The NFL season kicks off on Thursday Night Football tomorrow night as the Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos take on a Carolina Panthers squad helmed by Cam Newton.  

CBS Sports analyst Bill Cowher is one of the greatest football minds of all-time. So, when TSL was in the building at a recent CBS affair, it was only apropos that Cowher and I exchange thoughts on the upcoming season.

After an offseason filled with discussion of everything but football, Cowher seemed relieved (or surprised) when I  asked his thoughts on football simply for the sake of football. 

"I'll just go down to Dallas with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott," said Cowher. "Prescott (will) be asked to play a lot sooner than they thought he would at first, but I think Ezekiel Elliott has been very, very impressive.  Those two come to mind.  You look at the young quarterbacks and the position they're in. Ideally, you're not going to want them to play right away.  particularly, Jared Goff they got there in Los Angeles." 

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(Photo Credit: CBS Sports)

When Cowher was going to Super Bowls as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and winning one, his teams were well-balanced on both sides of the ball.  I asked his thoughts on the anatomy of a dominating defense, using prior defensive juggernauts as the litmus test. 

"There's a lot of ways to make it in the NFL," he said. "You look at Pittsburgh from last year and they're ranked 19th or 20th in defense, but you look at their takeaways they were ranked fourth in the National Football League. It's like I always used to say as a coach and as a coordinator, there's three things that you want to do defensively. Number one is take the football away. That eliminates field position and gives opportunities to your offense.  Second is eliminate big plays. If they're moving the ball methodically, they're making big plays along the way.  And the third thing you want to do is keep them from scoring.  So that's your red zone defense, holding teams to field goals. There's so many different ways to measure, but I think you look at takeaways, situational football, third down, red zone." 

 "I look at Carolina, they're starting two rookies at corner right now, but they're going to get better as the season goes on," Cowher continued. "Denver is still built off that element of a running game and they have two great pass rushers.  I think pass rushing in today's game is premium. Because of that Green Bay is going to be good again with Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews coming off the edge.  I think Seattle is going to get a lot of takeaways.  Seattle is always going to be good in terms of defense, Arizona has the number one pass rusher in Chandler Jones.  They're going to be tough." 

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(Photo Credit: CBS Sports)

The National Football League is so great because it really is true what they say about any team beating another on 'any given Sunday', but Oakland Raiders fans are looking for just a bit of consistency from this year's team.  

"I think they're really close," Cowher said of the Raiders. "Derek Carr is going into his third year, he's really developed, they've put some weapons around him.  Amari Cooper proved that he was a big- time threat as a receiver, they've invested in their offensive line, Latavius Murray is a good back. Defensively, Khalil Mack is one of the best young pass rushers in the National Football League. The biggest thing they have to do is learn how to finish games.  Their challenge is going to be able win in their division.  If you wanna make the playoffs, start by winning your division.  I think they have the talent to be there, they're young, but the next step is to win those games against Denver, win those games against the Kansas City Chiefs, and that's how they get over the hump." 

Bill Cowher will team with James Brown, Deion Sanders, Tony Gonzalez, Boomer Esiason, Jim Rome and Bart Scott this year as part of the critically acclaimed NFL Today on CBS.