5 Things To Watch In Week 1 of NFL Football

Dust off your jersey. Start thawing the chicken wings. Start preparing your Monday reconciliation speech with your spouse. Week 1 of the 2014 NFL football season is finally here with the kickoff of Thursday night’s Packers-Seahawks game.

Although fantasy nation will be glued to every major contributor throughout all 32 teams, there are a bevy of questions surrounding the usual cloudy forecast that surrounds the first week of the season.

Below are the five things I will be watching very closely this weekend.

Derek Carr

Can he actually play?

Seattle Seahawks v Oakland Raiders

For the first time in six years, we were expecting to go into the season without a starting rookie quarterback — until the Raiders announced Monday they were starting Derek Carr against the Jets this weekend. Unfortunately, my initial reaction was, “is Matt Schaub THAT bad?” The answer appears to be yes. Schaub (51% completion and 0 TDs this preseason) is done and Carr (4 TDs in last game alone) is all Oakland has. 

Sure, Carr has looked good and has gained the confidence of teammates, but he’s the first Raider rookie in history to start week 1. The move is so rare that it didn’t happen in the league at all from 2002-2009. And it’s not as if the Raiders have a great line on either side of the ball.

Not only will the Raiders need to put up points, but Carr will have to be protected. If Carr has to scramble at all, his numbers could plummet. In college, Carr had a 29 percent completion percentage when under duress, which was worst among the top quarterback prospects in this year’s draft. 

I would love to see Carr thrive. Imagine a rookie quarterback not named Johnny Manziel getting the headlines. THAT would be the day… But Carr has all the odds stacked against him. His brother, David, only completed 53 percent of his passes while being sacked an NFL-record 76 times over his rookie year with the 2002 Texans. The 2014 Raiders don’t appear to be a much better ball club. 

Carr gets a rough matchup with a tough Jets defense in week 1. 

The 49ers’ Decimated Defense

Who will step up in San Francisco?

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans

No team has been hit harder this off-season than San Francisco. Aldon Smith? Suspended nine games. NaVorro Bowman? Bad knee. Glenn Dorsey? Injured biceps. Ray McDonald is now expected to miss time after being arrested for domestic violence last week. I also have to mention that star linebacker Patrick Willis has been playing hurt.

The 49ers are a popular pick to make the NFC championship for the third straight year, but they’ve looked awful this preseason and the key losses to their defense doesn’t help their cause.

Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense will put up a lot of points. Expect a shootout in Dallas this Sunday with a possibility that Romo opens up a lot of secrets on how to beat the once-stout Niners’ D. 

Brandin Cooks

Is he the real deal?

New Orleans Saints v St. Louis Rams

Sammy Watkins has been making the pre-season highlight reels, but it’s been Cooks getting the most rookie hype at wideout and appears to have the most potential to be the 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Oregon State rookie has 4.33 speed and has made quarterback Drew Brees drool in snaps this preseason because of his quickness during routes. The only downside is that the Saints have a ton of weapons: Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, Marques Colston and Kenny Stills. Just how many looks will Cooks get and how soon will he get them?

The Falcons had one of the worst secondaries in the league last year, so expect Drew Brees and Co. to put up a lot of points Sunday, some of them going to Cooks. I can’t wait to count how many times commentators will scream, “we’re Cookin’ in Nawlins’!”

Bernard Pierce in Baltimore

Is he better than Ray Rice?

Washington Redskins v Baltimore Ravens

Rice is out the first two games due to domestic violence. He only averaged 3.1 yards per carry last season. Filling in his absence is veteran Bernard Pierce, who, although, ran for just 2.9 YPC last year, looks to take advantage of the starting opportunity.

Pierce lost 30 pounds this offseason and should be much quicker. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak looks to turn around an offense that ranked 30th in rushing last year. He’s off to a good start; the Ravens led all teams in rushing this preseason.

Baltimore is going to run the ball and run it often, and whether Rice is in the picture or not, Pierce is going to get a hefty load. The question is how much, especially in weeks 1 and 2?

Getting Lucky In Denver

Can Andrew Luck beat Peyton Manning in Denver?

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The short answer is yes. And the Colts are even better than people think because of Luck, not just luck. Sorry, couldn’t help myself… But will Luck win in Denver? That’s another answer I look forward to seeing.

In the first matchup against his former team and the quarterback that was drafted in place of him, Manning and his Broncos lost in Indy, 39-33 last year. You bet Manning will want redemption.

Still, Luck will still continue to prove he’s one of the most special talents to come along in years. Luck enters his third year as quarterback for the Colts. Manning’s third year? 4,413 yards and 33 TDs. I would expect nothing short of those type of numbers for Luck this season.

Josh Helmuth is the editor of CraveOnline Sports.

Photo Credit: Getty