Antonio Brown may have signed for the New England Patriots, but he "had a lot of options" following his release from the Oakland Raiders, according to his agent.

Brown's turbulent offseason with the Raiders, which included fines for missing mandatory practice time and a walkthrough, as well as a reported altercation with general manager Mike Mayock, culminated in him being let go.

While the Patriots have not confirmed an agreement, the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver's agent Drew Rosenhaus said he overlooked interest from elsewhere to sign a one-year contract worth up to $15million.

"Antonio had a robust free-agent market and certainly had a lot of options," Rosenhaus told ESPN. "But it was hard to compete with New England and that amazing opportunity, that great franchise, and play with one of the all-time greats, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick."

Rosenhaus insisted Brown understands what is expected of him in New England and is ready to "fit in".

"I'll just tell you that the Patriots are obviously a very solid, strong organisation," Rosenhaus said. "They do things the Patriots way. They expect everyone to be accountable. They don't make any exceptions.

"I've discussed this with Antonio. And he wants to be a Patriot. He's prepared to go there, fit in, work hard, be like every other player on the team, do what's asked of him, do his job and make it work. He's honoured with the opportunity and he's looking forward to taking advantage of it."

While some are wondering how Brown's stint with the Raiders went so wrong, Rosenhaus blamed "bad luck and just bad circumstances".

He said: "You know there are trades that don't pan out. Relationships sometimes get off to a bad start and never recover. Unfortunately, this one just didn't work. I don't want the Raiders to get any flak for this because I just think it was a combination of bad luck and just bad circumstances.

"A lot of people focus on the last couple of months of dysfunction and things with Antonio. But what people should remember is that for eight years, he was one of the most rock-solid players in the league - on and off the field. I just don't want people to lose track of that."

Brown celebrated his Patriots deal by posting on Instagram a cartoon of himself in a Patriots uniform sitting on a huge pile of cash. In the image he is also holding a phone in one hand and a wad of bills in the other, while behind him in neon lights is a sign reading: "Business is boomin".

Finally, the wait is over. No more concerns about combine performances, training camp activities or injuries in meaningless pre-season fixtures.

On Thursday, the 2019 NFL season kicked off with the Chicago Bears against the Green Bay Packers. The long-time rivalry failed to deliver a thriller on opening night – the Packers prevailed 10-3 – but it did signal the start of Week 1.

Sundays will never be the same again (well, until the Super Bowl next February at least).

As the rest of the league wait to get started, we look at some of the key Opta facts for seven games in Week 1 - including the New England Patriots, the reigning champions no less, hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

Los Angeles Rams @ Carolina Panthers

The Rams finished the last campaign as bridesmaids, beaten 13-3 by the Pats in Super Bowl LIII. So, can Sean McVay’s team go one better this season? Well, the schedule has thrown up a tricky start away to Carolina – the Rams have not triumphed in Charlotte since 2001.

However, while the head-to-head history favours the Panthers, the Rams have won 13 road games since the start of 2017 season, which is the most in the NFL in that span.

 

Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have dominated this divisional rivalry of late, winning the last four straight. Their most recent meeting was in Week 17 last year, with the Redskins shut out in a 24-0 loss.

Philadelphia went 5-3 at home last season and will be wary of a Washington team who have won their last three road openers. However, the Redskins still have a long way to go to match the franchise record in such games, having triumphed in seven on the spin between 1937 and 1943.

 

Atlanta Falcons @ Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are on a three-game winning streak against the Falcons, while they have also not lost a home opener since 2014.

So no hope for Atlanta this week? Actually, the Falcons finished the last campaign with back-to-back road wins, plus their only other away success in 2018 came in Minnesota. They have done a good job keeping Adam Thielen quiet in previous meetings, too. The wide receiver has recorded just four catches in three games against them.

 

Kansas City Chiefs @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City have beaten Jacksonville in four straight games, including a 30-14 result last season. Still, the Jaguars managed 502 yards of offense (and had five turnovers) in a losing cause.

The Jags will be hoping to do better at home in 2019. They went 3-5 in front of their own fans last season, one of just eight teams to post a losing record at their own stadium. They conceded the fewest and scored the second-fewest points at home in 2018, so reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs may find it tough going this weekend.

 

Indianapolis Colts @ Los Angeles Chargers

The Colts begin life without the now-retired Andrew Luck in LA. They closed out the previous season with successive road wins but have not won three in a row away from Indianapolis since a four-game run between October and December in 2016.

As for the Chargers, quarterback Philip Rivers has just three touchdowns in five regular-season games against the Colts. He has thrown for fewer against just one NFL team (Atlanta - one in three games).

 

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots

The Steelers' 17-10 win last season was their first success in five over the Patriots. They have become accustomed to starting on the road, having done so for the past four seasons.

Tom Brady has certainly enjoyed coming up against Pittsburgh in the past, though. In his 11 regular season games against them, the quarterback has thrown for 26 touchdowns (his second most against a team outside of the AFC East) compared to just five interceptions.

