Every story has an end, but in life, every end is a new beginning.
The story last season was the endings. In 2021, 34 regular-season games were decided by a game-winning score on the final play, the most ever in a single year. The encore featured all four Divisional playoff games decided on the final play, and both conference championships as well as the Super Bowl each decided by three points.
This week marks the beginning of a new story. After an action-packed offseason, the path to State Farm Stadium and Super Bowl LVII in Arizona begins Thursday when the NFL kicks off its 103rd year of competition.
The starting 11 entering Week 1…
1. BILLS, RAMS TO CHRISTEN 2022 SEASON: Buffalo quarterback JOSH ALLEN returns to his native state when the BUFFALO BILLS begin the season against the defending Super Bowl champion LOS ANGELES RAMS on Thursday (8:20 PM ET, NBC). Allen, who has guided the Bills to consecutive AFC East titles, is 3-1 against teams from the NFC West, including a win in California over the 49ers in 2020. Meanwhile, the Rams’ SEAN MCVAY has won each of his five season-opening games as a head coach (2017-21). The last head coach to win his first six season-openers was MIKE SHANAHAN (1988-89, 1995-98). Incidentally, Shanahan hired McVay, then 24, as an assistant tight ends coach in 2010 with Washington.
2. NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 25: Twelve teams are expected to open their seasons with a starting quarterback age 25 or younger. Two of the NFL’s three youngest quarterbacks expected to start in Week 1, the 49ers’ TREY LANCE, 22, and the Bears’ JUSTIN FIELDS, 23, meet at Soldier Field on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). Meanwhile, when New England plays at Miami on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS), MAC JONES, 23, meets TUA TAGOVAILOA, 24. Each of the last four Super Bowls have kicked off with a starting quarterback under 26.
3. MVP ROAD TOUR: All five active players with at least one Associated Press MVP open 2022 away from home.
- TOM BRADY (Tampa Bay at Dallas, 8:20 PM ET, NBC) led the NFL in passing yards (5,316) and passing touchdowns (43) in 2021. He is expected to make his 20th career Week 1 start, surpassing DREW BREES (19) for the most by a quarterback all-time.
- LAMAR JACKSON (Baltimore at N.Y. Jets, 1:00 PM ET, CBS) has nine touchdown passes with no interceptions and a 150.2 rating in three career starts on Kickoff Weekend. Since 2019, the Ravens have outscored opponents 124-49 (+75) in those three contests.
- PATRICK MAHOMES (Kansas City at Arizona, 4:25 PM ET, CBS) is 4-0 as a starting quarterback on Kickoff Weekend with 13 touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 133.7 rating. He led the NFL with 22 touchdown passes on the road last season.
- AARON RODGERS (Green Bay at Minnesota, 4:25 PM ET, FOX), the reigning back-to-back NFL MVP, led all qualified passers with a 109.7 rating on the road in 2021.
- MATT RYAN (Indianapolis at Houston, 1:00 PM ET, CBS) makes his Colts debut and needs 265 passing yards to become the second-fastest player ever (223 games) to reach 60,000, trailing only DREW BREES (215 games).
4. SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: According to Next Gen Stats, Las Vegas defensive end MAXX CROSBY led the NFL with 82 quarterback pressures in 2021. On Sunday at SoFi Stadium (4:25 PM ET, CBS) he’ll line up across an offensive line featuring Chargers tackle RASHAWN SLATER, who earned Pro Bowl and second-team Associated Press All-Pro honors as a 2021 rookie. Slater’s quarterback, JUSTIN HERBERT, was pressured on only 4.2 percent of his dropbacks last season, fourth in the league behind TOM BRADY (2.9), JOSH ALLEN (3.6) and PATRICK MAHOMES (3.8). Herbert’s 9,350 passing yards and 69 touchdown passes are both the most ever by a player in his first two seasons.
5. SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUP: TAMPA BAY at DALLAS on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC) is the NFL’s first instance since the 1970 merger in which the league’s top two offenses from the prior season (Dallas 407.0 yards per game in 2021, Tampa Bay 405.9) will meet in Week 1.
