32 things we learned heading into the 2021 NFL regular season

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The 32 things we learned from the NFL's 2021 offseason:

1. These Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the first team in the salary cap era (since 1994) – and first since the 1977 Oakland Raiders – to return their entire Super Bowl lineup intact ... and that doesn't include WR Antonio Brown, TE O.J. Howard, rookie OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and RB Gio Bernard. The table couldn't be set any better for the Bucs to become the ninth team, and first since Tom Brady's New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004, to pull off the Lombardi Trophy repeat.

2. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs seek to become the fourth team to reach three consecutive Super Bowls – and a fourth straight AFC championship game berth (and likely a sixth AFC West title in a row) would be a prerequisite. Remember when Andy Reid didn't win enough games in Philadelphia?

3. A 17-game season. We'll withhold judgment – for now – as to when the NFL is giving us too much of a good thing. I just know a 10-7 record is always going to look weird.

3a. That extra game could mean the first 2,000-yard receiver, or even the fall of Eric Dickerson's decades-old rushing record.

4. Also gonna take a while to get used to skill players wearing single-digit jersey numbers – and I'll say it now, equipment managers need to be more discerning about who gets them. Good to see Leonard Fournette back in No. 7 and Jaylon Smith in No. 9 on Thursday night ... though Dallas WR Cedrick Wilson Jr. in No. 1 and S Donovan Wilson in No. 6? C'mon, Cowboys.

5. Are the Cleveland Browns, one of four NFL teams to never reach the Super Bowl, finally going to play on Super Sunday next February in LA? No team got more votes among AFC teams from our panel of experts.

6. Turnovers are bad, but some regular turnover can be refreshing. Since the start of the 1990 season, at least four new teams have reached the playoffs every year – and that number is likely to expand now that we have a 14-team field.

7. Never miss a press conference from new Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell, an admitted (bleep) with an appetite for opponents' kneecaps.

8. No, Mac Jones won't be the first rookie quarterback to start for Bill Belichick in New England. How quickly we forget Jacoby Brissett ...

9. Congratulations to Steelers OLB T.J. Watt striking a financial blow for guys who don't throw the football. Watt agreed to a new contract Thursday that will average better than $28 million over four seasons, making him the highest-paid defender, on an average annual basis, in league history. He also becomes the best-compensated non-QB in the league, his new NFL tax bracket putting him on par with second-tier passers like Ryan Tannehill, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr.

10. Baltimore's Lamar Jackson may have to become the first quarterback to rush for 1,500 yards in a season to offset the output lost by the Ravens' ransacked running back room, which lost its top three rushers to season-ending injuries over a two-week period.

11. The Ravens have a league-high dozen games this season against opponents who finished .500 or better in 2020, so they've got quite the deck stacked against them.

12. Will this season be the first when Seahawks QB Russell Wilson earns an MVP vote ... or merely be his final year in Seattle?

13. If quarterbacking musical chairs, which seem to shift increasingly often year over year, really get out of control in 2022, let's hope former Wisconsin Badger Wilson winds up in Green Bay with West Coast native Aaron Rodgers in Seattle. That should tell us a lot about both star QBs.

13a. And any chance Rodgers and contract-year WR Davante Adams, also of the Packers, become perhaps the most compelling free agent duo in NFL history in just a few months given how much they enjoy playing together?

14. Super Bowl 56 will be played in LA's SoFi Stadium, the seventh time in the past 12 years the game will be staged in a new venue.

15. The Rams would certainly like to join the 2020 Bucs as the only teams to win a Super Bowl in their own stadium, and the addition of Stafford should make that a distinct possibility.

15a. The Chargers. Right, the Chargers would also like to win the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium.

16. Can you name the New York Jets' backup quarterback? How about Mike White, a fourth-year player who has exactly the same number of regular-season passes as rookie starter Zach Wilson – which is to say zero. Pretty odd the Jets didn't pursue a seasoned vet like 2020 QB2 Joe Flacco or at least someone familiar with coordinator Mike LaFleur's offense – Nick Mullens? – to help their latest face of the franchise through his inevitable growing pains.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass against then Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass against then Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.

17. We'll need to keep an eye on that revamped Kansas City offensive line, which exposed QB Patrick Mahomes to constant danger in their Super Bowl 55 blowout loss. C Creed Humphrey and RG Trey Smith are both rookies, and new RT Lucas Niang might as well be after opting out of his rookie season last year. Big test Sunday with Browns DEs Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney coming to town.

