The NFL returns this week and it’s time to get “Back to Football.” That means the next five months will be packed with the sizzle and suspense that comes only with the National Football League.
America’s favorite sport roars back into action Thursday night (NBC, 8:30 PM ET) in the first game of NFL Kickoff 2014 Weekend. The opener features the Super Bowl champion SEATTLE SEAHAWKS hosting the GREEN BAY PACKERS at CenturyLink Field.
Everybody is ready for the unique unpredictability of the NFL. And every team enters the new season with hope.
Last year, nearly 70 percent of the games were within one score (eight points or fewer) in the fourth quarter. And there were five new playoff teams in 2013: Carolina, Kansas City, New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Diego. Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season that were not in the postseason the year before.
The 2014 season promises more of the same. It’s time to get “Back to Football.”
As the 2014 NFL season kicks off, it comes packed with changes, quests and questions:
- CAN THE SUPER BOWL CHAMPION SEAHAWKS REPEAT?: It’s tough. It’s happened only eight times since the first Super Bowl in 1967. But the Seahawks are up for the challenge. “We have a target on our back now,” says Seattle quarterback RUSSELL WILSON. “But our mentality is that this is a brand new year. And we’re trying to do better than we did last year.”
- MILESTONES ON THE HORIZON: Records are made to be broken…So what records will be set this year? Some milestones that can be reached this season: Denver QB PEYTON MANNING needs 18 touchdown passes for the most all-time…New Orleans QB DREW BREESneeds 395 passing yards for fourth place all-time…New England QB TOM BRADY needs two wins to become the third starting quarterback with 150 wins…Minnesota RB ADRIAN PETERSON needs two 200-yard rushing games for the most in NFL history…Detroit WR CALVIN JOHNSON needs one 200-yard receiving game for the most all-time…Oakland CB CHARLES WOODSON needs one interception-return TD to tie Rod Woodson (12) for the most all-time…and Atlanta’s DEVIN HESTER needs one return TD for the most in NFL history.
- NEW COACHES/PLAYERS IN NEW PLACES: There are seven new head coaches hired to lead their teams in 2014 – JIM CALDWELL in Detroit, JAY GRUDEN in Washington, BILL O’BRIEN in Houston, MIKE PETTINE in Cleveland, LOVIE SMITH in Tampa Bay, KEN WHISENHUNT in Tennessee and MIKE ZIMMER in Minnesota.
And there are a lot of well-known players with new teams, including pass rushers JARED ALLEN with Chicago, JULIUS PEPPERS with Green Bay and DE MARCUS WARE with Denver; defensive backs JAIRUS BYRD with New Orleans, DARRELLE REVIS with New England,AQIB TALIB with Denver, ALTERRAUN VERNER with Tampa Bay and T.J. WARD with Denver; wide receivers ERIC DECKER with the New York Jets, DE SEAN JACKSON with Washington and STEVE SMITH, SR. with Baltimore; running backs CHRIS JOHNSON with the Jets,MAURICE JONES-DREW with Oakland, KNOWSHON MORENO with Miami and DARREN SPROLES with Philadelphia; and quarterbacksJOSH MC COWN with Tampa Bay, MATT SCHAUB with Oakland and MICHAEL VICK with the Jets.
- ON-THE-FIELD TRENDS IN 2013: Scoring at an all-time high…comebacks galore…records falling…young players making their mark…QBs excelling…and surprise teams continuing to emerge.
A record 11,985 points were scored, with games averaging 46.8 points, the highest average in NFL history…An NFL-record 1,338 total TDs were scored…Eleven teams scored 400+ points, topping the previous record of nine in 2008 and 2012…The league-wide passer rating (86.0) and TD pass totals (804) were both all-time bests… Games averaged an NFL record 697 total net yards per game…There were 24 individual 400-yard passing games, the most ever…Seven QBs had a 100+ passer rating, the most in NFL history…Seventeen teams (53.1 percent) started the same QB in every game, the third-most in a season since at least 1970…PEYTON MANNING set NFL single-season passing records for yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55)…TOM BRADY became the first starting quarterback to lead his team to 11 division titles…RUSSELL WILSON recorded the most wins (24) by a starting quarterback during the Super Bowl era in his first two seasons…Denver scored 606 points, the most all-time, and became the first team to have five players score at least 10 touchdowns in the same season…CALVIN JOHNSON became the first player in NFL history with at least 5,000 receiving yards (5,137) in a three-year span…ADRIAN PETERSON reached 10,000 career rushing yards in his 101st game, the third-fastest all-time…Thirteen of the 16 games scheduled for the final day of the regular season had playoff implications…Carolina and Philadelphia rebounded to win their divisions after finishing in or tied for last place in 2012, marking the NFL-record 11th consecutive season a team went from “worst-to-first” in its division.