 

Houston Texans @ New Orleans Saints

These two teams have not faced each other since 2015, the Texans winning 24-6 the last time they met. The Saints have not scored six or fewer points in a game since, by the way.

New Orleans have home advantage but will be looking to end a miserable Week 1 record. They have lost their last five season openers, allowing an average of 36.0 points per game.

Antonio Brown is set to join 2019 Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots after he was released by the Oakland Raiders, according to reports.

Brown was released on Saturday, with Raiders head coach Jon Gruden saying the team had "exhausted everything" to keep the wide receiver, who had joined from the 
Pittsburgh Steelers on a three-year deal reportedly worth more than $50million per season.

Reports now claim the 31-year-old will link up with the Patriots, signing a one-year, $15m contract, with Brown then seemingly confirming the move on his official Twitter account.

Brown's spell at Oakland took a turn for the worse last week after a reported incident between the receiver and general manager Mike Mayock.

On Wednesday, Brown aired his frustration against the Raiders for fining him for missing practice time and a walk-through.

The situation then escalated from there as it was reported Brown got into a verbal altercation with Mayock, which ultimately resulted in another fine.

Brown apologised to his team on Friday, and Gruden claimed he would play in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos.

However, Brown’s latest social media post proved the final straw.

"You are gonna p*** a lot of people off when you start doing what's best for you," Brown posted to Instagram.

"And that's fine!" it continued. "I have worked my whole life to prove that the system is blind to see talent like mines (sic). Now that everyone sees it, they want me to conform to that same system that has failed me all those years 'I'm not mad at anyone. I'm just asking for the freedom to prove them all wrong.' Release me. @raiders #NOMore."

The Patriots will face the Steelers, who selected Brown out of the 2010 draft, on Sunday.

Brown, however, cannot face his former team without the switch becoming official, which will likely happen on Monday.

The Antonio Brown Era in Oakland is over before it even began, after the Raiders decided to release the wideout on Saturday.

Elite players rarely stay on the market for long and Brown's agent has made it clear his client is looking to explore his options.

ESPN's Adam Schefter quoted Brown's representative, Drew Rosenhaus, as saying: "Now that Antonio is a free agent, we are focused on the future and I will immediately work on signing him to a new team. Antonio is looking forward to a new beginning."

There is surely no way 30 teams - excluding the Pittsburgh Steelers, who traded Brown to Oakland following a fallout, and Raiders - could pass on a chance to land one of the NFL's best, right?

Here are three teams that should consider signing Antonio Brown.

 

New England Patriots

New England are bound to pop up in plenty of people's heads. The Patriots have an elite coach in Bill Belichick, a tight-knit system and certainly are no strangers to taking risks. While last year's gamble that brought Josh Gordon over from the Cleveland Browns did not quite work out in 2018, the wideout made valuable contributions en route to the Patriots' latest Super Bowl win. Better yet, he will have a chance to redeem himself this year. The jury is still out on whether they made the right choice, so why not give it another go?

Brown, 31, is still at the peak of his career and has eclipsed 1,200 receiving yards in six consecutive seasons. He would certainly improve a receiving corps that already features Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and Julian Edelman.

If Brown wants to play for a winner, joining a team that's won three of the last five Super Bowls might not be a bad idea.

 

Dallas Cowboys

America's team already has plenty of drama surrounding it, so why not add more? Surely Jerry Jones has at least considered bringing Brown aboard.

Dallas has a dynamic running back in Ezekiel Elliott, a dangerous dual threat quarterback under center in Dak Prescott and received great production from Amari Cooper after acquiring the wideout in a midseason trade last year.

With Brown in the fold, the Cowboys would have an abundance of elite options. If there's one statement move Dallas could make to show it's dedicated to winning now, it's this.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals owner Mike Brown has been changing Cincinnati's culture by taking chances on wayward players over the years. If Adam 'Pacman' Jones and Vontaze Burfict could carve out roles, Brown might be able to do the same.

But that is not the only reason this move could make sense.

A.J .Green has been at the heart of Cincinnati's offense for years but he is expected to miss the start of 2019 due to an ankle injury he suffered in practice this offseason. If Green misses the first half of the campaign, pairing him with Brown would allow him to ease back into things while demanding a little less attention every play.

Tyler Boyd had a breakout season in 2018 and John Ross has the breakaway speed to be a major downfield threat moving forward. Then there's tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Joe Mixon.

An explosive player like Brown that can open up the field might be just what Cincinnati needs to rebound from last year's 6-10 finish.

The 2019 NFL season is officially upon us, but not all eyes are on Chicago as the Bears-Green Bay Packers opener looms.

The attention has instead been diverted to Oakland, where one of the offseason's most intriguing storylines took an even more dramatic turn.

Three things that matter

Antonio Brown on his way out of Oakland already?

