Some early NFL storylines to watch

Football season is back, baby!

You don’t have to look at the calendar to know this. All you need to do is watch about three minutes of television and you’ll see new Denver Broncos’ QB Peyton Manning selling us everything from vehicles to televisions to credit cards to fishing bait (well, maybe not the last one – yet).

For most fans of the NFL, week one is also a start anew for hopes of a good season. As a Browns fan, I go through this every year, only to have my hopes dashed usually before the end of the first quarter in week one. Steelers fans seem to have a lot better luck in this department.

So since I usually can’t count on the Browns to provide enough entertainment to last an entire football season (unless you a find comedy of errors entertaining), here is what I’ll be watching during week one:

– The return of Peyton Manning. After missing all of last season recovering from a neck injury and surgery, the NFL’s Golden Boy, Peyton Manning returns. His 14-season stint with Colts ended this offseason, and the Denver Broncos promptly scooped up the superstar. While it’s difficult to judge anyone by preseason play, Manning certainly didn’t pad his stats by tossing zero TDs and three picks. And who is up first for Manning? A Sunday night matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are still smarting from last season’s early round playoff exit, courtesy of, you guessed it, the Denver Broncos (then powered by QB Tim Tebow).

– Rookie starting quarterbacks. Five rookies will start at quarterback in week one: Robert Griffin III in Washington, Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Ryan Tannehill in Miami, Brandon Weeden in Cleveland and Russell Wilson in Seattle. Wilson seems to have the best matchup this week against Arizona, plus he’s had a great preseason, beating out Matt Flynn for the starting job. RG3 has a tough one at New Orleans, as does Luck at Chicago. Tannehill and Weeden aren’t on teams stocked with great receivers, and both are facing notoriously tough defenses in Houston and Philadelphia, respectively.

– Replacement officials. Throughout the preseason, NFL fans have been treated to the inconsistent, and sometimes downright scary, calls made by replacement officials. The real officials are holding out, currently in a dispute with the NFL over money (well there’s a shocker). As of this writing, there has been no reconciliation, and we’re looking at the possibility of replacement refs for the first week and maybe longer. Preseason games are one thing, but let’s see how long it takes for the NFL to end the lockout if (or when) a replacement official blows a big call that affects the outcome of a game.

Fantasy football update

Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew, once considered a top five fantasy pick, plummeted in fantasy value thanks to his holdout with the Jags, which just ended over the weekend. In some leagues, he dropped as low as the fourth round. Still, he’s been a fantasy stud, so snagging him late in your draft could have been a steal. On the other hand, there is no telling how the holdout will affect his performance. Owners might consider picking up current Jacksonville running back Rashad Jennings and see what happens. With Blaine Gabbert quarterbacking the offense, you can pretty much guarantee the Jags’ gameplan will feature their running game.

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