ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Last night, the National Football League kicked off its new season with a blowout for the record books. The Denver Broncos routed the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The game comes just a week after the NFL agreed to spend about a billion dollars to settle brain injury claims with thousands of former players. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays. Hi, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: Let's start with last night's game. The Broncos beat the Ravens 49 to 27. And Denver's quarterback Peyton Manning had a record-setting night. Tell us about it.
FATSIS: Yeah, he threw seven touchdown passes, which no one had done since 1969. Only five other quarterbacks have done it in NFL history. It was a weird game. It was supposed to be in Baltimore but baseball's Orioles refused to move the start time. It started late because of lightning nearby and it included a Denver linebacker returning an interception for an apparent touchdown but dropping the ball at the one-yard line because of a premature celebration. Oops.
SIEGEL: Yeah, now the other 30 teams in the NFL begin their seasons on Sunday and Monday. Tell us about the big on-field stories to watch.
FATSIS: Let's start here in Washington with the second coming of Robert Griffin III, which has gotten more coverage I think than the president Syria talks with congress. The second-year quarterback is returning from reconstructive surgery on his right knee. He didn't play in the preseason but he'll start on Monday night. What to watch, how much he runs with the ball or is instructed to run, and whether he drops the foolish bravado that he's used to keep playing through injuries, and whether coaches and doctors on the Redskins will be better caretakers of the young player's health.
SIEGEL: Well, a handful of young quarterbacks, including Griffin, electrified the league last season. They're now a year older and presumably a year better. Which ones will you be watching?
FATSIS: Oh, tall and fast Colin Kaepernick. He took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. Shorter and fast Russell Wilson has made the Seattle Seahawks a darling pick to replace the 49ers in the Super Bowl. One of them could face one of the old guys on the league. Manning is 37. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is 36. Regardless of age, though, they're all reflective of the modern NFL, fast plays, fewer huddles, lots of passing.
In a stat noted by Peter King of Sports Illustrated, Denver and Baltimore combined for 155 plays last night. Last year's average was a record 128.
SIEGEL: Stefan, NFL executives must be relieved that the season is starting after an off season that was dominated by the concussion litigation and settlement. Do you think the settlement will shift the conversation?
FATSIS: Well, that's what the NFL hopes, certainly. The league is spending close to a billion dollars including legal fees. It's compensating retired players. It's funding some research. It's changing rules. Let's get back to the games. But the injuries are not going to stop. Current players are not going to not develop cognitive problems. The way any sentient fan watches this game has been forever changed.
There are going to be more cases. There are 4,000 or so worker's comp claims from retired players pending in California that the NFL is trying to thwart. There will be more disclosures about the effects of football on the brain. And despite avoiding a trial and an admission of culpability, there are going to be more damaging disclosures about what the NFL knew about brain injuries and football and when it knew it.
SIEGEL: You say the way fans watch the game has been changed. Has the NFL itself been changed by this litigation?
FATSIS: So, as a business, The Wall Street Journal just reported that NFL revenue is projected to hit $10 billion this year for the first time. When that starts to decline, I think we can talk about the NFL's rein as the king of American sports beginning to decline.
SIEGEL: Okay. Enjoy the weekend.
FATSIS: You too, Robert.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis is the author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL." He joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.