The saga just keeps getting stranger. The Oakland Raiders receiver seemingly resolved his helmet issue, but called his team out on Instagram after he was fined for missing mandatory team activities during the preseason. That did not go over well with Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, and ESPN reported that he and Brown "got into it" on Wednesday.

Now, Brown is facing a possible suspension and the Raiders could discipline him with the idea of trying to void the $30.125million of guaranteed money in his contract.

Stay tuned.

Cowboys won't rush Ezekiel Elliott up to speed

The star rusher impressed when he returned to practice, and while Jason Garrett said it was "too early" to tell if Elliott will be on a pitch count in Sunday's opener against the New York Giants, the Cowboys coach did say he will be worked back in slowly.

"You just want to have a plan and you recognise where he's been," Garrett told reporters. "There's no question he's been working out, he's in good shape, his weight's good, all of that. But again he hasn't been practising against pro football players so you just work your way back into it.

"He's an experienced guy. He's played a lot of football for us so we just use our best judgement based on what we see, his feedback, what he says to us, how he feels, all of that. You just take it step by step."

Elliott has averaged 25 touches per game over 40 contests in his career, so we will see if his holdout affects those numbers.

Julio Jones backtracks comments about week one availability

The Atlanta Falcons receiver began his media availability by saying everything is going great concerning contract negotiations, then insisted he "doesn't know" if he will play on Sunday if he does not have a new contract before declaring he does want to be on the field.

Clearly Jones is getting frustrated, but will it affect his performance in Minnesota if he is in fact active? He hinted he is sore from the turf, so that is another factor to consider.

Two things that don't matter

Tyler Higbee gets 4-year extension

The tight end joined quarterback Jared Goff by extending his stay in Los Angeles through the 2023 season. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal reportedly makes Higbee among the top-10 highest-paid tight ends.

He had 24 receptions for 292 yards and two touchdowns in 2018, and he has 60 catches for 672 yards and four scores for his career.

Patriots aren't favourites to win Super Bowl LIV

The Kansas City Chiefs beat out the New England Patriots, as well as the New Orleans Saints, in Las Vegas as the team most likely to hoist the Lombardi Trophy this season.

Interestingly, the overhauled Cleveland Browns received the biggest number of bets overall around the country.

A lot can change over the next five months, but it is certainly an interesting start to the season.

One video you have to see

Football is back, and so are the Bud Light victory fridges. We'll see if Cleveland fans have to wait until week three like last season to get in them.

Thursday's tweet of the day

In true centennial celebration fashion, Hall of Famer Brett Favre faced off against young gun Patrick Mahomes in a no-look throw challenge ahead of the Bears-Packers showdown to kick off the NFL's 100th year.

Tom Brady said reigning NFL Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots will have to be at the top of their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Patriots will welcome rivals the Steelers to Gillette Stadium in week one of the NFL season on Sunday.

Patriots star Brady was asked about the challenge of facing Pittsburgh so early in the season.

"It's pretty great. We've had a great rivalry against those guys and played a lot of meaningful games," Brady told reporters on Wednesday.

"They're a great football team, they have a great history. One of the best defenses, still to this day, in the history of the league. ... I have a lot of respect for [Steelers] coach [Mike] Tomlin, how he coaches and what he demands out of his players.

"They've got a great defensive front, they play extremely hard, great group of linebackers, a talented secondary. Very difficult team to play against, they stress you in a lot of areas. We've got to be at the top of our game early in the season, as do they."

Patriots quarterback Brady, who has made the Pro Bowl 14 times during his storied career, said he was looking forward to the matchup with the Steelers.

"These outcomes are very unpredictable because you have the competitive landscape of the league and you have these other teams that are working extremely hard to beat us," Brady said.

"I mean, we don't know how it's going to go. You put up a plan, you think it's going to work or else you wouldn't have confidence in it, and then you get into the ring so-to-speak, and then you go at it.

"They're going to show us a lot of things that we haven't seen, and that's just the way the early part of the football season goes. Eventually, teams settle into what they are going to be and what they're confident in and what they're doing a good job at." 

The Patriots and Steelers are tied for the most wins in Super Bowl history with six apiece. 

"I have a lot of respect for the organisation," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told reporters midweek. "Coach Tomlin, the coaching staff, the players, team, they compete hard, they're tough. They're a good football team, they're strong in all three phases of the game. They challenge you pretty much on every play, so we'll have to be ready to go 60 minutes, go all the way, go toe-to-toe with them. It'll be good to get started, but these guys do a good job. They're a tough team to prepare for, a tough team to play against."

NFL schedule-makers wasted no time getting to some of the intriguing matchups of the 2019 season, and fans deserve nothing less for the league's historic 100th year.

Are you ready for some football?

"We are thrilled to be kicking off the 100th season of football in the NFL. As a charter franchise, we cannot think of a better way to begin our centennial season by hosting our long-time rival in prime time at Soldier Field," Chicago Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said.

