raiders made the playoffs in 2021, but it was clear they needed to get better at wide receiver this offseason. That’s why they traded for Davante Adams before making him one of the highest-paid receivers in the league. 

If the Raiders want to make the playoffs again, they’ll need Adams to play like he did in Green Bay. So the question is, how long will it take him to jell with Derek Carr? It’s been mentioned a million times, but Carr and Adams played at Fresno State together. However, that was nearly a decade ago, and both players have changed a lot since then. 

Carr and Adams did not play a single snap in the preseason, and they face the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1. With cornerback J.C. Jackson likely following Adams all over the field, the Raiders need their All-Pro receiver to win that matchup. If he does, it would be a great sign for how the rest of the season might unfold for the Raiders.


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