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NFL Week 1 Watch: Injury news, the Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota battle and games of the week

Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston after Oregon beat Florida State in the college football playoffs (Associated Press)

The Post kicks off each week of NFL action with Mark Maske’s detailed look key injuries, big games to watch and the top story lines of the weekend.

Focus: Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota

Jameis Winston said at the NFL scouting combine in February that it wasn’t about him vs. Marcus Mariota.

The NFL’s schedule-makers thought otherwise.

So the opening Sunday of the 2015 season includes the first-ever Week 1 matchup between rookie quarterbacks chosen first and second overall in the most recent NFL draft, as Mariota’s Tennessee Titans play in Tampa against Winston’s Buccaneers.

“It’s not about us,” Winston said at a news conference this week. “It’s about our teams. It’s the Bucs versus the Titans. I’d rather the headline be the score than something about individual players.”

Mariota expressed similar sentiments, saying at his weekly news conference: “It’s about the Tennessee Titans and that’s all that matters to me. People will obviously try to make debates and opinions about what’s going on. But I’m focused on what our team has to do and preparing for Sunday.”

That’s fine for them to say. But the truth is that these teams went a combined 4-28 last season and just about all they have going for them now is the hope that they have invested in their young, would-be franchise quarterbacks.

Their careers will be forever linked: Did the Buccaneers do the right thing by selecting Winston first overall? Did the Titans get lucky by having Mariota fall to them?

Nothing definitive will come out of Sunday’s matchup. But at least the earliest of early returns will be in from the first game that means something in their NFL careers.

“I’m not into no competition type of thing,” Winston said at the combine. “I’m out here to win games and be the face of someone’s franchise. This is not no competition just between me and Mariota because one thing about me, I plan on winning the Super Bowl the next year. So it’s gonna be Jameis versus Peyton Manning and Jameis versus Tom Brady. I want to be viewed like that. After all this combine stuff, you’re not gonna hear no more about Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. But I want my name to stay relevant for the next 15 to 20 years of my career.”

But before it possibly will be Winston vs. Brady or Winston vs. Manning, it will be Winston vs. Mariota, whether they’re willing to acknowledge it or not.

Winston and Mariota worked out together in San Diego during the pre-draft process and were complimentary of one another this week. But the early-season expectations for them are different.

Winston was regarded as the more NFL-ready quarterback coming out of college after playing in a pro-style offense at Florida State. He said his goal for Sunday is to be patient and make good decisions while in the pocket.

“I just want to take what they give me,” Winston said. “I don’t want to be too over-hyped. I want to… come ready to compete. I always think back to my first spring game at Florida State…. My first play was a touchdown. Obviously that would be awesome. But I’m just gonna take every play, play by play.”

Mariota has had the bigger adjustment to make. He said things have gone well, in his view, as he adapts to being in an NFL-style offense.

“I feel really comfortable under center,” said Mariota, last season’s Heisman Trophy winner at Oregon. “That’s stuff that I didn’t do in college. I really worked hard throughout the offseason and these coaches have really helped me. It’s come a long way. I do feel comfortable under there and I’m ready to go.”

But Mariota said he nevertheless feels like a rookie.

“I get reminded every day by the vets,” he said. “You don’t forget about that. But again, you’ve got to do your best to make the game simple. And if you prepare yourself, you’ll have that ability.”

Game of the Week

Ravens at Broncos, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

Both are among the candidates to be the top AFC challenger to the Patriots. One will emerge with the early lead for that distinction. The Ravens have a rugged early-season schedule with five road games in the first seven weeks, including visits to Pittsburgh and Arizona next month.

Top Games to Watch

Giants at Cowboys, 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC)

The season’s first Sunday night game matches NFC East rivals. The Cowboys must show they can overcome the offseason exit of RB DeMarco Murray and maintain last season’s division-winning level. The Giants will try to get by without their top defensive player, Jason Pierre-Paul, and will have to rely on what could be a very good offense.

Colts at Bills, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

The Rex Ryan era begins in Buffalo with the Bills hosting a remade Colts team that added veterans such as RB Frank Gore and WR Andre Johnson in a bid to get fourth-year QB Andrew Luck to his first Super Bowl.

Seahawks at Rams, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

The Rams begin what could be their final season in St. Louis. It will be interesting to see what the atmosphere is like. The Rams beat the Seahawks and Broncos last season at home. They are a dangerous team there and a big victory early on might signal this is the season that they could begin to deliver on their promise of recent years.

Saints at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m. ET (FOX)

Arizona has QB Carson Palmer back in its lineup. That could serve as both a “what could have been” look back at last season and a preview of what this season could bring. The Saints try to begin restoring the dignity of the NFC South.

Vikings at 49ers… Adrian Peterson makes his return for Minnesota and the 49ers begin life without Jim Harbaugh and so many others.

Games to Avoid

Panthers at Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

The Jaguars should be better as second-year QB Blake Bortles progresses. But that’s a pretty low bar. The Panthers might regress after losing Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury during training camp. And presumably the NFC South won’t have a sub-.500 champion for a second straight year.

Browns at Jets, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

The Jets actually are an interesting team after the offseason additions of Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Certainly it will be worth noting how Ryan Fitzpatrick fares as the starter at QB while Geno Smith heals from his broken jaw. But they’re not interesting enough to want to see them face Josh McCown.

Key Injuries

LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills (hamstring)… He has been practicing fully this week and is likely to play against the Colts. But it remains to be seen if he will be at anything resembling full speed.

Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers (hamstring)… His playing status is said to be a game-time decision Sunday. Winston’s debut probably will go far better if Evans is able to play and play effectively.

Randall Cobb, WR, Packers (shoulder)… He has vowed to play this weekend. And the Jordy Nelson-less Packers need him in the lineup. But would it be wise for the Packers to play him before the injury heals fully?

Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears (calf)… He has been limited in practices this week but the Bears are leaving open the possibility that he will play.

Victor Cruz, WR, Giants (calf)… Cruz has not practiced all week, seemingly making it unlikely that he will play Sunday night. But he has not been officially ruled out to this point.

Best Matchup

Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh vs. Redskins G Brandon Scherff

Suh makes his debut for the Dolphins after being one of the most intriguing free agents in league history. If he can elevate the level of Miami’s defense, the Dolphins perhaps can take the next step and be an AFC contender. He is likely to line up at times across from Scherff, the offensive lineman taken fifth overall in the NFL draft by the Redskins. Scherff began training camp at right tackle but was moved to guard, raising the issue of whether a guard is worth the draft’s No. 5 selection. The Redskins say they merely are looking for the best combination for their offensive line. They remain confident, they say, that Scherff will be a reliable player. He had his issues at times during the preseason, however, as when he was bulldozed by the Lions’ Tyrunn Walker.

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