From a throwback Thursday rivalry opener pitting the Bears against the Green Bay Packers, to a modern-day classic featuring defending champions the New England Patriots against the Pittsburgh Steelers to kick off "Sunday Night Football," the league has more than a few treats in store for the first weekend.

But there are plenty more exciting games to look forward to down the road this season. It is 256 fixtures over 17 weeks, beginning Thursday in Chicago and ending on December 29.

Remember, it is a marathon not a sprint. With that in mind… Here are five circle-the-calendar games in 2019:

 

New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams, Week 2

Sunday, September 15

The bad blood is still brewing in New Orleans, so the NFL is getting this game out of the way early. 

It's hard to forget the infamous no-call in which officials missed Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman interfering with Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis in the final minutes of last season's NFC title game. Because of the blown call, the matchup went into overtime, where the Rams kicked a field goal to win, 26-23, and punch their ticket to Super Bowl 53.

Revenge is a concept often spoken about in professional sports, but much less frequently applicable in the regular season on the pay-for-play level.

The Saints, however, undoubtedly will be out for revenge after being robbed of a shot at Tom Brady and the Patriots for the championship.

Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks, Week 7

Sunday, October 20

The last time we saw Earl Thomas in a Seahawks uniform, he was flipping the bird at his Seattle sideline while being carted off the field with a broken leg in an air cast.

Now, he is set to lead a Ravens defense in need of a voice after losing long-time franchise veterans like Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis over the years.

Baltimore are already building offensive momentum under second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, and it will be interesting to see how he compares to the NFL's highest-paid player in Russell Wilson.

Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers, Week 8

Sunday, October 27

Eric Reid will return to Levi's Stadium to face his former team for the first time since he signed with the Panthers last September.

The safety has stayed in the social consciousness spotlight since taking a knee in protest beside Colin Kaepernick, drawing both praise and criticism (not to mention numerous drug tests) since his return to the football field last October.

But the Niners look a little different since Reid last played with them, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is poised for a comeback season after a knee injury spoiled his first year in San Francisco. His new weapons could even help get the team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots, Week 14

Sunday, December 8

Settle in, because this game is guaranteed to be a treat.

The last time these teams met was the AFC championship in January, when Brady and company battled at a roaring Arrowhead Stadium for a narrow 37-31 overtime win to advance to Super Bowl LIII.

The teams had built up excitement during their high-scoring regular-season thriller last October when the they combined for 946 total yards and 30 points in the fourth quarter alone before New England sealed a 43-40 victory on a last-second field goal.

Is this Playoff Preview v.2? Maybe.

Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets, Week 16

Sunday, December 22

Le'Veon Bell's departure was not quite as loud as Antonio Brown's, but the Steelers certainly suffered without their star running back, especially after fellow rusher James Conner went down with an injury late last season.

To Conner's credit, he filled in admirably for Bell during his holdout as Conner compiled a total of 1,470 yards and 13 touchdowns.

On the other hand, it was Bell's locker that got looted by his Steelers team-mates when he opted not to show up midway through last season, and he gets the penultimate week of the campaign when playoff implications could be at stake for his own shot at retribution.

Tom Brady is sad his friend and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer is no longer with the New England Patriots. 

Reigning NFL Super Bowl champions New England released Hoyer, who quickly agreed to a three-year, $12million deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

Patriots superstar Brady was asked about the team's decision to part with the 33-year-old QB and he told The Greg Hill Show: "It's very difficult to see your friends get released, and that was really no different.

"It's part of what happens in the NFL. I will never get used to it."

Hoyer has started 37 games and thrown for 48 touchdowns, along with 30 interceptions, over his 10-year career, which includes two different stops with New England.

The Patriots, however, moved on from him and decided to make rookie Jarrett Stidham – a fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft – Brady's primary backup. 

"Brian provided a lot," Brady said. "He just brought a great positive energy to the team. Always optimistic, and I think there's times for me that I get frustrated or I get down or disappointed with things that may have happened, and he would always try and bring me back to center pretty quickly.

"I love the relationship I have with him. It will certainly continue on in its own personal way. We just won’t be working together."

"I thought both Hoyer and Stidham played well in camp, and I liked both players," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told reporters last weekend.

"But in the end, there are a number of considerations that you have to make, so we did what we thought was best for the team. I still think Brian's a good player."

The Patriots will open the regular season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. 

The 2019 NFL Draft was dominated by talk about quarterbacks, as always. Was Kyler Murray tall enough? Did Dwayne Haskins get enough snaps in college? What on earth were the New York Giants thinking?

But this draft was about a lot more than signal-callers. While it may not have had the skill position players that drive so much conversation beyond the QBs, this was one of the deepest defensive drafts in recent memory.

The Jacksonville Jaguars got a steal in Josh Allen, as did the Buffalo Bills in Ed Oliver, but beyond some top-10 surprises, there was a lot of talent to be found later in the first round and into the second and third.

