This past NFL offseason had its fair share of drama; whether it was long time Colt Peyton Manning changing teams, the New Orleans Saints and "Bounty Gate", or a certain networks' uncomfortable amount of media coverage of the New York Jets and Tim Tebow. All of that aside, it is finally time to put the pads on and decide things on the field. There are 32 teams all with Super Bowl aspirations, but only a select few will have the opportunity to compete for the illustrious Lombardi Trophy. There is no sure way to predict who will be champion; but, every year there are obvious contenders and mysterious sleeper teams that come from seemingly nowhere to contend with the upper echelon teams of the National Football League. The beginning of the football season means that every team has zero loses and all are in first place, and with that thought in mind anything is possible from your respective favorite team this season.
There are so many questions that will begin to be answered starting this Sunday. For starters, how will the Saints respond to an offseason that was marked by the suspension of their Head Coach, General Manager, and Linebackers Coach. There were also four players suspended as well without pay for allegedly participating in a bounty program that paid Saints players for injuring other players on the opposing team. These four players, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove recently took legal action against the NFL and won in the court room getting their suspensions temporarily voided. This is significant because the NFL mandates that any player on an NFL roster on opening day gets their contract guaranteed for the entire season. All of these players' contracts will be paid in full this season even if a higher court goes against the recent decision to void their suspensions. The legal outcome of "Bounty Gate" may help Free Agent Anthony Hargrove gain attention from NFL teams that were previously scared off by his impending eight-game suspension that is now temporarily voided. Jonathan Vilma, the most ecstatic player to hear the news of the voided suspensions was also the player facing the most severe punishment getting suspended for 16 games, while Will Smith faced a 4 game suspension and Fujita 3 games who is now a member of the Cleveland Browns. Although the Saints now have 2 of their core players returning to the team it is still unimaginable that a team that finished 13-3 the previous season will be able to match that performance without the guidance of their Head Coach Sean Peyton who was also suspended for the entire 16 game regular season for his role in "Bounty Gate". With all the chaos surrounding the Saints they still have a solid foundation that starts with quarterback Drew Brees. Brees, who passed for a record breaking 5,476 yards last year will have to match or surpass his previous success in order for the Saints to get back to the playoffs this season. If anyone is capable of meeting this challenge it is Drew Brees.
Of course the Saints are not the only contenders to win the championship this season, with teams like the 49ers, Ravens, and Patriots in the mix. Tom Brady and head Coach Bill Belichick will have their team poised to make another deep playoff run this season. What about the other teams you may ask? What about the teams that most may not see as being contenders? Every season there's a team in the NFL that takes us all by surprise by being better than we had previously expected them to be. Last season it was the Detroit Lions led by wide receiver Calvin "Megatron" Johnson that shocked all by going 10-6 and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
There are many teams that may be ready to take the next step towards the Super Bowl this year. One of those teams to make the leap into the playoffs this year may be the Carolina Panthers. Just ask Panthers Pro bowl center Ryan Kalil if you don't believe me. Earlier this summer Kalil placed an ad in a local Carolina newspaper declaring to the world that the Panthers will not only make the playoffs, but they will win the Superbowl this season. There is a chance the Panthers could vastly improve upon their 6-10 record of last season. Much of the Panthers success or failure depends on the performance of second year quarterback Cam Newton. Newton had a breakout rookie season passing for 4051 yards and 21 passing touchdowns both rookie records, but he will be fighting against the sophomore slump in a division with the Saints, Falcons, and Buccaneers, all teams aiming for the playoffs this season.
As stated before, there is no sure way to predict which two teams will still be standing at the end of the season battling to see who is best but one can guess based off stats, what will be seen on the field.
This season will be filled with drama, story lines, and best of all, football. Let the games begin!