The new National Football League season begins Thursday with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys. Here are five big questions as another year of pro football kicks off.
Following one of the most electrifying Super Bowl runs in recent history two years ago, many thought the Chiefs were likely to repeat in the 2020-21 season. Patrick Mahomes completed more than 2,500 yards of passing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, and they only lost two regular season games all year. One of those two came in the final week of the regular season when the Chiefs sat their starters. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense and Tom Brady cracked the favorites in the Super Bowl, earning Brady’s seventh ring. This year, the Chiefs were pretty quiet in the offseason and did not have a first round draft pick. They selected linebacker Nick Bolton with their first pick and signed a few offensive lineman, including Kyle Long, as part of their rebuilt offensive line. But any team with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback can score with anybody and they should be the early favorites for a second title in three years.
If you didn’t know by now, the NFL added a 17th regular season game and dropped a preseason exhibition this year. The move will generate more revenue for the league, but it’s fair to wonder if it will impact how teams utilize their star players down the stretch. Will division leaders rest their players for more than one week at the end of the regular season? It’s likely teams will calculate the risk of injuries into their game plan with this added game.
It’s hard to calculate the extent to which injuries increased last year, but there’s no denying that the loss of a preseason combined with a COVID-19-impacted year led to an increase in injuries among star players. Early on, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Panthers running back Christian McCaffery, Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow were among star players that were lost for most of or all of the season. It’s unclear if Prescott will be fully healthy after an ankle injury knocked him out for the majority of last year and we may now have a full year to see Burrow’s No. 1 pick potential. Although injuries are an inevitable piece of the sport, the losses seemed greater last year. Now, we’ll get to see most of these stars in action again.
For the last two seasons, the Titans have been a darkhorse to make a run out of the AFC. Derrick Henry has worn down defenses throughout the playoffs and they led by double digits in the conference championship game two years ago. This year, they added future NFL Hall of Famer Julio Jones to their already deep receiving core. Although they are not currently a likely favorite, if Jones and Henry perform like they have in the past, they will be a tough out in the playoffs.
After an offseason of confusion, anger or whatever else you want to call it, Aaron Rodgers will be a Green Bay Packer. For now, at least. The star quarterback posted a “Last Dance” themed Instagram story along with wide receiver Davante Adams, signaling that this could be his final year with the team. Nonetheless, the Packers have similar talent to the team that has made the conference championship in each of the last two seasons. When tackle David Bakhtiari returns later this season, the Packers full potential will be on display. Will Rodgers’ tenure in Green Bay end with just one ring or does he have a magical season left in him?
CN+R Intern Max Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Maxbaker_15.