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Jerry Sullivan: Let's play a game of 10 pressing NFL questions

On Sept. 10, the Bills open the regular season at New Era Field against the Jets. That means we're headed for six long weeks of incessant and mind-numbing analysis about the local NFL team. Which obscure receiver looked good today? Will Nathan Peterman be the backup QB? Can Marcell Dareus stay healthy?

Amid the daily deluge, it's refreshing to observe the happenings around the NFL. There are some fascinating story lines as we approach the new season. Here are 10 compelling questions from around the league:

1. Will the Patriots go 16-0? Why not? They went 14-1 with Tom Brady on the field last year. Counting playoffs, they've won 45 games over the last three seasons. Coming off a historic comeback win in the Super Bowl, the Pats – who play the Bills twice in December – should be better and favored to be the first repeat champion since they turned the trick 13 years ago.

They landed Bills free agent Stephon Gilmore with a five-year, $65 million deal, giving them one of the league's best corner tandems in Gilmore and Malcolm Butler. They got a rising star wideout, Brandin Cooks, from the Saints. They added defensive end Kony Ealy, tight end Dwayne Allen and former Bills running back Mike Gillislee.

Imagine if Rob Gronkowski is fully healthy after back surgery. The Pats might score 600 points. Brady, who turns 40 on Thursday, is looking to surpass Peyton Manning as the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.

2. How will the Falcons respond to the worst collapse in Super Bowl history? Quarterback Matt Ryan, the reigning MVP, appears in a commercial in which he says losing makes you stronger. But talk is cheap. Atlanta, which led the NFL with 540 points last year, needs to prove it on the field.

The Falcons lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who took the Niners head job. His replacement, Steve Sarkisian, hasn't called plays in the league. Star running back Devonta Freeman wants a new contract and took out a $10 million insurance policy just in case. The Bills pay a visit to Atlanta's new, $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Oct. 1.

3. Does Adrian Peterson have much left? Peterson, who signed a two-year deal with the Saints, is looking to prove he's still an elite back after missing 13 games with a knee injury last season. His new teammates are raving about what great shape Peterson is in at age 32. Drew Brees, who threw for 5,208 yards last season, is said to be in top shape as well at 38.

As fate would have it, New Orleans opens the season in Minnesota, where Peterson rushed for 11,747 yards and whose Saints jersey is the top seller in the Twin Cities. Peterson is 16th on the career rushing list, 327 yards behind Bills great Thurman Thomas.

4. Are the Packers still Super Bowl contenders? They've reached the playoffs in eight straight seasons, tied with the Pats for the best streak in the NFL, but they have reached the Super Bowl only once in that time. Are they the team that started 4-6 last season, or the one that ran off six in a row to make the playoffs?

QB Aaron Rodgers, 33, rallied from a long stretch of average play to lead the Pack to the postseason. He later suggested the Pack hadn't done enough to enhance the roster. GM Ted Thompson responded by signing several top free agents, including tight end Martellus Bennett and guard Jahri Evans.

5. Are the Chiefs headed for a fall? Buffalo fans sure hope so, because the Bills have KC's first-rounder in next year's draft and the worse it gets for the Chiefs, the higher the pick. KC is 43-21 under Reid – 22-4 in its last 26 in the regular season – but appears shaky after a tumultuous offseason.

The Chiefs released top wideout Jeremy Maclin, extended Reid's contract, then fired GM John Dorsey. They gambled by sending two No 1s to the Bills to nab Patrick Mahomes in the draft. Pressure to play the strong-armed Mahomes will increase if KC struggles under veteran quarterback Alex Smith, who averaged 4.98 yards per pass attempt in the Chiefs' last two playoff losses.

6. Will the Chargers become LA's team in their first year out of San Diego? San Diego has a talented roster under new head coach Anthony Lynn. Jimmy Kimmel welcomed Philip Rivers and Joey Bosa to town on his show and made them promise "to be better than the Rams, which shouldn't be that hard."

A side question: Will the Bills rue not hiring Lynn as their guy and turning to Sean McDermott instead? The Bills play at the 30,000-seat StubHub Center, the Chargers' temporary home, on Nov. 19 in a clash of first-time head coaches.

7. Is Odell Beckham Jr. the best player in the game? His Giants teammates think so, and so does OBJ, who wants to be paid as such. Beckham scored a spectacular 50-yard touchdown on a deep post from Eli Manning on the first play of 11-on-11 drills as his opening argument.

Beckham is one of the league's major divas, but co-owner John Mara said recently that Beckham will "get paid a lot of money at the appropriate time."

8. Will anyone sign Colin Kaepernick? On Saturday, Mike Silver tweeted that Kaepernick would love to play for the Ravens. A few days earlier, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said he would consider signing Kaepernick due to Joe Flacco's back issues. Then the Ravens signed David Olson, an obscure indoor league star who was a career backup in college.

That tells you how politically toxic a figure Kaepernick is after his anthem protests last season. Evidently, Ravens fans reacted badly to the notion of signing him. Kaepernick deserves a job in the NFL. I think he's as good as Tyrod Taylor.

9. Will Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott sustain their rookie excellence in Dallas? The Cowboys tied a franchise record with 13 wins last season. Elliott won the rushing title, which allowed the Cowboys to throw only 483 passes, the third-fewest in the league (the Bills were last with 474). I expect Prescott to throw more as teams crowd the line of scrimmage for the run.

Another question is whether the Cowboys will behave off the field. They have four players suspended for the opener, and three others, including Elliott, awaiting possible discipline by the league.

10. Might more players consider retiring early due to concerns about head trauma? Baltimore's John Urschel, a Canisius High graduate, retired Thursday, two days after the release of a study that showed 110 of 111 brains of deceased NFL players had symptoms of CTE.

Earlier in the week, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger expressed concern about the study. Roethlisberger, who self-reported concussions symptoms two years ago, pondered retirement after last season and said he wants to "know my kids' names" when he's 70.


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