Here are five NFL rookies we will be paying close attention to at the start of the new season.

Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers, No. 10 overall pick

Losing Ryan Shazier in 2017 to a spine injury has been the most devastating loss the Steelers sustained in the last two seasons. In many ways, it cost the Steelers more than being without Le'Veon Bell throughout all of 2018. Pittsburgh's defense went from seventh in points allowed per game in 2017 (19.3) with Shazier to tied for 16th in 2018 (22.5), but the offense actually gained more total yards (6,453) in 2018 without Bell than it did in 2017 (6,047) with him.

Bush may not be able to immediately fill Shazier's shoes, but he has the chance to do so. He was a great linebacker at Michigan and received glowing reviews in the draft process. If Pittsburgh wins the AFC North this year, it will be due to them improving their defense more than their offense, and Bush will have a huge say in whether that happens or not.

Brian Burns, DE/OLB, Carolina Panthers, No. 16 overall pick

The key to the Panthers' success this season first and foremost is Cam Newton's health at quarterback. That cannot be overstated. But the undoubted second thing they have to make sure they do is get more of a pass rush. Carolina finished 27th in the NFL last season with 35 sacks. A pass rush will go a long way to improving the team's defense. Burns looked fantastic for the Panthers in the preseason and pass rushing is what he does. He looks like a very good pick on both talent and need.

Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs, No. 56 overall pick

The Chiefs didn't need any more weapons this season, but they got one in Hardman. Now, they have a chance to actually improve their receiving corps by giving Hardman some snaps. Sammy Watkins has never quite lived up to his draft status and while Hardman is behind the wideout on the team's depth chart, he very well could start taking plays away from the veteran.

David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears, No. 73 overall pick

With the Bears' trade of Jordan Howard, David Montgomery has a chance to be a featured back. Now, this comes with a caveat. When looking at Montgomery, it is easy to say he will get the majority of the carries for Chicago. However, as was the case with Howard last year, his workload is likely to be split with Tarik Cohen, who had 190 touches to Howard's 276 in 2018. Nevertheless, Montgomery appears highly likely to be given plenty of opportunities.

Chase Winovich, LB, New England Patriots, No. 77 overall pick

The Patriots didn't really need help on defense, but they got it. Had Winovich not been dealing with an injury in the draft process, he likely would have gone higher, but that's what happened and he fell to the third round because of it. He already was making plays in preseason and fits perfectly into the Patriots' scheme. Bill Belichick might have hit another home run here.

The AFC East has been the most predictable division in the NFL over the last decade.

New England have remarkably taken home 10 straight divisional crowns and finished on top in 15 of the last 16 years. The Patriots and star quarterback Tom Brady are not focusing on their previous accomplishments, though.

"If [there's] anything the Patriots have taught me, it is being in the present and not resting on what has happened in the past and certainly not worrying what is happening in the future,” Brady said during a radio interview last month.

"I am excited to get out there and play this year and do what I hope to do for this team."

The Patriots are clearly the front-runners to capture an 11th straight AFC East title entering the season. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are expected to be afterthoughts, but both are led by young, developing quarterbacks while the Miami Dolphins are rebuilding. Here is your 2019 AFC East preview.

Player to watch 

Josh Allen, Bills quarterback

Allen will be one of the most intriguing players in the entire NFL this season. The Bills selected him out of Wyoming with the No. 7 pick in the 2018 draft. Overall, he struggled as a rookie, completing just 52.8% of his passes while throwing 10 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. But the team went 5-6 in his starts and he showed flashes of promise, including a five-score performance against the Dolphins in Week 17.

"Being in the same system for a year … it's been a huge help," Allen said during training camp in May. "It's a complete 180 feeling from last year to this year. Obviously, having the year of experience under my belt now and being around the guys in the locker room and having such good relationships in here. At the same time, we are just trying to make each other better and trying to win football games for the Bills."

Allen's development will be fascinating to watch and a major key for the Bills, who hope to return to the playoffs in the near future. 

Impact rookie 

Chase Winovich, Patriots defensive end

The Michigan product slipped to the third round of the 2019 draft, where the Patriots scooped him up with the No. 77 overall pick. He appears to be a steal — so far, at least. Winovich recorded 11 tackles, along with 2 1/2 sacks, in the preseason and has already impressed his teammates.

"He's definitely got a high motor, that's for sure," Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower told reporters. "He's one of the guys who works really hard. He's always asking questions and he obviously wants to do the right things all of the time. You really couldn't ask much more from a guy that's willing to do whatever and then with the way he does it. He acts like he's done it for a while."

Winovich has a chance to take New England's pass rush to the next level. 