- NEW RULES: There are several new rules and points of emphasis in 2014.
Unnecessary roughness: In the interest of player safety, the prohibition on offensive blockers rolling up on the back of the legs of a defender has been extended to include the side of the legs.
Unsportsmanlike conduct: The rule prohibiting players from using the ball, pylon or other objects as props as part of a demonstration has been expanded to include the crossbar and goalpost.
Instant replay: The referee will now be able to consult with senior members of the officiating department during replay reviews. In addition, the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play will now be reviewable.
Goal posts: The uprights will now extend to 35 feet above the crossbar, up from 30 feet in previous seasons, to help officials make definitive rulings on field-goal attempts that previously crossed above the top of the uprights.
Game clock: The clock will no longer be stopped after a quarterback sack outside two minutes of either half.
All rules that encourage player safety will continue to be strictly enforced. The focus is on eliminating these tactics from the game. Players must avoid hitting or blocking opponents in the head or neck area, or using the crown or hairline parts of the helmet to make forcible contact anywhere on the body.
Sportsmanship is always a point of emphasis. The use of abusive, threatening or insulting language directed at opponents, teammates, coaches, officials or representatives of the league is covered under unsportsmanlike conduct playing rules. This includes racial slurs, comments regarding sexual orientation or other verbal abuse.
Rules relating to illegal hands to the face have also been clarified. It is a foul if direct and forcible contact to the head, neck or face of an opponent, regardless of whether or not it pins the opponent’s head back or is prolonged.
Contact between receivers and defensive players prior to a pass will be a major point of emphasis. Defenders cannot initiate contact with eligible receivers more than five yards from the line of scrimmage when the quarterback is in the pocket with the ball. Grabbing a jersey or any other part of a receiver’s uniform prior to a pass is defensive holding and will be penalized regardless of whether or not the official deems the grab to have impeded or restricted the receiver. Receivers can use their hands or arms to ward off contact initiated by a defender, but cannot push off to gain separation.
Movement on the offensive line will continue to be a point of emphasis. Prior to the snap, any quick or abrupt movement by an offensive player or players in unison that simulates the start of a play is prohibited.
- NFL ON TV: Among the television highlights in 2014 include Thursday Night Football on CBS and NFL Network, enhanced flexible scheduling and the addition of “cross-flexing.”
Thursday Night Football: This year marks the inaugural partnership between CBS and NFL Network in broadcasting Thursday Night Football, which features the most marquee match-ups ever on Thursday night, including 14 divisional rivalries. The schedule will feature games in Weeks 2-8 and Week 16 (Saturday) broadcast on CBS that also will be simulcast on NFL Network. The Thursday night contests in Weeks 9-12 and Weeks 14-16 will be televised on NFL Network and simulcast on over-the-air stations in the teams’ primary markets.
Flexible scheduling: For the first time, flexible scheduling may be applied in Weeks 5-10. During that period, flexible scheduling can be used in no more than two weeks by shifting a Sunday afternoon game into primetime and moving the Sunday night game to an afternoon start time.
Cross-flexing: Also for the first time, a select number of games are being “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring potentially under-distributed games to wider audiences.
- INTERNATIONAL NFL: In response to outstanding and growing fan support of football in the United Kingdom, the NFL will take another step in its international development in 2014 by playing three regular-season games at London’s Wembley Stadium for the first time. The Oakland Raiders will face the Miami Dolphins on September 28, the Atlanta Falcons will play the Detroit Lions on October 26 in the first-ever nationally-televised game kicking off at 9:30 AM ET (1:30 PM UK) and the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys will meet on November 9.
NFL KICKOFF 2014 SCHEDULE
THURSDAY, SUNDAY & MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 7-8
|Thursday, September 4||Sunday, September 7 (cont’d)|
|Green Bay at Seattle, (NBC)||Jacksonville at Philadelphia|
|Cleveland at Pittsburgh|
|Sunday, September 7||Minnesota at St. Louis|
|New Orleans at Atlanta||San Francisco at Dallas|
|Cincinnati at Baltimore||Carolina at Tampa Bay|
|Buffalo at Chicago||Indianapolis at Denver|
|Washington at Houston|
|Tennessee at Kansas City||Monday, September 8|
|New England at Miami||New York Giants at Detroit (ESPN)|
|Oakland at New York Jets||San Diego at Arizona (ESPN)|