*The return of football action continues to inch tantalizingly closer, with just 50 days to go before the 2017 NFL season finally kicks off. To help the time pass faster, here are 50 predicted headlines to mull over, laying out the various highs and lows that will mark the season as it unfolds, from September to February. *
Trevor Siemian has a year under his belt as Denver's starter and was more consistent throughout summer, but in a QB competition this close, tie goes to the runner/first-round-pick-hand-selected-by-the-franchise's-Hall-of-Fame-QB. Meanwhile, Swag Kelly starts under center on the scout team. Relevance will have to wait.
New Orleans' trio of tailbacks share 38 carries in their first go-around, with Mark Ingram shouldering the load in Week 1. Peterson is held under 50 yards against his former team and is on the sideline when his quarterback, Drew Brees, throws a game-winning, goal-line score to finish off the Vikings.
What contract concerns? Cousins throws for 350-plus yards in each of Washington's first three games, including a three-score showing against the Rams and his old coordinator, Sean McVay, in the L.A. Coliseum. With the run game stuck in preseason mode, Washington's Terrelle Pryor and Jamison Crowder become one of the league's top receiving duos right out of the gate.
The Buccaneers put up 119 points in their first three tests -- tied for fourth-best in that span since merger -- thanks to Winston's deft dispersal of targets. With Doug Martin suspended, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard anchor the middle of the field, but Evans remains Tampa's most terrifying threat, hauling in six TDs in that span, including three against Chicago in Week 2. The preseason hype is real. For now ...
T.C.'s inevitable coup in Duval is near after the Jags drop two divisional games in the firsttwo weeks, along with a home test to Baltimore. Jacksonvillians, led by one particular resident with a beach house a couple minutes from the beach, flood sports-talk radio with calls in favor of Coughlin returning to his rightful place on the sidelines.
With the Orchard Park suits finally supporting Taylor, the Bills quarterback starts the season on fire, finding accuracy outside the pocket and involving Sammy Watkins more. Shady is slippery in September, as usual, and is nose-to-nose with David Johnson for the most scrimmage yards through one month.
Denver's Miller and Oakland's Mack set the pace in what will surely by a wild year in the AFC West. The league's top pass-rushers' stunning septet of QB takedowns in their respective teams' Week 4 showdown overshadows Oakland's come-from-behind victory, punctuated by Beast Mode's first rushing touchdown with the Raiders since his unretirement.
10) Bolts make big first impression in small stadium
Through their undefeated opening homestand at StubHub Center, the Chargers ignite a silent majority of Angelenos looking for a team to believe in. The electric sold-out atmosphere has people scratching their heads, wondering if stadium-builders in the 21st century have gone about their business all wrong.
11) Arizona David Johnsons on pace for 2,500 yards from scrimmage
Forget Carson and Larry, Pat P and Honey Badger. The Cardinals are DJ2K's team now. Living up to his preseason goal, Johnson barrels through and runs around defensive lines through the season's opening quarter and is within reach of former teammate Chris Johnson's single-season yards-from-scrimmage mark (2,509).
Atlanta has seen this story before. Up double-digits at halftime of the Week 7 rematch of Super Bowl LI, the Falcons are completely unaware of the "28-3" memes whistling through the interwebs, while cynics wait on their downfall. As sure as a Devonta Freemanmissed assignment, New England seizes the lead within seven minutes of the second half and never looks back.
Green Bay's annual midseason apocalypse has 'Sconnies uptight and restless. "Fire McCarthy!" tweets @CheeseheadDaryl. "Why is Dom Capers still employed?" shouts Babs from accounting. "We want Olivia Munn back," blogs an empty soul. The statewide uproar forces Rodgers to spell out -- one more time -- why the Packers are A-OK.
Six sub-standard starts from Mike Glennon pave the way for Trubisky's Week 7 debut against Carolina, in which the rookie commits four turnovers and is then pulled for Glennon. With the Cubs out of contention, hapless Bears fans turn to the only man left on the bench who hasn't yet scarred them emotionally: The Sanchize.
After missing nearly all of 2016 with injuries, Abdullah has been one of this season's breakout stars, working magic on the ground, on passes out of the backfield and in the return game. Barry Sanders re-endorses the third-year talent, sending the Motor City into Ameer Mania.