Coach under pressure

Sean McDermott, Bills

McDermott isn't necessarily entering the season under pressure, but he's the closest coach to it in the AFC East. Adam Gase (Jets) and Brian Flores (Dolphins) are entering their first years in their respective jobs, so they will likely have some time to try to turn those franchises around. And — this goes without saying — Bill Belichick obviously isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, unless he chooses to.

Coming off a 6-10 record from last season, McDermott’s seat could get warmer in 2019 if the Bills once again struggle and Allen either regresses or fails to take a step forward.

Key matchup 

Jets at Patriots, Sept. 22:

The Jets have a long, long way to go to challenge the Patriots. Everything will have to break just right in order for them to win, but with quarterback Sam Darnold and the addition of running back Le'Veon Bell, New York appears like the team in the division best positioned to do so. The Jets likely will need a win in New England if they want to have any shot at dethroning the Patriots in the AFC East.

Predicted finish

This isn't a tough call. Despite the Patriots losing tight end Rob Gronkowski to retirement after last season, the defending champions still bring back Brady, receiver Julian Edelman and a host of other offensive weapons. Their defense isn't too shabby, either, and they're certainly a favorite to represent the AFC in a fourth straight Super Bowl.

The Jets and Bills should fight for the second spot in the division behind New England, though neither is expected to finish the season in playoff contention. The Dolphins, on the other hand, may have a tough time picking up wins. 

1. Patriots

2. Jets

3. Bills

4. Dolphins

Rob Gronkowski has opened up on his decision to retire from the NFL and how the physical and mental impact of the game brought him to that point.

The former New England Patriots tight end, speaking at a summit advocating for players to be allowed to use CBD oil for pain, fought back tears when he said he explained his exhaustion after Super Bowl LIII.

"I want to be clear to my fans. I needed to recover. I was not in a good place. Football was bringing me down, and I didn't like it. I was losing that joy in life," Gronkowski told the crowd, in quotes published on ESPN.

Gronkowski surprised many when he retired from the NFL in March at the age of 29. He said a thigh injury he sustained during the Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams was what pushed him over the edge.

"I got done with the game and I could barely walk," he revealed.

"I slept five minutes that night. I couldn't even think. I was in tears in my bed after a Super Bowl victory. It didn't make that much sense to me. And then, for four weeks, I couldn't even sleep for more than 20 minutes a night. I was like, 'Damn, this sucks'. It didn't feel good," Gronkowski said.

"It was one of the biggest, deepest thigh bruises I've ever gotten."

Gronkowski also noted that the thigh bruise was so severe he had internal bleeding in his leg.

His decision to discuss the physical and mental strains of football coincides with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's decision to walk away from the game at 29 for similar reasons. However, Gronkowski claimed he is happy with where he is in life.

"I truly believe going through those tough times, nine years — off the field, on the field — has brought me to this point and I believe I'm on the right path in my life," he said.

"It's a purpose to have passion in my life, to have joy in my life. And then to inspire optimal health within myself, I need to do that in order to get to a peak and then I can bring it to other people, because I know [in] the NFL, players are dealing with that kind of stuff, they're dealing with pain. I was. And I needed to walk away because I needed to do what was best for myself."

As for coming out of retirement, Gronkowski admitted he is not completely saying no, but added that mentally, he is unable to get back into the game at this point.

Andrew Luck sent shockwaves through the NFL this weekend as he announced his retirement at age 29, shifting the focus of the final week of preseason to the Indianapolis Colts.

But life goes on elsewhere around the NFL as teams get ready to flip the calendar and turn their attention to the regular season.

Three things that matter

Colts need a new quarterback

It is widely assumed that backup Jacoby Brissett will take over the starting role now that Luck is gone, but coach Frank Reich and the Colts have yet to make him the official opening-day starter.

"We have not had that deep down heart to heart about the upcoming season just yet," Reich told reporters . "That will probably happen in the next day or two."

Reich acknowledged the team are in "good hands" with Brissett going forward and added the team will next determine whether Chad Kelly or Phillip Walker will move up the depth chart. It was also reported that Joshua Dobbs is drawing interest from Indianapolis if Mason Rudolph does, in fact, secure the backup job with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Chiefs needed a quarterback too, after losing backup

After the Kansas City Chiefs learned Chad Henne would need surgery for his broken right ankle suffered in Saturday's preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers, the team signed former Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore for insurance. The 35-year-old has not played since 2017, but just like that, Moore is behind third-year gunslinger Patrick Mahomes. Similar to Henne, Moore is a 10-year NFL veteran who has thrown for 6,938 yards and 45 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions in 49 games, including 30 starts.

Odell Beckham Jr. a full go at Browns practice

The Browns receiver participated in team drills on Monday for the first time since early August, indicating he will likely be ready for week one when Cleveland host the Tennessee Titans.

"He looked good," Browns coach Freddie Kitchens told reporters after practice . "It's good to have him back out. We've been working on the side with him with other things. It's just the natural progression, so it was good to have him back."