18. NFL teams are estimated to travel a collective 558,287 miles during the regular season. The 49ers will collect the most frequent-flyer miles (28,260) – the earth's circumference is roughly 25,000 miles – and the Bengals will earn the fewest (9,462).

COVID-19. The NFL had a 93.5% vaccination rate at last count. But expect the virus to continue to wreak havoc – especially with the league drawing brighter lines about what kind of circumstances will lead to the schedule tinkering that became commonplace last year ... and those, like an outbreak caused by unvaccinated players, that could lead to forfeits and missed game checks. And given simply the number of QB1s who have avoided vaccination – Kirk Cousins, Lamar Jackson and Carson Wentz among them – significant disruptions seem inevitable.

20. Has there ever been a more uncomfortable situation than the one playing out between QB Deshaun Watson and the Texans? His personal circumstances are beyond concerning, yet has a superstar – one who hasn't been suspended by the NFL or his team – ever been paid so well not to play, presumably waiting to be liberated via trade once Houston gets the right offer? So unprecedented. So weird. So sad.

21. Wilson, Jones, Steelers RB Najee Harris, Jags QB Trevor Lawrence, Bears QB Justin Fields, Broncos RB Javonte Williams, Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase (assuming he cures his recent case of the dropsies), Falcons TE Kyle Pitts ... 2021 should provide the most compelling race for offensive rookie of the year honors in recent memory.

21a. It could also be fascinating to see how many teams – Falcons? Panthers? Broncos? Washington? 49ers (maybe?) – will rue the fact they didn't go all in for Fields on draft night.

22. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey, 49ers DE Nick Bosa, Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr., Chargers S Derwin James, Broncos OLB Von Miller, Saints QB Jameis Winston, Giants RB Saquon Barkley, maybe even Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo ... 2021 should provide the most compelling race for comeback player of the year honors in recent memory. (And, for the record, it should now be called the Alex Smith Award.)

23. Third-string Cowboys QB Will Grier once threw for 837 yards in a North Carolina high school game. Maybe he should start in Week 2, no matter how good Prescott was Thursday.

24. Will Brady's visit to Gillette Stadium in Week 4 as a member of the champion Buccaneers constitute the most memorable (and hyped) regular-season game in NFL history?

25. If TB12 vanquishes Bill Belichick and the Patriots, he'll join Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to beat all 32 NFL teams.

26. Joining forces with the reigning NFC East champion Washington Football Team, is this finally the year QB Ryan Fitzpatrick appears in the playoffs? Nah ...

27. Will there be a more compelling team than the Saints, currently without a home as New Orleans recovers from Hurricane Ida – and 16 years after Katrina forced the Saints to desert the city? You can be sure Sean Payton will navigate this temporary setback better than the 2005 team dealt with its unfortunate hand. On the field, Winston's bid to become a bona fide starting QB again could be fun to watch after his 2020 gap year.

28. The NFC West gets a lot of votes as the league's toughest division, but the AFC West could be just as good. And given the recent rash of injuries in Baltimore, don't be the least bit surprised if two AFC West clubs (Chargers? Broncos?) snatch wild-card berths even if they're not quite in the Chiefs' stratum.

29. Urban Meyer's initial NFL offseason was pretty shaky – despite the fact the new Jaguars coach was gifted the Lawrence selection and bushels of salary cap space. Has he flattened his rookie learning curve, or are he and Lawrence going to feel the weight of crushing expectations ... even though a 6-11 campaign would mark a massive improvement in Jacksonville?

30. Brady is within 1,000 passing yards of overtaking retired Brees (80,358) as the NFL's all-time leader.

31. But did you know Brady can also erase one of Favre's infamous standards? TB12 wasn't sacked Thursday, but once he gets bagged five more times, he'll overtake Favre's all-time record (525).

31a. That said, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (sacked 516 times) could "break" Favre's mark first, especially given the state of Pittsburgh's offensive line.

32. According to the NFL, now entering its 102nd season, this year will mark the 115th anniversary of the forward pass. Per the league, "the first authenticated pass completion in a professional game occurred when quarterback George 'Peggy' Parratt of the Massillon Tigers completed a pass to end Dan 'Bullet' Riley in a victory over a combined Benwood-Moundsville, West Virginia team in a 61-0 decision." Thought you should know.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 32 things we learned heading into 2021 NFL regular season