The NFL season kicks off on Thursday, September 4, when the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks play host to the Green Bay Packers. Below are five reasons the NFL season can’t come fast enough for fan’s of America’s favorite sport:
5 – Focus (hopefully) returns to the field
The offseason provided plenty of headaches for commissioner Roger Goodell, and at no time since instituting his conduct policy have NFL players misbehaved so publicly. Suspensions have been handed down to such notables as Aldon Smith and Josh Gordon for violations of the NFL’s drug policies, and just weeks ago the Pittsburgh Steelers top two running backs were cited for possession of marijuana.
Maybe the biggest headache for Goodell has been the domestic violence charges against Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who received a relatively benign two-game suspension. Goodell and the NFL have received a lot of critical backlash from the public and media over the lenient penalty for a violent act as compared to drug use. And, lastly, the concussion issue has only gotten more and more public.
4 – Rivalries make must-see TV
When last we left the NFL, spirited new rivalries were igniting throughout the league. In the west, the Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers are two of the best teams in the league, and if fans weren’t already rubbing their hands together in anticipation of two late season divisional showdowns, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s post NFC title game rant against Michael Crabtree brought it to a new level.
The NFL’s emphasis on parity and late-season divisional matchups has created must-see matchup, from traditional foes like the Packers and Chicago Bears and the Falcons and Saints, to newer, but just as fierce rivals like the Cincinnati Bengals and the Ravens. With more prime-time telecasts and big games every week, the water cooler talk around the office is going to be NFL-centered.
3 – Rookies making waves
Every season sees the influx of new players into the league, and 2014 sees the entrance of Johnny Manziel, perhaps the single-most hyped player ever. Johnny Football will start the season in a ball cap, holding a clipboard, as a backup to Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Brian Hoyer, but there is little doubt that he will see action soon. When he does play, you will see enough conversation and network over-analysis to make you pine for the good old days when every TV story was about Tim Tebow.
Another rookie that will make news less for his play than who he is will be linebacker Michael Sam, looking to be the first openly gay player in the league. Sam was waived by the Rams on Sunday, but he has the talent and potential to land a practice squad spot, if not a roster spot, with most teams.
Other rookies will make their impact on the field, and that list includes Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, New Orleans Saints receiver Brandin Cooks, and Philadelphia Eagles wideout Jordan Matthews. And, of course, half the fun of the early part of the season is watching less-heralded rookies emerging as franchise cornerstones.
2 – Comebacks
Americans love a comeback story, and perhaps no other sport tells a comeback story better than football, as injuries regularly rob games and seasons from star players. Washington Redskin quarterback Robert Griffin III didn’t miss last season, but his performance suggested maybe he should have.
Other players returning from injuries or sub-par years include tight end Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots), receiver Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons), defensive end DeMarcus Ware (Denver Broncos), receiver Jeremy Macklin (Eagles) and receiver Percy Harvin (Seahawks). The comeback players with the best performances will have huge impacts not only on their teams, but on the playoff picture as well.
1 – After a summer of World Cup, we’ll go from futbol to football
The World Cup captivated the world’s attention, and it was great fun and all, but c’mon, you have to admit you’re looking forward to watching a brand of football where “dives,” embellishments, and constant whining for penalties to be called aren’t a celebrated art form.
Photo Credit: Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group
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