Kitchens added that he does not want to overwork Beckham, who has been dealing with a hip injury, or quarterback Baker Mayfield as they continue to get comfortable, assuring "they'll definitely be on top of their game when we start game planning and timing".

Two things that don't matter

Matt Overton offers help to disgruntled Indy fans

The Jacksonville Jaguars long snapper, who spent five seasons with the Colts from 2012-16 and still lives in Indianapolis, did not think too highly of the fans that booed Andrew Luck off the field on Saturday as reports of his retirement broke. He took things a step further on Monday by offering a solution to Colts fans wanting refunds on their season tickets.

We will see if Overton's suggestion silences Luck's haters, but it has certainly drawn extra support.

Patrick Chung pleads not guilty in cocaine case

The New England Patriots safety also waived his arraignment scheduled for Wednesday on the possession charge. Chung's next court appearance will be a "dispositional conference" that is scheduled for November 8. He was indicted last Thursday by a New Hampshire grand jury on the charge, a Class B felony in the state that carries a fine of up to $2,000 and a potential prison term of up to seven years. Even if he is found not guilty of the charge, he could face discipline from the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

But that did not stop Chung from returning to practice with the team on Sunday after he was missing in action late last week.

One video you have to see

Ryan Shazier's appearance on the field ahead of the Steelers' preseason game against the Titans on Sunday was so remarkable, it was still being talked about the next day.

Monday's tweet of the day

Luck's retirement was the talk of Twitter for a solid two days, but apparently, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was unaware it happened this weekend, saying: "I didn't see that but I don't really follow them."

It was later clarified that Belichick meant he did not see Luck's retirement coming. Stay grumpy, Bill.

When a star quarterback retires, things change.

Andrew Luck announced on Saturday that he is retiring from the NFL following the Indianapolis Colts' 27-17 preseason loss to the Chicago Bears, so just about everything is going to be different in 2019.

OK, that is a bit of a hyperbolic statement, but what is true is Luck's retirement does have a ripple effect on the NFL this upcoming season.

So, what are those effects? We have five for you.

 

Five effects of Luck's retirement on the NFL in 2019

Brissett gets a shot at being a franchise quarterback

Is Jacoby Brissett a franchise quarterback? That is unclear. But one thing is for certain, he is going to get a chance to be one in Indianapolis. There is a reason the Colts would not trade Brissett this offseason even if they were offered high draft picks. Indianapolis like him. Now Brissett is going to have a chance to prove he can lead this team better than he did when he did not have a ton of time to prepare in 2017 and had a bad roster around him. This is Brissett's chance. We will see if he takes advantage.

Texans, Jaguars can breathe easier

The Houston Texans were likely the favourites to win the AFC South coming into 2019, but the Colts were certainly a threat considering Luck would be two years removed from the shoulder surgery which cost him the entire 2017 season. But the Jacksonville Jaguars' addition of Nick Foles at quarterback had to put them in the conversation before, and now that Luck is gone, they have to have the second-best odds, don't they? But either way, the Texans and Jaguars have to feel better about getting wins against the Colts now and they could easily see two more victories on their schedules just with this retirement.

Mahomes' path to a second-straight MVP got easier

While Luck did not finish second in the MVP voting last season, one had to figure he would be firmly in the conversation to start this year and possibly the main competition for Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes. Now that competition is gone and Mahomes will likely have to fend off aging quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger and maybe a younger guy like Carson Wentz or Baker Mayfield. But Luck was going to be far away from his injury and would have likely been even better than he was last year with a more solid team around him. Mahomes might not be happy, but he has to feel good about his MVP chances again.

Browns, Ravens, Steelers will be happy come playoff time

The Colts likely would have earned a wild-card spot this season with Luck at the helm. They still might. But without Luck it will be tougher to get there, and as good as Brissett might be, Luck would probably be a surer thing in a playoff scenario. The Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to be wild-card round competitors and not having to face Luck there will be nice. Again, maybe Brissett will be awesome when he gets there, but we know Luck has been good in the wild-card game, so looking ahead these teams have to be happy.

Patriots' path again gets easier

The New England Patriots have whipped up on the Colts in the playoffs but having Luck at 100 percent with a better defense made Indianapolis a tougher out in the playoffs, especially in year two with Frank Reich at the helm. Now Luck is out, and the playoffs may have completely changed. The Patriots are the favourites to win the AFC because they should be. The Chiefs are great, but until they beat the Patriots in the playoffs the conference goes through them. Now, the path to the Super Bowl looks ever so slightly easier.

The week comes to an end with devastating news for two teams.

Both the New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers have lost defensive stars to injury, and while it will not happen just yet, some offenses could look a lot different this time next year.

One offense already will.

Those stories and more in Friday's edition of NFL News and Notes.

 

Three things that matter

Defenses deteriorating due to injury

A couple of teams took losses to their defensive units. Some, of course, are worse than others with season-ending injuries. Others could resume their duties sometime after the regular season begins on September 5. But the dwindling defenses should still be a cause for concern against the offensive powerhouses across the league.

