2018 NFL preview: Storylines to follow in the new season

The Phildelphia Eagles are ready to begin their Super Bowl defence - but can they retain their crown?

The Eagles appear set to compete for another title, but a few other teams could be in contention after making major improvements in the offseason.

Meanwhile, multiple star players will be in new uniforms as the 2018 rookie class look to make an immediate impact.

Ahead of the opening week of games, here are five storylines to follow heading into the 2018 NFL campaign.

How much will we see from the rookie quarterbacks?

The 2018 rookie quarterback class appears to be loaded.

Four were picked in the top 10, five went in the first round and 13 were selected overall. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, however, is the only rookie who is set to start for his team in the opening week.

While Lamar Jackson is third on the depth chart for the Baltimore Ravens, Josh Allen seems poised to replace initial starter Nathan Peterman at the Buffalo Bills sooner rather than later.

Josh Rosen should play for the Arizona Cardinals at some point this season while top pick Baker Mayfield is expected to sit behind Tyrod Taylor for much of the year at the Cleveland Browns.

But, Mayfield had an impressive preseason and could force his way onto the field. When that will happen, though, is anyone’s guess.

Did the Bears do enough to reach the playoffs?

The Chicago Bears have completely retooled their roster.

Chicago improved the weapons around second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky by signing former Eagles tight end Trey Burton and Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson to lucrative contracts.

However, their biggest addition came last week when they added game-changing pass rusher Khalil Mack in a huge trade.

Chicago acquired the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, along with a second-round pick, from the Oakland Raiders for four future draft choices.

The Bears, who fired John Fox in January and replaced him with Matt Nagy, finished 2017 with a 5-11 record and missed the playoffs for a seventh straight year. Now, though, they have a chance to break that streak.

Who will Dak Prescott throw the ball to?

Dak Prescott’s two most reliable targets are no longer on Dallas' roster.

The Cowboys released star wide receiver Dez Bryant in April and veteran tight end Jason Witten announced his retirement one month later. The two combined for 132 catches last season.

The Cowboys attempted to replace the pair by adding a trio of wide receivers, signing former Jaguar Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, who spent last season with the Bills and Bears. Dallas did release Thompson last week, only to re-sign him two days later. They also acquired Tavon Austin in a deal with the Rams.

While the Cowboys still have star running back Ezekiel Elliott, quarterback Prescott will need to establish chemistry with his new receivers in order to lead his team back to the playoffs after missing out in 2017.

What will the Raiders look like under Jon Gruden?

Jon Gruden was last on the sideline for a meaningful football game in 2008.

Gruden, however, elected to leave the television booth and return to the NFL when he signed a 10-year, $100 million contract to take over as the Oakland Raiders coach.

But he has experienced a rocky beginning to his second stint in Oakland. Mack, one of the best defensive players in the NFL, was traded to Chicago after a lengthy contract issue.

Oakland also waived wide receiver Martavis Bryant, acquired from the Steelers for a third-round pick in late April.

The Raiders finished 2017 with a 6-10 record. Gruden will have his work cut out if he wants to prevent them from taking a step back after the Mack deal.

How good can the Rams defense be?

The Rams were 11-5 last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They should be even better in 2018, however, as they have the talent to be one of the best teams in football.

Offensively, the Rams added veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks, yet their major additions have come on the defensive side of the ball. They traded for corners Marcus Peters as well as Aqib Talib and also signed star defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh.

Suh will pair with All-Pro Aaron Donald to form one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and the Rams should also have a secondary capable of shutting down opposing quarterbacks.

The improved defensive unit, along with another year of development from quarterback Jared Goff and the continued health of Todd Gurley, put the Rams in position to be serious Super Bowl contenders.

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