It’s time to treat yourself to a corndog, unveil the Stars and Stripes, and belt your heart out to the Star Spangled Banner because tonight sees the return of the biggest show in town.
The American Football season is back with us which means there is a whole lot of whoopin’ and a hollerin’ to be done, and what better place to start than at CentreLink Field in Seattle where the season opener is being held tonight. The home of the Seahawks is notorious for the extreme decibel levels reached by the tens of thousands of fans inside. The Hawks’ home form was a huge factor in the road to Superbowl victory last season, and with the Vince Lombardi Trophy still glistening in the cabinet the defending champions will look to carry on where they left off against the Green Bay Packers tonight.
With Russell Wilson in the pocket the Washington franchise possess one of the most lethal Quarterbacks around; his deadly passing accuracy leaves many a defence helpless to stop the pass whilst his mobility means his rushing yards can sometimes be as high as other Running Backs in the league. Most Running Backs maybe, but not Marshawn Lynch; the rampaging RB was one of the best in the league in 2013 and keeping hold of both of their most prized attacking assets will see them in good stead for the season ahead.
It is not just scoring the touchdowns that Seattle excelled in last season; they were also the best at stopping them. With the crowd stirring and Dan Quinn pulling the strings from the side lines they allowed just 231 points all season. One influential member of the ‘Legion of Boom’ was Richard Sherman, the domineering Cornerback epitomised the whole of the Seahawks’ defensive efforts. The emphatic celebrations after a tackle or interception and his tendency to get verbally involved with the opposition personified the indomitable defensive line. In Pete Carroll they have a head coach with plenty of experience, but they will be the team everyone will be out to get this term. It will be interesting to see how they deal with not being underdogs in this coming season.
The NFC West will be no gimme for the reigning champions, with the 49ers hoping to give them a run for their money. Jim Harbaugh’s side blew the light out on their stay at Candlestick Park last season with an impressive run to the NFC Divisonal game to follow up Superbowl defeat the year before. Their move into the impressive, swanky looking Levi’s stadium will give them one of the best stadia within the National Football League, and this year will be looking to go one step further than previous seasons. The form of Colin Kaepernick will be pivotal for the season ahead; the Niners’ main man is known for his self-destructing nature on occasion, but if he can keep his head when it really matters there could be another shoot out for the NFC West with the Seahawks on the horizon.
The usual suspects will be in contention for Superbowl stardom this year, with Denver looking to avenge their miserable defeat last time out. Peyton Manning certainly has the firepower and a vast amount of receivers available to see the Broncos come close to reaching the playoffs yet again. Wes Welker’s drug ban will be a costly loss for the Broncos but with players like Manning and Matt Prater who have been there, done it, and got the massively oversized jersey for their efforts, they will still be hungry for success this time around.
Both New England and Green Bay have well renowned Quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers respectively, but in an increasingly dynamic league the old fashioned pistol shooters may be on their way out. Both Brady and Rodgers can throw a simple ten yarder, or your spectacular 50 yard pass into the corner of the endzone, but both seem to suffer from a lack of pace and agility which could see their teams’ chances of glory go up in smoke in 2014. You just have to look at the 49ers and the Seahawks to see the added attacking threat a mobile Quarterback has, leaving defences in two minds on numerous occasions and capitalising on that fact. The often one dimensional offensive tactics with a QB with an arm but no legs will see a team soon become found out, pace is an asset that is needed in the current game more than ever before.
One QB who could really make an impression this year is Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers; Newton has been hotly tipped for some time now but has never seemed to make the grade. Last year saw the Panthers reach the playoffs, eventually going out to the 49ers, but Newton will have gained from the experience, and will be stronger from it. Like Wilson and Kaepernick, Newton has the ability to run 60 yards into the endzone himself but he also has the physical presence to see off tacklers. If Ryan Kalil and his offensive line can give the big man some protection up front then Newton will be able to do some serious damage this year throughout the league.
September 28th sees the first of three games at Wembley Stadium this season in an unprecedented event for the NFL’s International Series. In the first game the Oakland Raiders take on the Miami Dolphins in what will be an excellent spectacle for UK based gridiron fans. The Dolphins made the first ever journey to play in London when they were beaten by the New York Giants back in 2007, and will be looking for a better result this time around. There will be two London debutants on October 26th as Atlanta face Detroit in the capital, neither side had the best of seasons in 2013, but a trip to the UK is sure to boost the spirits of both sides for the 2014 campaign.
The third and final International game sees the Jacksonville Jaguars – who are now the resident Wembley side for the next three seasons – take on the Dallas Cowboys. The Jaguars are owned by Fulham owner Shahid Khan, and in many ways seem to be following a similar pattern to the Cottagers. Fulham were relegated last season from the Premier League and if there was such a thing over in America the Jaguars would have been sure to experience it a long time ago; although being relatively young in comparison to others, they are yet to taste substantial success as a franchise. A dismal 4-12 record in 2013 sums up the Jaguars life as an NFL franchise, with not a lot to shout about in that part of Florida.
From now until February Sunday nights will be dominated by these hard hitting, shoulder pad wearing, facemask grabbing Americans. For some it is something they just can’t seem to get their head around, but for the ones who have embraced the barmy four hour long games and stop start nature it is a joy to watch.
Main image: ESPN