After a long offseason of controversy characterized by concerns about concussions, strategic deflation and the legal authority of its embattled Commissioner Roger Goodell, the National Football League season finally began this Thursday with a matchup between the Pittsburg Steelers and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
The Patriots are among the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year along with the Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers. Each of these teams, however, have serious obstacles to overcome on their way to the title. The Green Bay Packers lost their top receiver, Jordy Nelson, in a preseason game which will force Aaron Rodgers to rely on other players like Randall Cobb and Davante Adams to maintain the Packers’ high-powered offense. The Seahawks may have to deal with roster holes on the other side of the ball as cornerback Byron Maxwell signed a massive contract to play for the Philadelphia Eagles while star safety Kam Chancellor continues his hold out in a bid to land a massive new contract elsewhere.
“[Chancellor] really is the heart of the defense,” said Professor Patrick Inglis, Sociology. “What the [Seahawks] could do is frontload some of the money they give him and leave the contract as is, but that only invites another hold out in a year or two.”
The Seahawks will also have to deal with their heartbreaking Super Bowl loss last year. But according to Inglis, this should not hurt Seattle’s chances this year.
“[Head coach] Pete Carroll’s attitude is infectious and I think they’re going to be fine,” Inglis said. “I think we could see a Seattle-New England rematch and if the Seahawks and the Patriots play again, you can put me down – the Seahawks will win by two or three touchdowns.”
Another team in contention this year is the Colts who have raised expectations for their season with the signings of talented veterans Frank Gore and Andre Johnson but must navigate around their lack of depth, particularly on defense. The Pittsburgh Steelers are also in the conversation. After a few seasons of .500 play, they are finally looking to break out on the backs of talented offensive players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Professor Monty Roper, Anthropology, drew a comparison between the Iowa Hawkeyes football team and the Steelers.
“The Hawkeyes are actually modeled on the Steelers,” Roper said. “Their uniforms are modeled on the Steelers, their approach is modeled on the Steelers where you build a strong linebacking core … and hope the other team can’t score more than 10 points.”
Super Bowl favorites make up only a small proportion of NFL teams and others have potential to seriously improve or decline their performances from previous years. The New York Jets have made lots of headlines this offseason, replacing former head coach Rex Ryan with Todd Bowles and signing their former star cornerback Darrelle Revis from New England. No story made as much news as quarterback Geno Smith’s locker room altercation with a teammate that resulted in a broken jaw and his placement on the injured reserve. Jets fan Omri Benami ’16, however, is still optimistic at his team’s chances this year.
“The difference, I think, is top to bottom, [the Jets] are a lot more even,” Benami said. “[Bowles] is a good coach. He’s a defense first guy, and defense is our strength so we brought him in.”
Henry Cummings ’16, also a Jets fan, offers a more pessimistic perspective.
“I feel as bad as I always do. They’re probably the worst team in the division,” Cummings said. “They could go 8-8 maybe but [they’re] just not there yet”.
Although the story lines, successes and failures of this season are different than any other season, one constant remains: it’s a wide-open field and anybody’s Super Bowl to win (expect the Jaguars).