Five talking points heading into Week 1 of the 2021 NFL preseason

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey after scoring a touchdown.
Photo of Ricky Dimon

Ricky Dimon


Show Bio

Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

The Hall of Fame Game officially kicked off the 2021 NFL preseason last Thursday, but now things heat up for real with a full slate of action this week. There are 16 games on the docket, with all 32 teams—including the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, who have already played—taking the field.

With the true arrival of football, it’s time to take a look at five storylines that must be followed throughout the preseason and into the regular 18-week schedule.

In addition to this breakdown, you can check out all of our latest NFL futures articles under our NFL news tab. It includes our bets on teams to either make or miss in the playoffs in both the AFC and NFC as well as our best bets on some of the early game lines posted for Week 1 through Week 17.

1. Rodgers returns

Aaron Rodgers has been the story of the offseason. Unsurprisingly, however, the 37-year-old is back with the Green Bay Packers. He may not be happy, but he also doesn’t have to be. Rodgers is a consummate professional who will likely continue to win lots of football games in spite of his mental state. It was announced earlier this week that the three-time MVP (and reigning MVP) will not play in any preseason games, which is also not surprising. Green Bay’s preseason should be relatively quiet as a result…which is just how the franchise will want it on the heels of the recent Rodgers circus. Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 12, though, will be must-watch television.

2. Rookie quarterbacks

Starting quarterbacks generally don’t see a ton of action in the preseason—especially not in the first two games. Rookies, however, need the work. We are definitely going to get a look at Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Zach Wilson of the New York Jets, Trey Lance of the San Francisco 49ers, and Mac Jones of the New England Patriots. Lawrence and Wilson are locks to start, while it’s hard to see Jones beating out Cam Newton in New England. The battle between Lance and 49ers veteran Jimmy Garoppolo could be fascinating to watch. And the Niners are a team that is expected to contend, so this QB controversy (if you can call it that) is especially important.

3. Matt Stafford vs Jared Goff comparison

Okay, this really isn’t a comparison. It will be interesting to see how Stafford and Goff fare with their new teams following the blockbuster trade between the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions, but we pretty much know the Rams are going to be good and the Lions are going to stink. Anything other than those scenarios would be a big surprise. The real question is: just how good are the Rams going to be? Starting running back Cam Akers is already out for the year with a torn Achilles, but Stafford still has plenty of weapons at his disposal and the Aaron Donald-led defense could be dominant. The former No. 1 overall pick may see more preseason playing time than other starting QBs as he tries to gel with his new team, so keep a close eye on L.A.’s trio of contests.

4. Comeback Player of the Year

As we mentioned in our Comeback Player of the Year piece, rarely have so many big names (and even a couple of bona fide stars) been in the running for Comeback Player of the Year. Dak Prescott, Saquon Barkley, Joe Burrow, Christian McCaffrey, Carson Wentz, Nick Bosa, Jameis Winston, Von Miller, and Odell Beckham Jr. are all among the favorites to win this award at the end of the season. A lot of these guys won’t see preseason action and some could even miss regular-season games. If any of the CPOY contenders do get on the field this month, however, it would definitely be wise to monitor their progress.

5. Covid-19

Unfortunately, there is no denying it: the Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a problem and there is no guarantee that the 2021 NFL season will go unscathed. It was a borderline miracle that every game last season was played in some way, shape, or form, albeit with plenty of schedule tweaking in order to do so. Hopefully there won’t be as much juggling required this time around. In fact, we already know there won’t be. Commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t going to do any juggling for any unvaccinated players who might cause their teams to be relegated to the sidelines. Such issues will now result in forfeits instead of postponements. That being said, there are far more players and staff who are vaccinated than there were last year (zero). So things should obviously be smoother in 2021. If we can get through the preseason without any issues, optimism for a fully successful regular season will increase.

Pickswise is the home of free Expert NFL picks and NFL odds. Be sure to check out all of our season previews and NFL futures bets leading up to the 2021 NFL season.

Virginia Bonuses

See All


Get a $100 Risk-Free Bet!

Register for a new Unibet account & make a deposit

Place your first bet up to $100 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $100

New players only. Terms & conditions apply. 21+. VA only.

