NFL Week 1 Preview: New Rules For Players And New Roles For Coaches

The NFL returns this week. It’s “Back to Football” time. That means the next five months will be packed with the sizzle and suspense that comes only with the National Football League.

Everybody is ready for the unique unpredictability of the NFL. And every team enters the new season with hope.

Last year, 65 percent of the games were within one score (eight points or fewer) in the fourth quarter. Fourteen percent were decided in the final two minutes or overtime. And for the 14th consecutive year, at least five teams made the playoffs after missing out the year before, including the Super Bowl XLIV champion New Orleans Saints.

All the anticipation that started with the NFL Combine last February, heightened by the NFL Draft in April, and peaked with the opening of training camps in July comes to realization this weekend. It’s time to get “Back to Football.”

As the 2010 NFL season kicks off, it comes packed with changes, quests and questions:

•CAN THE SUPER BOWL CHAMPION SAINTS REPEAT?: It’s tough. It’s happened only eight times since the first Super Bowl in 1967. But the Saints are up for the challenge. “It’s going to be difficult to repeat,” says New Orleans quarterback and Super Bowl XLIV MVP DREW BREES, “but we embrace that challenge. We’re in the business of winning and we have an opportunity to create a legacy here that’s not just about one championship. We see what we have here and it’s something that can be really special.”

•MILESTONES ON THE HORIZON: Records are made to be broken…So what records will be set this season? Some milestones that can be reached this season: Minnesota QB BRETT FAVRE needs three TD passes to become the first player in NFL history with 500 and needs 671 passing yards to be the first to reach 70,000… Indianapolis QB PEYTON MANNING can become the first quarterback with 11 4,000-yard seasons and needs 1,348 passing yards to move into third place all-time…New York Jets RB LA DAINIAN TOMLINSON can extend his NFL-record streak of consecutive 10 rush-TD seasons to begin a career to 10…Tennessee RB CHRIS JOHNSON (11 100-yard games in a row) needs 100 rushing yards in each of his next four games for the most consecutive 100-yard rush games (15) in NFL history…New England WR RANDY MOSS & Cincinnati WR TERRELL OWENS need two and six receiving TDs respectively to join JERRY RICE as the only players with 150 receiving TDs… Houston WR ANDRE JOHNSON can become the first player in NFL history with three consecutive 1,500-yard receiving seasons…Atlanta’s TONY GONZALEZ needs one catch to become the first TE in NFL history with 1,000 receptions…And Green Bay’s CHARLES WOODSON needs one interception-return touchdown to become the third player in NFL history with at least 10 INT-TDs.

•NEW COACHES/PLAYERS IN NEW PLACES: There are three new head coaches in 2010 – PETE CARROLL in Seattle, CHAN GAILEY in Buffalo and MIKE SHANAHAN in Washington. Last year, new head coaches enjoyed success as JIM CALDWELL of Indianapolis and REX RYAN of the New York Jets led their teams to the AFC Championship Game.

And there are a lot of well-known players with new teams, including DONOVAN MC NABB with the Redskins; JULIUS PEPPERS with the Bears; KARLOS DANSBY & BRANDON MARSHALL with the Dolphins; ANQUAN BOLDIN with the Ravens; ANTONIO CROMARTIE, SANTONIO HOLMES, JASON TAYLOR & LA DAINIAN TOMLINSON with the Jets; TERRELL OWENS with the Bengals; THOMAS JONES with the Chiefs; JAKE DELHOMME with the Browns; DUNTA ROBINSON with the Falcons; and ANTREL ROLLE with the Giants.

•ON-THE-FIELD TRENDS: Passing soared…running backs impressed…versatile players continued to give defensive coordinators fits…and surprise teams continued to emerge.

