Ryan Mayer

The first week of the NFL’s regular season is upon us,  as the defending-champion Philadelphia Eagles take on the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night followed by a full slate of games on Sunday. The weekend offers our first look at these teams’ starters in full-on game action, as the road to Super Bowl LIII begins. One team that’s received plenty of preseason hype as a potential sleeper contender is the Los Angeles Chargers. With quarterback Philip Rivers complemented by a defense featuring the dominant pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the Chargers have become the trendy pick in the AFC West.

They open the season against the reigning division champions, when the Kansas City Chiefs come to town. Andy Reid’s group has a new quarterback under center, and they drastically re-made their defense this offseason. Ian Eagle will be on the call for this game, which airs across the country on CBS at 4:05 p.m. Eastern time. We caught up with him last week at NFL on CBS media day to get his thoughts on the matchup.

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CBS Local Sports: Heading into this game and, really, this season, there’s a lot of buzz about the Chiefs because of new QB Patrick Mahomes. What do you expect from them this season as they get set to start a younger, less experienced QB after making the playoffs last season?

Ian Eagle: There’s a lot of curiosity now about the Chiefs because of Mahomes. The talent is evident, raw, but they believe that they’re going to be able to compete with anybody offensively. My questions with Kansas City have less to do with Mahomes and more to do with the defense and whether or not that group can be playoff-caliber like they were a year ago.

They lost some key pieces, and they lost a lot of their attitude as well. Of course, the focus will be on Mahomes, but under the radar, the defense is more the issue.

CBS Local Sports: Testing that defense will be Philip Rivers and company, who missed out on the playoffs last year largely because of their 0-4 start to the season. How do they avoid that this year?

Ian Eagle: They’re aware of it. They’re reminded of it on a daily basis. The interesting narrative for me is whether or not they can handle the expectations. Normally, they are not a team that gets a lot of preseason headlines, but they’re now the most stable team in the AFC West. Same head coach, same quarterback. They’re the only team in the division that can say that, so they’re entering the season in a little different position compared to previous years.

It’s a really talented group. Offensively, Rivers has so many weapons now that they’re going to be able to meet the high expectations put on them and finally break through to win the division.

CBS Local Sports: On a more league-wide scale, the biggest storyline during the preseason was the new rule on helmet hits and how it was being legislated. The league seems to still be feeling out the process. What do you think the impact of the rule will be this season?

Ian Eagle: Well, I’ve already seen in the preseason each week that there’s been a learning process from the players. You can’t reverse years and years of instincts in one fell swoop. But the seed has been planted, and these are smart players. Defensively, they have a job to do, and, ultimately, we’ll find that they’re able to do that job within the confines of the rules.

People are reluctant to change. Not just in football, but in life in general. So I understand that the initial response has been: ‘What are you doing?’ For the betterment of the game, this is a cultural decision that they made, and I’m all for it.

CBS Local Sports: You mention for the betterment of the game, that’s not the only rule change made with that intent this offseason. The league changed rules on kickoffs in several ways, what did you think about those changes?

Ian Eagle: Among the more under-recognized players in the NFL, because they don’t get a whole lot of attention, are those kamikaze-type players who are just looking to survive a roster year-in and year-out. Their mentality is an attack mentality, to make an explosive play so that the coaching staff recognizes them and they can get their paycheck and accrue years in the NFL. Because it’s not the offense or the defense, they’re not considered “sexy” plays and you have to be aware of the fact that it’s a highly violent part of the game.

I completely understand why the NFL is trying to curtail some of the injuries on that play and trying to limit the percentages. They made the right move. And, the players will adjust.

CBS Local Sports: Finally, it’s another year in the booth for you with CBS Sports, what are you most excited about for the upcoming season?

Ian Eagle: It’s my 21st year with CBS Sports, so that’s mind-boggling in and of itself. I still see myself as a young guy, and I’ve been doing it for so long. For me, it’s walking into that stadium for the first time every year. You know that there are going to be 70,000 people. There is going to be excitement. There are going to be noises that automatically put you in the moment. Being able to convey that emotion and energy and passion every week, it’s everything that I dreamed of, truly, as a seven-year-old or eight-year-old, when I knew I wanted to do this. To say that I am doing this all these years later, it’s beyond what I even dreamed of.