What to watch for in Week 1 of 'Monday Night Football'

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The first week of the best time of the year concludes with a two-piece of gridiron greatness.

The Detroit Lions will host the New York Jets at Ford Field in the first contest of Monday Night Football, and a West Coast special featuring one current and one former occupant of Los Angeles will wrap up Week 1 when the Raiders welcome the Rams to Oakland.

Here are four things to watch in the two battles as primetime football returns to our television screens.

1. Welcome to the big show, Sam Darnold


Jets fans everywhere rejoiced when Darnold was available for selecting in the 2018 draft, but the offseason hype machine is now in storage for the rest of the year. It's time for proof to be mixed into the pudding.

Darnold won the job out of preseason by playing well in limited action, beating out Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, with the latter being traded to New Orleans. The keys were officially handed over to Darnold after the deal, and the drive begins Monday.

Will Darnold prove the Jets right in drafting him with the No. 3 pick, or is his journey one that we'll have to wait to judge? Detroit's defense doesn't bring the greatest threat (more on that later), meaning this could be the ideal situation for the rookie to begin his career.

We aren't expecting a 300-yard, four-touchdown explosion from Darnold. But we are expecting competence at the bare minimum. He'll likely be without wideout Jermaine Kearse, who's doubtful with an abdomen injury. The hurdle becomes greater as a result, but optimists will look at it simply as a better test of Darnold's skill.

2. The Detroit defenders


Detroit replaced Jim Caldwell with former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia with the goal of improving the unit that plays without the ball. Through four preseason games, the results haven't been encouraging.

Detroit gave up 350.2 yards per game during the preseason, which ranked 27th in the league. Preseason isn't all that revelatory -- backups tend to play most of the game -- but the signs displayed by the starters are concerning.

In Detroit's Week 4 game -- typically one played primarily by backups -- the Lions inserted some usual starters to get additional work. Cleveland had their way with them, marching down the field for an opening touchdown and racking up tons of yards (153 rushing, 268 passing) in the process.

Detroit's secondary still features one of the league's best in Darius Slay, but the unit will need to show improvement to earn a Week 1 win -- and build confidence in Patricia in his first game as head coach.

3. Jon Gruden returns


In case you've been living under a rock, Jon Gruden is back in the NFL, and back with the Oakland Raiders.

His return to coaching has understandably received tons of press, but now comes time to put actual production with praise. He's on a massive contract, but pressure is on from the jump, especially with the Raiders' move to Las Vegas inching closer and Gruden's organization shipping out All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack.

The most important part of Oakland's play will again revolve around quarterback Derek Carr. He's playing behind one of the league's more reliable lines, but one that also features rookie left tackle Kolton Miller. Carr's receiving corps also saw plenty of change in recent months, with the signing of Jordy Nelson, trade for (and eventual release of) Martavis Bryant, signing of Griff Whalen (who was later released) trade for Ryan Switzer (who was later traded, again, to Pittsburgh) and most recently, the signing of veteran Brandon LaFell. The point: Carr hasn't had a ton of time to establish a rapport with anyone not named Amari Cooper.

How will Carr play in his first game under Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson? Can the Raiders quell the disdain over the Mack trade? Will Oakland receive the desired production from Marshawn Lynch? Can Oakland find a way to outscore its opponents, starting with the powerful Rams? The first test of the second Gruden era arrives Monday.

4. New-look Rams


Plenty of fresh faces will fill the lineup for Los Angeles on both sides of the ball. The Rams will welcome Brandin Cooks to their offense, while Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib will take the field with horns on their helmets for the first time in the regular season.

The biggest question: How will the Rams' defense fare with the key additions? Two high-level defenders (Peters and Talib) remade Los Angeles' situation at corner, and under Wade Phillips, appear positioned to improve a defense that was already 13th in the league against the pass last season.

The looming void: linebacker. Los Angeles shipped out Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn, and allowed veteran Connor Barwin to walk in the offseason, replacing them with Cory Littleton, Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre. Their acclimation to starting roles will go a long way toward determining just how good the Rams' defense can be in 2018.

It already has an excellent line made up of Suh, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers, and a secondary that should be better in 2018. The guys in between those groups are the ones who could ultimately serve as the difference between another middle-third defense and a top-10 unit.

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