(This is an article written by Richard Graves, a presenter and broadcaster for over 25 years, covering sports’ biggest events and interviewing the biggest names. Richard has covered the last eight Super Bowls along with countless other major sporting events. You can follow him on social media here.)
If Thursday night’s season opener is anything to go by, this has the makings of an incredible season but it’s not just the action on the field that will make headlines. For the past seven months, off the field actions have provoked just as much debate. Now the season is finally here, what impact will they have on the road to Super Bowl LVI?
This season’s Super Bowl is in LA. So-Fi Stadium – home of the Rams and Chargers – is the venue and right next door, now resides the NFL’s brand new, state of the art, west coast facility. Swanky new studios will be the home for NFL Network’s flagship shows. They boast state of the art technology, there’s a cutting edge air filtration system, touchless doors and plexiglass barriers – legacies of a post pandemic world.
No surprise then that the opening Sunday Night Football, primetime show, should feature Stan Kroenke’s LA Rams hosting the Chicago Bears. For the first time since opening 12 months ago, the NFL’s newest stadium will host a capacity crowd and the cameras will be there to beam out the pictures for all to see. Make no mistake, the Los Angeles market is a big deal and the NFL has now placed it squarely in the spotlight.
THREE QBs WITH A POINT TO PROVE:
It seems incredible for someone who was named the NFL MVP just two years ago but make no mistake, Lamar Jackson still has doubters. The question is, are the Baltimore Ravens one of them? Probably not but while none doubt his ability to make plays with his legs, you’ll still here some questioning Jackson’s ability to make plays with his arm. Josh Allen became the first QB from the 2018 Draft class to agree an extension with the Bills last month. Now Jackson, who had the fifth year option of his rookie deal taken up in April, is playing for a big money extension.
Eyebrows were raised when the LA Rams made their move in the weeks leading up to February’s Super Bowl but there’s clearly a feeling that Matthew Stafford is the missing piece in their puzzle. The Rams sent former no.1 overall pick, Jared Goff, first round picks in 2022 & 23 and a third round pick to Detroit for the 33 year old. Now they have everything crossed that this time they’ve got the right man. No-one doubts Stafford’s talent. He holds records for most fourth quarter comebacks in a season (8 in 2016) and is the fastest player in history to reach 45000 passing yards (165 games) but all this comes against a backdrop of playing for a largely poor Detroit Lions team. Even so, Rams fans have heightened expectations. Stafford is seen as an upgrade to the QB position but there are durability concerns and everyone in the organisation is aware, if this move doesn’t deliver the expected rewards, the QB role might not be the personel change the organisation makes.
He is the NFL’s reigning MVP but does Aaron Rodgers’ future lie in Green Bay? For much of the off season that’s been a major topic of discussion around the NFL. Ultimately, the answer for this season is, yes but after that is less clear. Rodgers feels the Packer’s hierarchy hasn’t included him in major on field decisions. He was unquestionably disappointed when they drafted QB Jordan Love without talking to him in 2020 and he feels they’ve allowed too many experienced and talented players to leave through free agency. As a result, the two side reworked his current contract, effectively allowing him to leave at the end of this season, if Rodgers so chooses. Would Green Bay really allow the face of their franchise to walk out of the door next year or will the two sides find neutral ground and move forward together? One thing’s for sure, as long as Arron Rodgers is at quarterback, the Green Bay Packers are Super Bowl contenders.
SPORTS BETTING MARKETS
While sports betting isn’t anything new to fans in the UK, as far as the NFL goes, this isn’t a market it has endorsed, until now. The NFL has named seven sports betting partners for the 2021 season. American networks are now allowed to show up to six commercials promoting sports betting during game broadcasts. Unlike in the UK, there’ll be no onsite betting kiosks in stadia, only online betting is permitted but expect to become familiar with names like DraftKings, FanDuel, FoxBet, MGM, PointBet, Wynnbet and Caesers Entertainment as the NFL explores more opportunities to increase it’s appeal and enhance fan engagement.
BRITS WITH THE BILLS
The Buffalo Bills came within one win of playing in the Super Bowl last year. That has served to only heighten expectations this time around. Former England rugby star, Christian Wade has been a part of the organisation for the last couple of years – a member of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. Now he’s joined by another Brit, Efe Obada, who signed a one year deal in free agency. Obada arrives in Buffalo after four years of steady improvement with the Carolina Panthers and joins a defensive unit which should allow him shine. He’s coming off his best year in the NFL – recording 5.5 sacks, 15 QB hits and four tackles for loss.