Say, remember when we welcomed sports as a distraction from the real world? Those were the days, let me tell you.
Anyway, for those among us willing to ignore the league’s self-righteous woke stupidity, the NFL season starts tonight, with the Tom Brady-led defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing host to Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. The true fans will be at home decked out in their Ed Sheeran threads because … um, nothing says American football like an English pop singer, apparently.
Setting all the NFL’s self-inflicted silliness aside, the season begins with multiple on-field storylines, all of which can be erased with the sound of one ACL going south for the winter. It’s not a question as to whether multiple stars will have their season cut short by injury, but how many. Maybe the NFL should work a bit more on that angle of things than pretending to be social justice warriors playing to the approval of the staff at ESPN and no one else. But I digress; back to football.
Looking at things division by division, starting with the NFC West, we have a scenario in which every team has a legitimate claim to post-season consideration. The Arizona Cardinals are the long shot, but with the already dangerous and steadily improving Kyler Murray at quarterback and a defense that last year was average to above average, now bolstered by the presence of a rejuvenated JJ Watt, the Cardinals are legit. The Los Angeles Rams (YAY!!!) look to have taken a huge step forward on offense with Matthew Stafford now at quarterback, and the defense led by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey is the best in the league. The San Francisco 49ers have rookie “No, he’s a phenom, we say so!” Trey Lance waiting to take over at quarterback for Jimmy Garoppolo as soon as his usual season-ending injury transpires, both having George Kittle at tight end to receive throws and a presumably once again healthy Nick Bosa on defense to try and throw down the other team’s quarterback. The Seattle Seahawks are set for their usual good but not good enough season, with odds currently being taken on when quarterback Russell Wilson changes his motto from “Let Russ Cook” to “Let Russ Set up His Kitchen in a Different City and by the Way Has Anyone Noticed Pete Carroll Has Become the Joe Biden of NFL Head Coaches?”
The NFC South actually does have teams other than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers are in rebuild mode, while the New Orleans Saints are hoping Jameis Winston has learned from his time with Tampa Bay and is capable of replacing Drew Brees in both performance and maturity levels … plus hands the ball off to Alvin Kamara a lot. Side note: The Saints season home opener against the Packers this coming Sunday will be played in Jacksonville due to the mess New Orleans is presently following Hurricane Ida. But, since there’s a Democrat in the White House, the media hasn’t bothered reporting it. Anyway, back to football. The Buccaneers are seeking to defy Father Time by returning pretty much everyone and everything from the squad that won it all earlier this calendar year. As long as somewhere in a dusty, musty, long, and dark hall a painted portrait hangs with the name Dorian Gray scratched out and Tom Brady written over it, Tampa Bay has a legitimate shot at a repeat title.
The NFC North remains the Green Bay Packers’ playground as long as Aaron Rodgers feigns sufficient interest on game day, in-between studying the questions for his next hosting appearance on Jeopardy with more intent than the Packers playbook, to continue throwing the ball to Davante Adams. Neither the Chicago Bears nor the Detroit Lions nor the Minnesota Vikings look sufficient to challenge for a playoff spot, although the Chicago soap opera as to who should be the starting quarterback should prove entertaining.
The NFC East … um, yeah. Maybe this season, the division winner will actually finish above .500. Anyway, the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington
Redskins Football Team (PICK A NAME ALREADY!!!) look to be the best bets. The Cowboys can hopefully keep Prescott healthy all year, while Washington’s young and hungry defense is legit. It could well shake out that once again, the Cowboys and Redskins Football Team matchups will be the highlight of that week’s schedule. The less said about the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants the better.
Moving on to the AFC, starting with the West. There’s the Kansas City Chiefs, who based on their off-season moves have learned that even when you have an all-universe once in a generation talent like Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, you do need to provide him with sufficient amounts of that pass blocking stuff to allow his magic-working to transpire. The Los Angeles Squatters … er, Chargers (Go. Back. To. San. Diego. Where. Your. Fans. Are. And. Build. Your. Own. Flippin’. Stadium with a view of the beach to distract the other team) have a burgeoning star quarterback at Justin Herbert and some talent scattered throughout the roster, but it doesn’t figure to be sufficient to dethrone the Chiefs. The Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders … who knows?
The AFC South looks to be the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans (again). The Colts are hoping that Carson Wentz’s reunion with Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich will both rekindle the magic they enjoyed together in Philadelphia, and that Wentz will avoid his notorious fragility and actually play the entire season. With a defense led by superstud linebacker Darius Leonard, the Colts may well be visiting Los Angeles next February for the Super Bowl. The Titans have the überdifficult decision on offense whether to hand the ball to Derrick Henry or throw it to Julio Jones. The defense is a work in progress, though, so unless Tennessee plans on winning every game in arena football fashion its lack of balance will prove its undoing. As for the rest of the division, you have the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars. Um, yeah.
The AFC North is loaded with questions. Will the Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson finally move up to the next level of legitimate championship contender? Will the Cleveland Browns do the same? Can the Cincinnati Bengals keep Joe Burrow intact? Can the Pittsburgh Steelers eke one more successful season out of a badly aging Ben Roethlisberger? Stay tuned.
Finally, the AFC East. Other than the New York Jets, who figure to be better than last year (low bar, I know) but not sufficiently better to make a difference, this is an intriguing division. The Buffalo Bills, behind the newly extremely wealthy Josh Allen, look to be the best bet, but both the Miami Dolphins, assuming quarterback Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t implode, and the rebuilt New England Patriots look to provide strong opposition. The Patriots are starting rookie quarterback Mac Jones. Will he be the next Tom Brady?
And that, in a very large nutshell, is the NFL, 2021-2022 style.