The 2016 NFL Kickoff Preview

Here we go gents, kickoff is right at our doorstep and we couldn’t be more excited. That means it’s time to ice down the beers, dial in your fantasy lineups, and post up on the couch. We’re going to get you prepared in every way we know how so, the answer is yes, we are ready for some football!

Technology MVP: Twitter

Twitter is officially our new favorite social media platform since you’ll be able to watch 10 Thursday Night Football games live-streaming on the platform. Yup, just one additional reason to scroll your timeline rather than pay attention to your girlfriend at dinner. The streams will be offered for free, meaning us peasants whose cable providers don’t carry NFL Network will finally have another option. Finally Silicon Valley is doing things properly.

Impact Rookies

Eziekiel Elliot - Few rookie running backs have entered the league with the expectations bestowed upon Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys. Half your fantasy league is wondering why the fuck you took him in the first round, but you know as well as we do that this rookie runner enters as cushy a situation as any before him. The Cowboys offensive line produced the quietest 1,000-yard season of all-time last year from the criminally underachieving Darren McFadden. This means Elliot will be an underachiever if he doesn’t top 1,500 or win Rookie of the Year. Plus, with Romo’s injury there’s only going to be more focus on the run game. Next up? A dispensary at Cowboys Stadium

Vernon Hargraves - He wasn’t the first or even the second cornerback to come off the board in April’s draft, but when the Buccaneers selected him with the No. 11 pick, they felt confident they were making a big addition to a defense that’s been their undoing the past few years. The Bucs have the distinction of setting an NFL record for highest completion percentage allowed in back-to-back seasons under Lovie Smith, which is partly why he’s now out of a job. Hargreaves has allowed a passer rating of 0.0 in the preseason with opposing teams targeting him eight times. That has come against mostly second-team offenses or worse. How will he fare when the games are real? He faces a big test Week 1 against Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey - The Jaguars offense is getting a lot of press, and rightfully so, but it’s the much improved defense that could really surprise. By securing two of the draft’s most explosive players in linebacker Myles Jack and DB Jalen Ramsey, the Jags scored two potential defensive cornerstones for the next 10 years. While Jack still has yet to disprove the injury concerns that caused his precipitous fall in the draft, both player’s speed and versatility could pay huge dividends right away.

You Like That Stat?

Kirk Cousins averaged the most yards per attempt during the second half of the season. Yup, we’re believers, Cousins is for real. He threw 19 TDs to just 2 INTs, completed 73.6 percent of his passes and a league-best 126.1 QB rating during that stretch. Ever since the “You like that?” #NeverForget moment of the 2015 season, Cousins has looked like an above-average starter. Still, the Redskins beat exactly zero teams with a winning record on the way to the playoffs last year. With Tony Romo on ice for the Cowboys again, can Cousins and Co. take the NFC East once more? A lot hinges on Cousins’ ability to continue his progression.

Off Season Headlines To Consider

It's In The Game
Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit for the national anthem has been so polarizing enough that EA Sports is introducing an update to their Madden game. This will be the first season that the franchise will get commentary updates from the team throughout the season so the game feels more current when you play it. Kap might not even be on the starter by the time the season starts, so it’s interesting they’re electing to spend time talking about it. Maybe too real EA? We'll see.

Brady-gate Will Be Irrelevant
The other biggest headline of the offseason was that Tom Brady will miss four games to start the season, but don’t be shocked to see New England back within a game of the Super Bowl again (more on that later). Brady was demonized by the league over deflated balls and went on to have one of his better seasons last year. His teammates began dropping like flies in the latter stages of the year, compromising their chances to win another title. Brady will hate not being able to have contact with the team for 4 weeks while watching Jimmy Garoppolo command HIS team, so expect that fire to return when he sees the field in Week 5. They’ll be a favorite for seemingly the 15th-straight year.

Awards Season

Our MVP Vote
Aaron Rodgers - is the safest bet to win MVP this year. Rodgers struggled last season without his favorite target Jordy Nelson on the field. Randall Cobb wasn’t able to fill his shoes as a No. 1 receiver, but having Nelson back on the other side should open up more downfield space for Cobb to do what he does best. Rodgers has the band fully back together, as even a fit (well, sort of) Eddie Lacy is in the mix after nearly eating himself out of the league last year. Rodgers is the most consistent of the league’s top QBs and with Tom Brady out for four games, he looks like the favorite to lock up his first MVP in the post-dating Olivia Munn part of his career.