- In 2021, the Buccaneers led the NFL in touchdown passes (43) while the Cowboys’ defense led the league in interceptions (26), including 11 by cornerback TREVON DIGGS, most by an NFL player since 1981.
- The two clubs met in the annual kickoff game last season, with Tampa Bay defeating Dallas, 31-29. TOM BRADY (32 completions) and DAK PRESCOTT (42 completions, most ever in a Week 1 game) combined to complete 74 passes, the most in a single game in NFL history.
6. STREAK SPEAK: The KANSAS CITY CHIEFS have opened each of the past seven seasons (2015-21) with a victory, the NFL’s longest active Week 1 winning streak.
- With a win on Sunday at Arizona (4:25 PM ET, CBS), Kansas City will tie Pittsburgh (eight, 2003-10) for the league’s fourth-longest season-opening winning streak since 1981, when the Cowboys established the NFL record of 17 consecutive Week 1 victories (1965-81).
- ARIZONA, meanwhile, has won four consecutive home games against head coach ANDY REID (regular-season wins in 2005, 2012 and 2014 as well as the 2008 NFC Championship Game).
- In Miami on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS), Dolphins head coach MIKE MCDANIEL makes his NFL debut at age 39, the same age as BILL BELICHICK at the time of his first game as an NFL head coach, in 1991. The Dolphins have three straight wins over New England and with a victory would have their longest winning streak against the Patriots since a five-game stretch from 1999-2001.
7. DID YOU KNOW?: Teams with quarterback TOM BRADY have won seven Super Bowls and in four of those seven seasons (New England in 2001, 2003 and 2014; Tampa Bay in 2020), Brady’s teams lost their Week 1 games.
8. UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: Houston quarterback DAVIS MILLS was in fourth grade at Mason Elementary School in Duluth, Ga., when MATT RYAN made his NFL debut for the Falcons in 2008. On Sunday, Mills and the Houston Texans will meet Ryan and his new team, the Indianapolis Colts (1:00 PM ET, CBS).
- Last season, Mills ranked second among qualified rookie passers in rating (88.8), touchdown passes (16) and completion percentage (66.8) and third in passing yards (2,664). On Oct. 10 vs. New England, Mills became the first rookie quarterback to record at least 300 passing yards, three touchdown passes and a passer rating of 140-or-higher in a single game in NFL history.
9. TREND TIME: For the first time since 2014, when SHAUN HILL, JOSH MCCOWN and Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING opened that season under center, three quarterbacks are expected to start Week 1 games against former teams.
- RUSSELL WILSON and the Denver Broncos conclude the Week 1 schedule when they meet the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on Monday Night Football (8:15 PM ET, ESPN/ABC). A nine-time Pro Bowler for the Seahawks, Wilson posted a 104-53-1 record as a starter and led Seattle to a pair of Super Bowl appearances, including a Super Bowl XLVIII win over Denver to conclude the 2013 season.
- BAKER MAYFIELD and the Carolina Panthers host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The No. 1 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, Mayfield led the Browns to the 2020 playoffs.
- JOE FLACCO is expected to start when the Jets host the Ravens on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). Flacco played 11 years in Baltimore, including six playoff appearances and a Super Bowl XLVII title.
10. THIS WEEK IN NFL HISTORY: Sept. 12, 1982 (40 years ago) – Rookie running back MARCUS ALLEN, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, recorded 180 scrimmage yards (116 rushing, 64 receiving) and ran for a touchdown in his NFL debut, leading the Los Angeles Raiders to a 23-17 win over the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park.
11. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Cincinnati wide receiver JA’MARR CHASE, who like Pittsburgh general manager OMAR KHAN graduated from Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie, La., begins his second NFL season on Sunday at home against the Steelers (1:00 PM ET, CBS). Chase trained with Pittsburgh running back NAJEE HARRIS prior to the players’ first-round selections in the 2021 NFL Draft and this week they square off for the fourth time in their combined college and NFL careers. Chase owns a 3-1 advantage in those games (1-1 with LSU against Alabama and 2-0 with the Bengals against the Steelers). Harris (1,667) and Chase (1,476) finished first and second, respectively, among rookies in scrimmage yards last season.