Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season is less than three weeks away, but so many questions still remain across the league. The first two weeks of the preseason have been extremely sloppy and the league referees have yet to determine what exactly helmet to helmet contact truly is.
The term sounds simple, but we have seen flags thrown half way across the field in reaction to a solid football tackle. If some of these brutal calls continue to happen in the regular season it is going to change the whole dynamic of how to play defense and it will impact some meaningful games down the stretch.
Putting the new rule aside, the NFC East is arguably the deepest division in football today and the deepest it has been in over a decade. Many think that Philadelphia is the clear favorite, but if you breakdown every roster, schedule and front office within the division it is very wide open. On top of that, history is not on Philly’s side. There has not been a repeat winner in the division since 2003-04, so why now?
New York has upgraded on both sides of the ball and has begun a whole new culture shift after last season’s disaster. Washington has a new signal caller in Alex Smith and they have also upgraded on the defensive side, while Dallas is getting Ezekiel Elliott back for a full 16 games and has parted ways with the selfish-minded receiver Dez Bryant.
There are still so many unknowns as we enter the regular season, but below are the three biggest storylines to keep an eye on heading into September.
Who Will Start at Quarterback for Philadelphia in Week 1?
After Carson Wentz went down with a season ending knee injury in Week 15 last fall the Eagles were written off by every analyst in the entire country. Nick Foles looked shaky in the final games of the regular season and into the divisional round of the playoffs, but found his game in the NFC title game before lighting up the Super Bowl and claiming the MVP honor.
Not only did it make for great television, but it put Philadelphia in a tough spot this offseason. After opting not to trade Foles with the fear that Wentz would not be ready for the start of the 2018 regular season, we sit here in August contemplating the question—who will start in Philly?
Head Coach Doug Pederson stated that Wentz is unknown for Week 1, which meant that Foles would likely get the nod. However, a shoulder strain this week in New England has put his starting chances in jeopardy. If Foles and Wentz are both ruled out for the season opener against Atlanta, than third year quarterback Nate Sudfeld will get the call. Sudfeld played the season finale in 2017 and completed 82 percent of his throws with zero touchdowns or interceptions. A very small sample size for Sudfeld, but if he does in fact get the nod, the Eagles will have a tough hill to climb in one of the hardest divisions in the entire league.
Is Saquon Barkley NFL Ready?
Arguably the biggest storyline in the NFL today revolves around the New York Giants’ decision to pass on a quarterback and select a running back in the 2018 draft. New York selected the most highly touted player in the entire country after he not only broke records at Penn. State, but shattered NFL combine records.
Saquon Barkley was an All-American running back in college and we have yet to see a prospect this polished in a long time. He has the ability to change the entire dynamic of New York’s offense and will draw a ton attention at the line of scrimmage. Barkley can run, catch, block and even return kicks. There simply is not one fault in his game other than inexperience at the pro level.
Yes, experience is a huge fault, but seeing Barkley in action this preseason has given many people the idea that he can be great right away. The Giants have one of the NFC’s scariest offenses on paper, and they have upgraded on the offensive line by signing Nate Solder. They have three solid receiving threats in Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Odell Beckham Jr. They have a new offensive minded head coach Pat Shurmur and a proven general manager in Dave Gettleman.
Barkley will have every opportunity to shine this season in the Meadowlands and the Giants offense will help lighten his load by establishing a sound aerial attack.
Who will be the Top Wide Receiver in Dallas?
The Dallas Cowboys will begin the 2018 season without both Bryant and Jason Witten. Bryant spent his entire eight year career in Dallas, while Witten retired this summer. Both players rank inside the top five in Cowboys history in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Although their productions have declined over the past two seasons, it will be huge shoes to fill going forward.
The longest tenured receiver on the roster is Terrance Williams. In his five seasons in Dallas he has 230 receptions, 3,359 yards and 20 touchdowns. Yes he is a veteran, but 2017 was his worst statistical season of his career. The likelihood of him taking the reins as WR1 is slim, but there aren’t many other proven options.
Dallas signed former Jacksonville wide out Allen Hurns in the offseason. He had a career year as a Jaguar in 2015, recording 10 touchdowns and 1,031 yards, however, he has battled injuries over the last two seasons and missed a combined 11 games in that span. He is a big receiver who can serve as a nice red zone target to compensate for Bryant and Witten’s departures.
Although it was a small sample size, rookie receiver Michael Gallup looked really solid in the first two games of the preseason. The third round draft pick from Colorado State burned by his defender and snagged a 30 yard touchdown from Dak Prescott in Week 1 of the preseason and saw five targets in the first half this week against Cincinnati. He has solid footwork and has looked really good in training camp. If he stays healthy and adapts to the speed of the NFL then expect the Monroe, Georgia native to be the main guy in Dallas in 2018.