Ben Cooper | Sports Editor
September 12, 2021
The NFL season is upon us, and it is bound to be a great one. Kicking off on Thursday, the defending champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defeated the Dallas Cowboys in a shootout. It was a thrilling battle, the Bucs emerging on top with a game-winning field goal with two seconds on the clock.
Tom Brady proved that he is still an elite player, and his Bucs are ready to defend their Super Bowl title. With top players on both sides of the ball, it is difficult to match up against their star-studded lineup.
While the Buccaneers should perform well, there are many other story lines to follow this season. After an offseason filled with drama, superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers has returned to the Green Bay Packers for at least one more season. Coming off his 3rd MVP award, his Packers should be a contender once again, one of the greatest threats to the Bucs on their road to repeat championships.
A sleeper team in the NFC this season is the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams’ defense ranked first in the league last season, and their offense is primed to improve. They made a blockbuster deal in the offseason when the team acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford in return for their disappointing first overall draft pick, Jared Goff. Stafford, an established talent who put up great numbers on a consistently under-performing team. Stafford will get a chance to shine in the spotlight of Los Angeles.
“With the addition of Matthew Stafford, the Rams have a great shot at making the Super Bowl,” San Clemente High School senior Trevor Pham said. “If they can make the Super Bowl with Jared Goff, they should be able to win it with Stafford.” The Stafford-led Rams look like a tough out for other contenders.
In the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs remain atop the rankings. They are led by superstar Patrick Mahomes, a dynamic star since ever since his debut. Although the Chiefs lost to the Bucs in the Super Bowl last season, they are favored to win it this year. The Chiefs are loaded with stars on offense, propelling them deep into the playoffs. Look for the Chiefs to have another phenomenal season and compete for another title.
The Buffalo Bills are the biggest threat to the Chiefs in the AFC. They are coming off of a 13-3 season in which they lost to the Chiefs in the AFC Conference Championship game. Franchise quarterback Josh Allen had a breakout season, establishing himself as one of the top passers in the sport and leading the Bills to their recent success. Stefon Diggs was Allen’s go-to target, ending the season as the league leader in receiving yards. The Bills made a few minor upgrades to their team in the offseason, which could help them dethrone the Chiefs.
An underrated contender in the AFC is the Baltimore Ravens. They have gone under the radar after back-to-back playoff runs were heartrendingly cut short. Dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson is a dual-threat star that is hard for any defense to stop, however, the Ravens have been hit by the injury bug and are without their top three running backs. While the Ravens have had some bad luck as of late, they still have a strong defense. Jackson could carry the offensive load and help the Ravens compete for a deep playoff run.
The aforementioned teams are the leading Super Bowl contenders, but fans have much more to get excited about. “I’m looking forward to watching my Lions get destroyed every week,” senior A.J. Nestor said. Even when fans’ teams are already heading downhill, they can’t help but cheer them on.
An interesting story line to follow is Los Angeles Chargers sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert’s progression. He is following a record-breaking rookie campaign and is a dark horse for the MVP award. Similarly, another interesting sub-story is how quarterback Mac Jones will fare with the New England Patriots in his rookie season.
Returning from the pandemic with a bang, this season is bound to be phenomenal.