FanDuel Sportsbook


Get a $1,000 No Sweat First Bet

Sign up for a new FanDuel Sportsbook account and make your first deposit of $10+

Place your first bet up to $1,000!

Get refunded if you lose up to $1,000

Must be 21+. First online real money wager only. $10 first deposit required. Bonus issued as non-withdrawable free bets that expire 14 days after receipt. See full terms at



Get a $500 Risk-Free Bet

Sign up for a new BetRivers account using promo code PICKSWISE

Make your first deposit & get up to $500 in free bets

To get $500 in free bets, wager $500

Must be 21+. Play in IA Only. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-BETS OFF



Bet $10, Win $200 if Any NBA Team Hits a Three Pointer!

Sign up for a new betting account with BetMGM

Place a pre-game moneyline wager of at least $10 on a NBA game

Win $200 in free bets if any team hits a three pointer

21+. Terms & conditions apply.



Bet $5 & Win $150 If Your First Moneyline Bet Wins!

Sign up for a new account with DraftKings Sportsbook and make your first deposit

Bet $5+ on the pre-game Moneyline in any sport

Win $200 if your team wins

Offer valid for new players only. Must be 21 years or older to play. Reward paid in site credit. Full terms available at DraftKings Sportsbook.



Get 4x $200 In Free Bets

Sign up for a new PointsBet account

Bet up to $200 and If you lose, you get a refund

You will receive Free Bet(s) in the amount of the losing wager(s), up to $200 each for four days.

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.

Caesars Sportsbook


Get a $1,250 risk-free bet

Sign up for a new Caesars Sportsbook account

Place your first bet of $10 or more

If your first bet loses, you’ll receive a refund up to $1,250 from Caesars in free bets

21+. Terms and conditions apply.



Bet $10, Get $200 if Any NHL Team Scores A Goal

Sign up for a new betting account with BetMGM

Place a pre-game moneyline wager of at least $10 on a NHL game

Win $200 in free bets if any teams scores a goal

21+. Terms & conditions apply.



Get a $1,000 Risk Free Bet

Register for a new BetMGM & deposit

Place your first bet up to $1,000 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $1,000

21+. Terms & conditions apply.



Get 5x $100 in Free Bets for Steelers vs. Colts!

Sign up for a new PointsBet account

Make a bet of up to $100 and receive a refund if you lose

Get this offer once a day for the first 5 days you sign up

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.



Get a $1,000 Deposit Bonus

Register for a new DraftKings Sportsbook account & deposit

DraftKings will match 20% of your deposit up to $1,000 total

To get a $100 bonus, deposit $500

21+. Terms & conditions apply.



Get $2,000 in Free Bets

Register for a new PointsBet account & deposit

Receive a free bet refund up to $500 if your first fixed odds bet loses

& a free bet refund up to $1,500 if your first two PointsBetting Wager loses

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.

Monkey Knife Fight


Claim Instant Deposit Match up to $100 + Free $5 game

Register for a Monkey Knife Fight account & deposit using promo code PICKSWISE100

Monkey Knife Fight will match your first deposit up to $100

Deposit $100 and you'll get $100 bonus + a free $5 game

18+. Terms and conditions apply. You must live in one of the states where real money DFS is legal.



Get Your First Single-Horse Win Wager Back Up to $200 if you don't win

Register for a new TVG account and make a deposit

Place your first single horse win-type bet up to $200

If your horse doesn't win you'll get a refund up to $300

21+. T&C's apply. Please gamble responsibly.



Get a $200 Sign-Up Bonus with Twinspires Racebook!

Open your account using offer code BET200

$200 bonus cash will be credited in increments of $100 for every $400 wagered

To earn the full $200 bonus players must wager $800 within 30 days

21+. Terms and conditions apply.

Underdog Fantasy


First deposit is 100% matched up to $100 with Underdog Fantasy

Sign up for a new account with Underdog Fantasy

Make your first deposit

Every dollar (up to $100) will be matched! Deposit $25, get $50; deposit $100, get $200, etc

Must be 21+ to play. Terms & conditions apply