Two of the biggest losses came on opposite ends of the country. The Jets will be without veteran linebacker Avery Williamson after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Thursday, while the Chargers will miss all-pro safety Derwin James for a "significant amount of time" after suffering a foot injury in practice the same day.

It is yet another blow to the Chargers who have already seen injuries to their defense (safety Nasir Adderley and cornerback Trevor Williams) and offense in wide receiver Keenan Allen. 

Another aging star set to address contract

It seems like Father Time has yet to catch up to Tom Brady, who will play out his contract with the New England Patriots. But another quarterback joins Brady in the final year of his own deal. Philip Rivers will reportedly address his status with the Chargers after the 2019 season.

Both parties have agreed to wait to address a new deal, and according general manager Tom Telesco everyone is "on the same page."

This matters because unlike Brady, Rivers has struggled to put together long playoff runs — something that might factor into a new deal. The 37-year-old signal-caller has admitted playing this far into a career does not have the same guarantees.

"I think when you get to this point, you do take it one year at a time," Rivers said during training camp. "But I do expect to be playing here next year, that is the expectation. But when you're 37, you say, 'OK, let's focus on this year.' Then, 'Let's focus on next year.' Take them one at a time."

This surely matters for the Los Angeles offense — now, with postseason success this year being a motivating factor.

Patriots offense had a big boost

Josh Gordon has been reinstated by the NFL after he was suspended indefinitely in December for violating the terms of his reinstatement under the league's substance abuse policy.

The Patriots receiver will be back on a conditional basis and will not be eligible to play next week, but his return comes at the right time.

New England's offense has been struggling with injuries as Julian Edelman (non-football injury) and Demaryius Thomas (physically unable to perform) have yet to suit up. 

A healthy Gordon is just what the Patriots need. 

He caught 41 passes for 737 yards and four touchdowns for the team last year after being traded to New England before the start of the season.

Two things that don't matter

NFL tries to explain controversial offensive pass inference call​

Another season, another long list of botched calls ahead. 

It starts with a controversial offensive pass interference call on Thursday.

In the fourth quarter of the Cincinnati Bengals-Washington Redskins exhibition game, an OPI was called on Washington receiver Kelvin Harmon when he jumped and reached back for an underthrown pass over Cincinnati defensive back Davontae Harris. The call, however, was because Harmon supposedly pushed off Harris near the 50-yard line — which is outside the view of the camera angle. The Redskins challenged the call, but it was upheld.

The official NFL Officiating Twitter account later explained why the call was not overturned. 

"The on-field officials called OPI for a push off by WAS 13 at the 50-yard line, well before he jumped to catch the ball," the statement read. "There was no clear and obvious visual evidence from the available broadcast video that the ruling was incorrect, so the on-field ruling stands.

"Coaches video, not available on the game broadcast, showed that CIN 35 was off balance after contact by WAS 13, which is why offensive pass interference was called on the field.​"

Why this doesn't matter? Because it is always going to happen.

Don't expect to see stars soon

Preseason is not meant for the stars. It is a time where rosters are set and position players battle to make a name for themselves. It is why the Green Bay Packers will likely not play Aaron Rodgers over the next couple of weeks and also why Cam Newton still has yet to show off his hopefully healed arm.

Another thing that does not matter? Preseason records. It is why first-year Matt LaFleur is not necessarily concerned with quarterback Rodgers seeing the field and it also explains Newton's absence. 

"I think we'd like to see him, but you're talking about a veteran quarterback that's played a lot of football," LaFleur said Thursday after the Packers' 26-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. "I don't think it's a necessity, but it's certainly something that we'd like to see."

The Carolina Panthers are taking a similar approach. While Newton may want to show off his new throwing motion, something Buffalo Bills defensive back Captain Munnerlyn (and member of the Panthers in 2018) told reporters is like "night and day" from previous seasons, he will have to wait.

The Panthers do not want to risk any unnecessary damage, and rightfully so.

One video you have to see

What is preseason for if rookies do not show their stuff?

Friday's tweet of the day

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hurdled his way into the end zone on Thursday.

The touchdown was called back due to an illegal block, but it earned praise from Rodgers and gave us one of Friday's best social media moments: Jackson hurdling over just about anything.

Tom Brady has warned fans should not expect to see him take on a coaching role when his playing career comes to an end.

The New England Patriots quarterback is lauded as one of the greatest players of all time and, now 42, says he wants to keep playing for the time being.

But Brady has also shut down any notion of him transitioning into coaching when he does retire.

"Oh hell no, I'm never coaching," Brady said, as reported by NBC Sports. "Playing is enough for me."

The question was brought up after the Patriots practiced with the Tennessee Titans.

Brady's former team-mate Mike Vrabel was patrolling the sidelines and gearing up for his second season as the Titans' coach.

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