We made it, people! It's Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season. And this campaign figures to be a compelling one, with numerous teams rationally thinking about a Super Bowl run.
But the great expectations of a new season prompt pronounced pressure on the 1,696 players who made 53-man rosters. Of course, some players carry a far heavier burden than others, which is why we're here today ...
On the eve of kickoff, we name names: Here are the players with the most riding on this season, Schein Nine style.
1) Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Fournette's rookie year was great. His second season was an abject failure. And now, the former No. 4 overall pick's 2019 means everything, directly impacting his reputation, his future income and his place on the Jaguars' roster.
Last year, Fournette made everyone livid, from Tom Coughlin to Doug Marrone to fantasy owners like the Schein girls. The season began with a hamstring injury, included a fight-induced suspension and ended with a public scolding from Coughlin. In a season of spectacular disappointment for the Jaguars, Fournette was the headliner.
With that all said, I remain a believer in the former LSU star. I can't overlook his talent. I won't forget about 2017, when he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie and helped guide Jacksonville to the AFC Championship Game. Fournette said all the right things this offseason. Time to dance again in 2019.
2) Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Seattle Seahawks
I love Clowney. And Seahawks general manager John Schneider should be arrested for the heist he pulled off in bringing the much-needed edge rusher to Seattle. A third-rounder, Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin for the former No. 1 overall pick? Is this a joke?! Sure, Clowney's first two NFL seasons were marred by injuries. But over the last three, he's made three Pro Bowls. Since 2016, four players have recorded 20-plus sacks and 50-plus tackles for loss: Aaron Donald, Chandler Jones, Cameron Jordan and Clowney. That's some darn good company. And as I alluded, Clowney's exactly the kind of game-wrecking defensive end Seattle's 2019 roster previously lacked.
Yes, Clowney has a notable injury history. And motor questions. But I still think the Texans should've signed him to a long-term deal in February. And now the Seahawks get him in a contract year. He's going to thrive in Seattle's scheme, with Pete Carroll poised to get the most out of Clowney's disruptive skill set.
3) Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans
There are two types of teams in the NFL: Those that have a quarterback and those that don't. Tennessee is ... stuck in the middle. Which is doomsday.
I keep waiting for this to click. I keep waiting for Mariota to dominate as a dual-threat quarterback. But injuries and inconsistency have defined the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner's NFL career thus far. And now, playing on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, the former No. 2 overall pick is entering a put-up-or-get-out season.
I'm not a believer in Ryan Tannehill as a starting quarterback, but I loved Tennessee signing him as a backup/insurance policy. And Tannehill outplayed Mariota in the preseason, albeit mostly against backups. So that light had better go on for Mariota -- like, right now. One thing that does NOT help the quarterback's cause: Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan's four-game suspension.
4) Antonio Brown, WR, Oakland Raiders
Pittsburgh let AB get away with plenty over the years, because he played like a legend. But even the Steelers had had enough by the end of last season, especially after the seven-time Pro Bowler essentially bailed on a must-win season finale. (What happened to the guy who worked harder than anyone else and strived for all-time greatness?)
Brown foolishly wanted out of Pittsburgh and took his shenanigans to a new level to get his wish. With a fresh start in Oakland, you'd think the 31-year-old would at least begin on his best behavior, but his Raiders run has been a crazy roller-coaster of helmet grievances, hot-air balloons, frozen feet, Twitter battles and a serious lack of practice time. This after Oakland gave him the new contract he desired and attempted to do everything to make him happy. And now he's mad at the organization for having to pay the fines he went out of his way to earn? Please.
5) Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
I was so high on Dalton after the offseason hiring of head coach Zac Taylor. But then first-round offensive lineman Jonah Williams suffered what will almost certainly be a season-ending injury. And A.J. Green went under the knife following an ankle injury. Suddenly, it's beginning to look like Cincy could be dreadful, a distant fourth-place team in a highly competitive AFC North.
Andy Dalton is a smart, accurate quarterback who can play efficiently when he's surrounded by talent. But what happens when the supporting cast fails to provide much, well, support? Could this lead to the Bengals having a high first-round pick? (Yes.) Under such a circumstance, would Taylor want his own quarterback? (Yes.)
The heat is on, Red Rifle.
6) Eddy Pineiro, K, Chicago Bears
Matt Nagy has really made a huge deal about a blocked kick in a playoff loss. Remember, it was on my SiriusXM Radio show where Tarik Cohen revealed that the coach routinely fires up the heartbreaking loss in team meetings.
The Bears brought in a cavalcade of kickers for tryouts during the offseason. Pineiro eventually won. Or didn't lose. It's go time on Thursday night. Color me skeptical. Very skeptical. I mean, you all saw that ghastly extra-point attempt in the final preseason game, right? You heard the boos. Sure, it was just one kick. But so was Cody Parkey's (blocked) attempt -- and that has bedeviled the entire city of Chicago for the past eight months.
7) Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bruce Arians wrote the book on quarterback whispering. If he can't help Winston truly establish himself in this league, close the book on the former No. 1 overall pick in Tampa. Like his draftmate Mariota, Winston is playing on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. So it's high time to earn his keep.
I've always questioned Winston as a player, leader and all-encompassing QB1. But I can't deny that he has flashed promise at various points of his four NFL seasons. Of course, they've just been flashes, as inconsistency and poor ball security have played a much more prominent role. Can Arians rein Jameis in while also maximizing the 25-year-old passer's undeniable arm talent? It's a delicate balance, further complicated by Tampa's suspect O-line and Arians' slow-developing offense.
8) LeSean McCoy, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
I love the fit for McCoy in this Kansas City offense, love that he's playing for Andy Reid once again. But don't expect the coach and running back to party like it's 2011, when McCoy led the NFL in rushing TDs (17) as a member of the Reid-helmed Eagles. The 31-year-old McCoy is older, slower and fresh off a season in which he posted the lowest yards-per-carry figure of his career (by far) at 3.2.
9) Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers
Remember Jimmy Graham? Amazing to think back to what we all projected for him when he signed in Green Bay last offseason. Safe to say it wasn't 55 catches for 636 yards and just two touchdowns.
I still haven't lost hope in the five-time Pro Bowler. And Packers fans can still dream about the former hoops player outrebounding diminutive defensive backs for scores. But Graham, set to turn 33 midway through this season, isn't getting younger.