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Following a preseason slate, Monday nights matter for this first time in 2019.
As has become an annual tradition, the NFL offers up a doubleheader of Monday Night Football to start the season anew.
Closing the curtain on Week 1 will be Jon Gruden’s Raiders, taking on the spotlight on the field after an eventful offseason off the field and across premium cable, as they host the rival Broncos, with Vic Fangio making his head coaching debut.
Here are a half-dozen things to watch for in the pair of primetime football tilts taking over your TV screens Monday night.
1. Here come your No. 1 contenders
Talent — on the offensive side of the ball, in particular — from future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees to stud wide receiver Michael Thomas to running back Alvin Kamara (who takes on a larger role) is in abundance. It will also be interesting to see how tight end Jared Cook fits in and if the pass-catcher can improve an already outstanding offense.
An NFC Championship runner-up facing the reigning AFC South champ is an intriguing matchup all by itself. But this is the start of what many believe could be a special season in NOLA.
2. Houston, we have some new faces
So, those Texans sure made some changes — in one day.
A flurry of movement on cutdown day has seen Houston bring in left tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Kenny Stills and running back Carlos Hyde, while parting ways with Jadeveon Clowney. Houston has also added RB Duke Johnson.
It’s clear Bill O’Brien doesn’t want to waste the talents of Deshaun Watson and De’Andre Hopkins, but can the Texans really build chemistry this quickly? We’ll start to see just that on Monday. And if the Texans, who are surely still coming together as a team, can impress against the Saints, that bodes very well for them going forward into a wide-open AFC South.
3. Flags will fly, crowds will roar
In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new rule in the NFL this year that allows coaches to challenge pass interference calls and non-calls. Of course it stems from the Saints‘ bitter loss to the Rams in the NFC Championship Game.
If/when New Orleans coach Sean Payton challenges a PI call and wins, the eruption from the home crowd could be seismic.
4. The post-A.B. Raiders debut
Where do the Raiders go from here?
Having gone through a cavalcade of distractions due to the New England Patriots‘ newest receiver, Oakland will try to move on and open up a season, but the shadow of A.B. will no doubt linger over this game and the Silver and Black.
How Jon Gruden rallies his troops will be a sight to see no matter how it plays out. How will Derek Carr look? How will free-agent receiver Tyrell Williams do now that he’s become the No. 1 receiver. There are three first-round rookies to get excited about — Clelin Ferrell, Jonathan Abram and Josh Jacobs.
With or without Brown on board, this team was going to be marked by plenty of new faces. How they will react, move forward and begin carving out the newest chapter in Raiders history begins, fittingly, on a Monday night.
5. Fangio and the Broncos D — let’s see what happens
Down in Atlanta in September of 1995, Vic Fangio began his tenure as defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers and a long journey to get to Monday night, where he will make his debut as a head coach for the Denver Broncos.
Fangio’s ascent to the Broncos helm comes after he was voted the 2018 NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in his final season with the Bears. In Chicago, Fangio’s guidance propelled the Bears defensive into a dominant entity that keyed the franchise’s worst-to-first turnaround. In Denver, Fangio finds himself manned with plenty of defensive talent once more — led by pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, along with defensive backs Chris Harris, Kareem Jackson and Bears transplant Bryce Callahan.
Just how formidable the Broncos‘ defense can be — or perhaps dominant — will begin to take shape on Monday.
6. Can Flacco fill the void?
A search for a Broncos franchise quarterback has endured since Peyton Manning retired.
Draft busts and free-agent misses have marked seasons lost for a great defense as the offense sputters along.
The latest hope lies upon the shoulders of veteran Joe Flacco.
Flacco won a Super Bowl during a long tenure with the Ravens and at 34 looks to ignite an offense that’s been searching for a spark for some time. Along with receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who’s returning from a season-ending Achilles injury, Flacco lends veteran presence to a young offense. There’s potential here. And there’s a start of another quarterback under center for the Broncos looking to help a franchise that fell so suddenly from a Super Bowl winner to a forgotten squad in a top-heavy AFC West. Can the Broncos be players once again with Flacco under center? That answer begins to come to the forefront against the Raiders.