Darkhorse Of The Year
Andy Dalton - He was looking like a quarterback who had finally made the leap to elite starter before an injury knocked him out at the most inopportune time. He compiled some of the best numbers of any QB over the first half of the season. If he can stay healthy, he’s got an assortment of weapons that make their offense as dangerous as any in the league. They haven’t won a playoff game in 22 years, and if Marvin Lewis and Dalton can’t do it in 2016, the longest-reigning coach could find himself on the chopping block. Talk about crunch time.

Idiot Of The Year
Rex Ryan - More drama than a Real Housewives Reunion Special, Rex is always going to make headlines. The stakes are even higher this year as a loaded Bills team has the chops for a serious season and a legit playoff run. What remains to be seen is if the biggest headlines will be from Tyrod, Shady, Sammy & Co, or from Rex himself. Either way, we've got the popcorn ready.

Prediction Time

The Championship Game will be a rematch from last year, Panthers versus Cardinals. Both continue to look like complete teams since meeting last year in the league semi final. The Cardinals will have a healthy Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary and have one of the most balanced offenses in the league yet again. Even if Carson Palmer starts to look his age, he’s got David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown at his disposal and offensive genius Bruce Arians might be the best coach in the league. There’s no way he isn’t thinking about getting revenge after the Panthers bludgeoned them last January.

Cam Newton delivered an MVP-caliber season last year without the help of his best weapon. Kelvin Benjamin was lost before the season and Cam made a receiving corps that featured Jerricho Cotchery and Ted Ginn look formidable. Having Greg Olsen as a security blanket didn’t hurt of course. The defense took a bit of a hit after Carolina let Josh Norman walk in free agency and they didn’t really address the position in free agency and so their secondary is looking a little compromised. But expect Cam to shoulder the extra pressure and lead them to a second-straight NFC title game.

By now, it’s almost boring. We like the Patriots as a shoo-in to make a run during the playoffs. As much as we love to hate ‘em, Belichick knows how to get his team prepared and ready every single year. Despite his suspension, Brady will have another stellar season and will have a healthy Gronk and Edelman prepared to light it up. Losing Dion Lewis hurt, but running backs are always an afterthought in New England. See you in December.

The rest of the AFC is wide open, and Denver still has it's mojo. The Jags and Bengals might catfight it out and make a run, the Bills may surprise, and Denver’s D looks like it will dominate again, but ultimately it’s the Steelers and their high-powered offense that will challenge the Patriots for AFC dominance.

The Superbowl: Cardinals vs Patriots
Both the Cardinals and the Patriots avenge their 2015 losses and meet for all the nachos at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Speaking of Nachos, Let's Make Some

What makes football season so great is that it becomes socially acceptable to begin drinking at 10 AM on the west coast. But a man can’t subsist on beer alone, so why not whip up this kickass nacho upgrade for you and the gang? Then again, you don’t need friends to enjoy some delicious nachos.

BBQ Chicken Nachos
All you need is half of a 12-to-14 ounce bag of tortilla chips, 2 cups grated cheddar cheese, 1.5 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (you’re damn right pulled pork would work well too), 1/3 cup BBQ sauce and 4 scallions, thinly sliced.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, then layer the chips, cheese and chicken. Bake until the cheese is melted, between 3 and 5 minutes. Top with BBQ sauce, scallions, and douse with hot sauce.

Don't Forget The Beer

Yes, of course, we need beer don't we? While we will never, ever be mad at an ice-cold Bud Light, we certainly encourage branching out. This season we've got two of our favorites getting cold as we speak. Lagunitas Pils is a classic light-bodied pilsner that's crisp and refreshing, not to mention perfect for daytime sessions. If you're feeling something a bit darker as the weather cools, Anderson Valley Boont Amber is the perfect middle ground. Malty without being bitter, it's a great fall beer and will pair excellently with those BBQ nachos you just made (or anything else for that matter).

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