Revis wasn't going to emerge from his hiatus unless it was for the right price. For a desperate Jerry Jones, whose Cowboys never really filled the holes left in their secondary by free-agency departures and have since sunk to the NFC East cellar, $6.2 million for half a season's work is chump change.
19) Running back renaissance? Shortage of bona fide passers reignites rushing game
Time is a flat circle. Why should football be any different? With legitimate quarterbacks in short supply around the league, coaches have reverted to the ground for assistance. More backs have rushed for over 800 yards through nine games than in any of the past 15 seasons.
Baltimore's franchise quarterback is finally connecting with big-time wideouts Breshad Perriman and Jeremy Maclin and has the Ravens tied atop the AFC North with Pittsburgh. A rookie scout-teamer throws out the E-word, Reddit boards explode and "Undisputed" embarks on a three-hour prime-time special debating Lord Flacco's eliteness.
22) Titanic shift in AFC South as Tennessee runs away with division
23) Three dog night: Eli's coming for East crown with historic WR trio
With the Cowboys stumbling and Philly and D.C. in neutral, the Giants are in control of the NFC East, thanks to their star-studded receiving corps. OBJ, Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall have gotten along and gotten downfield. New York's tailbacks are still M.I.A., but rookie tight end Evan Engram's versatility makes up for the lack of a ground game.
The retired signal-callers have been calling games for CBS and FOX this season, but that hasn't stopped [insert unfortunate team here] from testing the waters on a late-season return. After [insert doomed quarterback here] went down with a season-ending [Achilles and/or ACL] injury, [insert desperate GM here] rang both Romo and Cutler, to no avail.
That's the sentiment from players all around the league, as New England marches, with nary a speed bump, toward a second 16-0 season. 67,000 fans petition the White House to #BreakUpThePats. Following a recent demolition of 7-3 Miami, reporters find Ndamukong Suh wailing at his locker, "It's not fair! It's not fair!" The football world has gone mad in its hopeless attempt at a coup.
In the midst of a four-game skid and fading out of the playoff picture, the Raiders play host to Dallas in their final home tilt of 2017 in front of a Black Hole half-filled with Cowboys fans. With next to no home-field advantage, the Raiders blow by the 'Boys, keeping elimination at bay for at least one more week.
Despite the hiring of a new general manager, it's the same old story in Indianapolis, where Chris Ballard's retooled defense needs to spend one more season in the lab. Andrew Luck throws for 4,000-plus once again, but he will be asking his GM for a new tailback in the offseason.
35) Bucs reach playoffs for first time since '07 in flexed win over Saints
I will remember youuuuuu. McCown winds up starting just three games for the Jets, who end up with the No. 2 overall selection. The mentor extraordinaire rides off into the sunset.
37) Eight teams inquire about Nick Saban's availability after Alabama's fifth title of the era
Less than 24 hours after Saban's Rolling Tide trounces Clemson for the second time in three years, he receives contract offers from every team that tossed its coach on Black Monday. Saban contemplates retirement but elects to stay in Tuscaloosa.
Sam Bradford has been the most accurate quarterback in football the past two seasons, but with Teddy finally healthy, the issue needs to be addressed: Should Minnesota move on from its former first-round pick or the safe veteran presence?
Advertisers get their wish with a Saturday prime-time bout between America's largest media market and "America's Team." The Giants' defense shuts down Dak and Zeke, who remain winless in the postseason.
46) Anthony Lynn first rookie coach to win Coach of the Year since 2011
Lynn took one of the league's most promising rosters and, in one season at the helm for the Chargers, unleashed its potential on the world in front of a Texas high school-sized crowd every week.
All that's left for the five-time Super Bowl champion is to add one for the other thumb on Sunday night, whereupon the quarterback can safely say he's the greatest football player of all-time. Unless ...
The trilogy reaches its fateful conclusion. Surrounded by his most prolific offense and another stalwart defense, Eli Manning out-duels Brady, who's sacked six times in a 23-20 defeat. The postgame hysteria proclaims Eli a surefire Hall of Famer, and Brady, well ... Let's just say Joe Montana never lost a Super Bowl.