NFL is Back !
After the usual close season of controversy, arrests, draft picks and player movements we can finally welcome back the National Football League.
It all kicks off on Thursday evening with reigning champions the New England Patriots taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
How is that for an opener? Pretty decent I have to say and that is coming from a Cowboys fan.
This season has been as eagerly anticipated as ever and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be breathing a sigh of relief for challenging his ban for his part in ‘deflategate‘ and succeeding.
The less we say about the claims and counter claims in the aftermath of Superbowl last season the better. It left a real sour taste in the mouth after an excellent end to the season. It is still hard to forget how the defending champions failed to run the ball with the final play of the game with one of the best running backs in the sport in their offence.
That is history and every one of the thirty-two teams start with a clean slate. Some will be fancied, others will cause an upset and there is always one team that does better than anyone expects and it is difficult to predict who that may be.
This season is special as it will end with Superbowl 50 hosted by the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, the Levi’s Stadium, also known as ‘The Field Of Jeans‘. No, the pitch is not made of denim but it is actually located further away from the home city than any other franchise in the league. Opened in July 2014, it holds 68,500 and cost an estimated $1.3 million to construct. Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that it is an important season for the league and the final game will be spectacular.
So which two teams complete in Superbowl 50 and be in with a real shot at taking the famous Vince Lombardi Trophy? Here is my look at some of the fancied, and unfancied teams.
Favourites – Seattle Seahawks (9/2)
Any team that has experience in winning a title is going to go close especially when they have Russell Wilson under centre. He was just what the Seahawks needed when he was drafted in 2012 and they really have not looked back since. However, there are signs that this could be the last shot for the current crop of players and who could argue when you consider the additional impact of a running back that guzzles Skittles.
Challengers – Green Bay Packers (11/2), New England Patriots (15/2)
The Patriots are the reigning champions and the pantomime villain of the NFL and I can vouch for that being a Cowboys fan. Everyone loves to hate the Patriots lately and Brady avoiding a ban will not help matters. Regardless, the franchise will care little and carry on regardless. As for the Packers, they could have gone all the way last year with a fully fit Aaron Rogers which just goes to show what can happen. They looked unstoppable at one point so they will be keen to avoid such a fate again. The news that wide receiver Jordy Nelson is out injured is not the best start.
Outside Chance – Indianpolis Colts (9/1), Denver Broncos (11/1), Philadelphia Eagles (13/1)
Andrew Luck has plenty of fans and not just around the Colts home city. He is proving to be an excellent acquisition for a franchise that was reeling from the loss of their former talisman Payton Manning. They have added well to their roster especially with Andre Johnson at wide receiver giving Luck what could be a valuable offensive weapon. The Broncos have been a different team since Manning joined them but this is expected to be his final season to what has been a fantastic career in the game. It remains to be seen if he still has one last season in him. As a Cowboys fan, all I will say about Philadelphia is any team with a running back of the calibre of DeMarco Murray can make a run to the post season, that is if he stays injury free.
Former Winners – Pittsburgh Steelers (25/1), Dallas Cowboys (20/1), San Francisco 49ers (40/1)
The Steelers lead the way with six title wins, the last back in 2010 but they have not come close since. Roethlisberger found the form of his life last season but the defence let them down. They have an outside chance now that they have addressed some of those problems but the proof will only be on the pitch. Meanwhile, the Cowboys lost a star running back and have not won a title since 1995 which was their fifth. In saying that, their reliance on one player has been addressed by looking to spread the load and have strengthened in other areas. Some say last season was their best shot in a long while, others suggest they could be a real dark horse this season. Another five time winner, the Niners, have seen their stock drop dramatically since their Superbowl appearance in 2012. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still a real weapon but he cannot do it alone and perhaps his own running game will have to suffer in an effort to take some of the load off.
Longest Odds – Oakland Raiders (150/1), Tennessee Titans (150/1)
The Raider Nation will see an improvement this season which is much of what the experts have suggested. Quarterback Derek Carr has struggled to get his teammates on the same page but still managed some decent statistics in trying to do so. More of the same sensible additions ahead of the 2016 season could put the franchise back on the fringes of a post season appearance. As for the Titans, there is no doubting that they will do their homework and will not be lacking in effort but talent goes a long way in this game and it is an area that they are lacking so a team still in real transition.
Whoever it is, I will be here on Stalksport with a weekly update to round up the latest action to see how the teams are faring. From the early form teams to those that are looking to be a surprise package. Follow me on Twitter and interact throughout the season as will be sending more than the odd tweet during the games.