It’s here again.
And for many, it’s about time.
The NFL season is about to start with the Denver Broncos as the reigning Super Bowl champions. The Broncos host the Carolina Panthers in a rematch of Super Bowl 50 on Thursday night (7:30, KXAS/5).
But unpredictability remains one of the elements that make the sport so intriguing to millions.
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It all culminates with Super Bowl LI in Houston.
Some of the angles, facts and figures of the 2016 NFL season:
Super Bowl LI
Super Bowl LI will be played at NRG Stadium in Houston on Feb. 5, 2017. It’s the third time the city has hosted a Super Bowl. The city also hosted Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 and Super Bowl VIII in 1974. The NFL will return to branding the Super Bowl with Roman numerals after using the Arabic numeral “50” for last year’s game.
Rams back in L.A.
The Rams return to Los Angeles after spending the past 21 years in St. Louis. They will be playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the next two seasons until their new stadium is built in Inglewood. The Rams bring one of the game’s young superstars to the West Coast in second-year running back Todd Gurley, last season’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Gurley made the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns. They also have this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick in quarterback Jared Goff of California.
The NFL will play in London this year for the fourth consecutive season. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who have committed to playing one home game a year in London through 2020, will host Indianapolis on Oct. 2 at Wembley Stadium. The Los Angeles Rams will host the New York Giants on Oct. 23 in the first NFL game at Twickenham Stadium. The season’s final game in London will be on Oct. 30 when Cincinnati hosts Washington at Wembley.
South of the border
The NFL played its first international regular-season game on Oct. 2, 2005, when the Arizona Cardinals defeated the San Francisco 49ers 31-14 before a crowd of 103,467 in Mexico City. This season the NFL returns to the Mexican capital when the Oakland Raiders host the Houston Texans on Nov. 21 in the first Monday Night Football game to be played outside the United States.
Plan your last-minute Christmas shopping carefully this year because there will be plenty of NFL cheer being spread around. There will be 12 games played on Christmas Eve, Saturday, Dec. 24. On Christmas Day, the NFL offers a couple of more gifts with Baltimore at Pittsburgh and Denver at Kansas City. Week 16 of the season concludes on Monday when Detroit plays at Dallas. The following week, which is the final week of the regular season, all 16 games will be played on New Year’s Day.
Pro Bowl moves
The 2017 Pro Bowl will be at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Sunday, Jan. 29, and televised live at 7 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.
Seven NFL teams will have new head coaches this season: Adam Gase in Miami, Hue Jackson in Cleveland, Doug Pederson in Philadelphia, Chip Kelly in San Francisco, Dirk Koetter in Tampa Bay, Ben McAdoo with the New York Giants and Mike Mularkey in Tennessee. Those with previous head coaching experience are Jackson (Oakland), Kelly (Philadelphia) and Mularkey (Buffalo and Jacksonville).
Three of the game’s biggest playmakers won’t be on the field this season. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Oakland defensive back Charles Woodson have retired. On March 7, a month after leading the Broncos to a win in Super Bowl 50 over Carolina — Manning’s second championship — the five-time league MVP announced he was retiring after 18 seasons. Johnson, the 6-foot-5 wide receiver known as Megatron, announced his retirement the next day. In his nine NFL seasons, Johnson had 731 receptions for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. Woodson, who won the 1997 Heisman Trophy as a cornerback at Michigan, announced his retirement in December. In his 18 NFL seasons, Woodson started 251 of 254 games, made 65 interceptions (11 returned for touchdowns), had 20 sacks, was All-Pro three times, a Pro Bowl choice nine times and the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
New song on NBC
NBC’s Sunday Night Football will have a new opening theme song this season. Gone is Waiting All Day for Sunday Night. Recording artist Carrie Underwood’s new theme song, Oh, Sunday Night, is a mix of country, rock and pop. Oh, Sunday Night is set to the music of Somethin’ Bad, a chart-topping duet from Underwood and Miranda Lambert that was released in 2014 and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. NBC’s first Sunday night telecast this season is this weekend when New England plays at Arizona.
Kathryn Smith of the Buffalo Bills was named the team’s special teams quality control coach in January. She is the first female full-time assistant coach in NFL history. Smith, who is starting her 14th season in the league, was the Bills’ administrative assistant to the head coach last season. Before joining the Bills in 2015, Smith spent 12 seasons working for the New York Jets. Smith originally began her career in 2003 as a Jets gameday/special events intern. She became a college scouting intern in 2005 before being promoted to player personnel assistant in 2007 and being named assistant to the head coach in 2014.
There have been four major rule changes for this season:
▪ All chop blocks are illegal. A chop block is a two-man high-low block in which a defensive player is engaged above the waist by one offensive player and blocked at the thigh or below by a second offensive player. A chop block is a foul whether it occurs on a running play, a pass play or a kicking play. If it is clear that the defensive player is initiating the contact above the waist, or that the offensive player is trying to slip or escape, then the block is legal.
▪ If a player receives two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls in the same game, he will be automatically disqualified. These types of fouls include: throwing a punch or kick without making contact, use of abusive or threatening language toward an opponent, or any act that constitutes taunting.
▪ The horse collar rule has been expanded. Previously, it was illegal to grab the inside collar of the back or the side of the shoulder pad or jersey and pull the runner toward the ground. Now it will also be illegal to grab the back or side of the jersey at the name plate or above and pull the runner toward the ground. The runner does not have to be pulled all the way to the ground. If his knees are buckled by the action, it is a foul. This rule does not apply to the quarterback in the pocket or a runner in the tackle box, but once the runner leaves the tackle box or the quarterback leaves the pocket the rule is back in effect.
▪ Probably the most noticeable rule change involves the kicking game. After a touchback resulting from a kickoff or safety kick, the ball will be placed at the receiving team’s 25-yard line instead of the 20.