Net passing yards (111,853) were the highest ever and games averaged 436.9 pass yards, the second-most in history…Ten QBs passed for 4,000 yards, 12 threw for 25 TDs and five had a passer rating of at least 100.0 – all NFL records…Tennessee RB CHRIS JOHNSON became the sixth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards (2,006) and broke the single-season scrimmage yards mark (2,509)…Carolina RBs JONATHAN STEWART (1,133) & DE ANGELO WILLIAMS (1,117) became the first set of teammates to each rush for 1,100 yards in a season…Three players – Buffalo’s FRED JACKSON, Cleveland’s JOSHUA CRIBBS and Tennessee’s Johnson – totaled over 2,500 combined yards, matching the total that had accomplished the feat in the previous 89 seasons…The Super Bowl champion Saints rebounded to win the NFC South after a last-place finish in 2008, the NFL-record seventh consecutive year a team went from “worst-to-first” in its division…And there were five new division winners on the heels of a record-tying six in 2008 (since realignment in 2002).

•NEW RULES: There are several new rules in 2010, with the primary focus on enhancing player safety…Existing unnecessary roughness rules have been standardized and protection for defenseless players has been expanded, including additional safeguards for defenseless players who have just completed a catch from blows to the head or neck by an opponent who launches, and long snappers…If a ball carrier’s helmet comes off during a play, the ball will immediately be blown dead…If there is a dead-ball personal foul by either team following the end of the second or fourth quarter, the penalty yardage will be enforced on the second-half or overtime kickoff… Two adjustments were made to instant replay: 1. If there is not an on-field ruling that a ball strikes a video board, guide wire, sky cam or other object, the replay assistant may now initiate a booth review. 2. If a replay review inside of one minute of either half results in the on-field ruling being reversed and the correct ruling would not have stopped the game clock, then there will be a 10-second runoff before the ball is put back in play…In addition to numbers 60-79 and 90-99, defensive lineman are now permitted to wear jersey numbers 50-59. Also, players who switch positions are no longer required to switch jersey numbers if the change is from an ineligible position to another ineligible position or from an eligible position to another eligible position…The penalty yardage for interference when a kicking team player attempts to catch a muffed kick has been eliminated.

During the postseason, the NFL will use a modified sudden death overtime format. Teams will now have the opportunity to possess the ball at least once in the extra period unless the team that receives the overtime kickof scores a touchdown on its first possession.

There will also be points of emphasis on several existing rules…Good sportsmanship will continue to be emphasized. The use of abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures directed at an opponent or an opponent’s bench is considered taunting and will result in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty…All rules that encourage player safety will continue to be strictly enforced, including unnecessary roughness, chop blocks, clipping and illegal blocks below the waist on a change of possession.

There will also be one change in mechanics for NFL game officials…The initial position of NFL umpires will now be in the offensive backfield opposite the referee. The most important factor in considering this move is the safety of the umpire.

•THE INTERNATIONAL NFL: For the fourth consecutive year, the NFL will play a regular-season overseas game in the United Kingdom when the San Francisco 49ers face the Denver Broncos at London’s Wembley Stadium on October 31. Closer to home, the Buffalo Bills will host the Chicago Bears on November 7 in Toronto, the fifth of eight games over a five-year span for the Bills at the Rogers Centre.

•SPECIAL PATCHES: All NFL teams will wear a pink ribbon decal on their helmets to celebrate BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH in October…NFL game officials will wear a memorial patch on their hats for late back judge BOB LAWING…The New Orleans Saints will wear a Super Bowl champions patch on Kickoff Weekend…The Chicago Bears will honor the memory of defensive end GAINES ADAMS with a helmet decal… The New York Giants and New York Jets will celebrate the inaugural season of New Meadowlands Stadium with their own patches…The San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos will wear an “INTERNATIONAL SERIES” patch during their October 31 game at London’s Wembley Stadium…The Buffalo Bills will wear a “TORONTO SERIES” patch when they host the Chicago Bears on November 7 at the Rogers Centre…The Dallas Cowboys will wear a 50th anniversary patch throughout the season…The Minnesota Vikings will wear a 50th season patch throughout the season…The Green Bay Packers will honor its 1929 NFL championship team with a re-creation of its uniform…The Bears will honor the “Monsters of the Midway” championship teams from the 1940s with throwback jerseys…And the Philadelphia Eagles will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1960 NFL Championship team on Kickoff Weekend.