The 102nd season of the NFL is officially underway and expectations are high for both the league and its teams as fans are now back in stands and in unprecedented fashion.
After a rollercoaster season in 2020, which consisted of postponed games and an uncommon amount of players who opted out, the NFL season officially opened on Sept. 9.
It was kicked off with the Super Bowl LV (55) champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced off against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys in his return to the game after suffering a severe ankle injury in Week 5 of the 2020 season.
The 2021 NFL season sees the debut of one of the most highly precedented rookie classes in league history, headlined by #1 overall pick Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who was selected in April 2021 by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Other notable names who were taken in this year’s draft include #2 pick BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, who was named starting quarterback of the New York Jets, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who was reunited with old LSU teammate Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, and Alabama’s Mac Jones who replaced Cam Newton as the starting quarterback of the Patriots.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons also rounded out the 2021 class of first-round draft picks.
For most teams in the league, the most recent off-season proved to be relatively quiet.
In March, the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions made history when the two teams traded their starting quarterbacks for one another, with Jared Goff heading to the Lions and Matthew Stafford taking over the Rams.
Julio Jones, the star wide receiver for the Falcons, was traded to the Tennessee Titans after a decade in Atlanta, and Teddy Bridgewater, most known for his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings, was traded to the Denver Broncos from the Carolina Panthers.
He has since been named the starter over third-year quarterback Drew Lock. As for the rest of the league, this off-season was just simply about improving on areas they struggled in the previous season.
What will no doubt be the most anticipated return of the season is fantasy football.
When asked about his involvement with the fantasy football market, Capital third-year student Cody Wells said that, “It was another way to compete with my friends and stay connected”, further adding, “if I do fantasy football, I feel like I watch more football in general”.
Beyond just the fantasy football aspect, sports betting has seen a huge increase in participation over the last several months, proving just how badly fans strived to see things back to normal.
Among the top teams to watch closely this year would be no doubt the same teams who faced off in last year’s Super Bowl; the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay re-signed all of its starters from last year while the Chiefs improved on an ailing offensive line.
Some of the matchups headlining the 2021 season include Tom Brady’s Week 4 return to New England when the Buccaneers face off against the Patriots as well as a Week 17 matchup that pins the Buffalo Bills against the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC Title game rematch.
Teams like the Patriots, Jets, Bears and Jaguars, all of which are already or will soon be led by rookie quarterbacks, will no doubt be at the top of many watch-lists for this season and entering into the postseason.
With fans back in the stands and players back on the field, the hype for this season of the NFL is very real and much deserved. It may only be the beginning of the season but fans are already predicting how it’ll end – and who knows?
Could the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run it back and become the first team since the Patriots of the early 2000s to win back-to-back Super Bowls?
Or could there be a new team taking home the Lombardi trophy in Los Angeles this February? The possibilities are endless, so be sure to stay tuned and show support for your team this season!