Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl defence is set to get underway, with the 2021-22 NFL season just days away as the reigning champions host the Dallas Cowboys to begin the race for Super Bowl LVI.
After ending last season on a high note, Brady now has a stunning eighth championship ring in his sights as he enters the 22nd campaign of his decorated career.
But while there’s plenty to play out for Brady and the Bucs, the other 31 franchises each have their own claims to the throne for the season ahead.
After falling to Tampa Bay in last season’s deciding fixture, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs will be well-placed to put themselves back on top of the NFL after losing their spot on the mantle following February’s 22-point loss.
Reigning NFL MVP and Green Bay veteran Aaron Rodgers will look to follow the path Brady took last season and secure another Super Bowl title in the twilight of his career.
But could it be the more youthful quarterback stars that make their case in the form Mahomes did last year?
The top three selections of this year’s NFL Draft are all set to lead from the pocket, with Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence joining the Jacksonville Jaguars as the first overall selection.
Zach Wilson (New York Jets) and Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers) will also have a helping hand at their franchises after landing at second and third overall respectively.
A plethora of NFL stars will also pull on new colours this season, with no move more enticing than Matt Stafford's switch to the Los Angeles Rams. In a trade that saw LA quarterback Jared Goff head to Detroit along with an array of draft selections, Stafford is set to substantially place Sean McVay’s side back on the path to a deep post-season finish.
Carson Wentz (Indianapolis), Sam Darnold (Carolina) and Teddy Bridgewater (Denver) all found new homes and will stake their claims for QB1 duties. Julio Jones’ trade to Tennessee is sure to buoy the Titans’ prospects, while Jadeveon Clowney (Cleveland) and Trey Hendrickson (Cincinnati) made intriguing moves through free agency.
Among all the chaos of the off-season player movement periods, the Buffalo Bills, Buccaneers, Chiefs and Packers have continued to develop within their own four walls to be among the strongest contenders for the Super Bowl.
Josh Allen and the Bills are seen as the most promising franchises in the AFC for the 2021-22 season after finishing their last campaign with a conference championship loss to Kansas.
Buffalo will be hoping to open their account in style against Pittsburgh on Sunday, while the new-look Rams will welcome Chicago to SoFi Stadium - this year’s Super Bowl venue.
The Rams have all the cards to go the distance this season, with Stafford and superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald set to lead the way on both fronts.
Donald is a strong chance to defend his Defensive Player of the Year title, while Titans running back Derrick Henry will be looking to do the same after being recognised as the NFL’s best offensive player earlier this year.
Stafford, Rodgers and Browns brute Nick Chubb will be strong contenders for the OPOTY award, while T.J. Watt will be in contention after narrowly falling to Donald for the DPOTY honours last season.
Looking toward the bleaker end of the standings, it’s likely to be another hard year for the Jets, who will again enter the new season as the least favoured AFC East competitor.
Their New York counterparts in the Giants are also facing a tough year ahead, while Goff’s inaugural season with the Lions and Darnold’s start with the Panthers are also unlikely to bear many fruits.
Among the franchises likely to be in the mix or thereabouts for playoff spots, the Las Vegas Raiders will be hoping to return to the top bracket of the NFL after relocating, while the likes of Miami, the Los Angeles Chargers, Arizona, New Orleans and Minnesota will be hopeful of getting their seasons going on the right foot.
With 272 games ahead of us for the 2021-22 NFL season, there’s sure to be plenty of drama, excitement and intrigue on the path toward Super Bowl LVI.