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6 quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots and the NFL before the regular season opener

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With the season set to open tonight, a few thoughts about the league.

Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Today, the wait is finally over – at least for the NFL fan whose interest in the game is not strictly limited to one team: the reigning world champion Philadelphia Eagles will host the Atlanta Falcons for the 2018 regular season opener! Before the first game of the year will be kicked off, though, let’s share some thoughts on the NFL and its opening week of action.

The regular season already started at 12:00 a.m. today

Financially speaking, the league has already been in regular season mode for the last five hours: by 12:00 a.m. ET, all 32 organizations had to be under the salary cap as the offseason’s “rule of 51” – only a team’s 51 most expensive contracts counted against the salary cap – expired. This means that every franchise needs to fit all of its active roster, practice squad, and other players under the $177.2 million cap now. The New England Patriots, as things currently stand, are roughly $6.3 million below the cap (via Miguel Benzan).

The Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski offseason pales in comparison to the Le’Veon Bell saga

When the Patriots’ two biggest stars decided to stay away from voluntary offseason workouts, some in the local and national media turned it into the story of spring – one filled with rumors and speculation. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski returned for mandatory practices, however, and it was business as usual again in New England again. The drama surrounding Brady and Gronkowski never reached the same level the Pittsburgh Steelers are currently experiencing: star running back Le’Veon Bill is still holding out as part of a contract dispute and there is a real chance that he misses at least the team’s season opener.

Jimmy Garoppolo faces a big challenge in his first season opener for the 49ers

Former Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo performed well after getting traded to the San Francisco 49ers last October: he helped his new team win all five of his starts, and delivered some solid performances. As a result, he received a 5-year, $137.5 million contract in February. Entering his first full season in San Francisco, Garoppolo will have to show that he was worth the investment – and his first test will be a big one. The 49ers open the season on the road against a Minnesota Vikings team that fielded the NFL’s best scoring defense a year ago.

The NFL will make a huge fuss about Aaron Rodgers vs Khalil Mack on Sunday night

When the league’s schedule makers decided to use the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears rivalry for its first Sunday night game of the year, it did not see Khalil Mack coming: the former NFL defensive player of the year was traded from the Oakland Raiders to Chicago last weekend – one of the biggest trades in recent memory. Naturally, the hype machine is on: expect the battle between Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Mack to take center stage on Sunday and overshadow other potentially intriguing storylines.

Seahawks vs Broncos shows how time flies in the NFL

A little more than four years ago, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos were the two best teams in football and meeting in the Super Bowl. Both made it back to the big dance since then – Seattle lost Super Bowl 49, Denver won Super Bowl 50 – but subsequently have seen their fortunes turn as much of the core players from a few years back are no longer with the teams. Both are in a relative rebuilding mode now, serving as examples just how quickly the tide can turn in the NFL.

Matt Patricia has a prime opportunity to start his head coaching career well

On Monday night, former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will experience his first regular season contest as the Detroit Lions’ new head coach. And on paper, he has a very good opportunity to start his tenure well. Detroit hosts a New York Jets team that went just 5-11 last year and will start rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. Patricia went 10-2 against rookies when he was New England’s defensive signal caller and saw his units give up an average of 17.2 points.