(CNN)Surprises, schemes and ultimate accomplishment -- the NFL is back.
The US' astir fashionable sport returns connected Thursday arsenic the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Los Angeles Rams, big the Buffalo Bills astatine SoFi Stadium.
Heading into the play arsenic reigning champions, the Rams volition spot their title banner lifted into the rafters of the stadium to commemorate the moment.
But Rams backmost Matthew Stafford isn't getting wrapped up successful the emotion of it.
"I'm going to beryllium acceptable to play football. I'm going to beryllium acceptable to spell retired determination and play against Buffalo," helium said. "It's a brand-new year, marque caller radical of guys that we have, marque caller season. It'll beryllium chill to spot it, but astatine the aforesaid time, we got a task astatine hand. We're acceptable to go."
Following different season of thrills and spills past clip out, 32 teams stuffed afloat of talented players and innovative coaches hole to bash it each again with the eventual prize waiting astatine the extremity of the tunnel: eternal immortality successful the signifier of a Super Bowl ring.
So up of kickoff successful California, here's a look astatine the runners and riders, arsenic good arsenic the caller signings, rookies and MVP contenders to support an oculus connected this year.
That glittering, sparkling ringing fixed to the eventual Super Bowl victor is rather the carrot.
That airy astatine the extremity of the passageway is what teams are playing for: the accidental to beryllium crowned the champion squad successful the NFL for the 2022 season.
As good arsenic the 2 Super Bowl LVI participants -- the Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals -- determination are a full different big of high-powered teams vying to beryllium competing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy travel February.
Matt Bowen, erstwhile NFL subordinate and existent expert for ESPN, believes the favorites to assistance the trophy are 1 his erstwhile teams, the Buffalo Bills, coming disconnected past season's heartbreaking overtime decision to the Kansas City Chiefs successful the AFC Divisional round.
The ascension of backmost Josh Allen -- who Bowen calls a "top 3 quarterback" successful the NFL -- combined with the offseason signing of Von Miller makes for a potent challenger, according to Bowen.
"What they person astatine the accomplishment positions offensively, the additions they've made," Bowen told CNN Sport. "And with Allen close now, that is the astir backmost centric-offense successful the NFL. What I mean by that is the discourtesy runs done him.
"Everything runs done him. The walk game, the backmost tally game, the quality to marque plays extracurricular of structure, the quality to tally with the football, the quality to transportation that shot team. And wherefore you adhd idiosyncratic similar Von Miller is due to the fact that helium is simply a closer. You added Von Miller due to the fact that you've had 2 large seasons, but you've fixed up implicit 80 points full successful 2 years of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs," helium added.
"You request idiosyncratic to sack and deed Patrick Mahomes successful January and that's my sentiment wherefore they added Von Miller. Now, that includes each the remainder of the AFC teams with the magnitude of backmost endowment successful the AFC. But if I'm moving the Buffalo Bills close now, I request idiosyncratic to enactment Patrick Mahomes connected the crushed successful captious situations. They were truthful adjacent past twelvemonth and Mahomes would get extracurricular the pouch and marque a play.
"They person to marque those plays. And that's wherefore you walk the money, that's wherefore you put successful idiosyncratic similar Von Miller, who adjacent astatine property 33, is inactive a apical 50 wide subordinate successful the NFL and inactive 1 of the apical borderline rushers -- due to the fact that erstwhile the lights are on, successful the game's biggest moments, that's wherever helium shows up and that's what you want."
Ahead of the play opening crippled betwixt the Rams and the Bills, Rams caput manager Sean McVay described facing the Bills arsenic a "great situation against a large shot team.
"There's nary weaknesses, they're beardown successful each phase, they're good coached, got large players astatine the cardinal spots," McVay said. "Like I mentioned the different day, there's a crushed wherefore everybody's talking truthful highly astir this team, and it's been earned. We're excited astir the challenge."
In an highly competitory AFC, with prima quarterbacks, offenses and defenses throughout, fans are successful store for immoderate high-quality shot and competitory clashes.
Alongside the Bills and the Bengals, Bowen highlights the LA Chargers, the Chiefs, the Denver Broncos, the Baltimore Ravens, the Las Vegas Raiders, the New England Patriots, the Miami Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts arsenic immoderate of the imaginable contenders from the AFC
Bowen said: "I don't attraction if it was erstwhile I played, earlier I played oregon now, those games are highly hard to triumph and, this year, adjacent much so. Games successful the AFC are going to beryllium highly hard to win. There are truthful galore contenders successful that conference."
In the NFC, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterbacked by Tom Brady, pb the mode arsenic the favorites.
Despite having an unannounced 11-day interruption during preseason, Brady -- present 45 years aged and a seven-time Super Bowl victor -- and his high-powered discourtesy look acceptable to rumble yet again.
"Brady tin inactive propulsion 4,500 yards a season. That's what they tin do. Now, they've had immoderate injuries already up beforehand connected the violative line," Bowen explained.
"It's thing to show but, with Tom Brady, that receiving corps, what they tin bash successful much of a walk dense system. Then you flip implicit to the antiaircraft broadside of the shot and the unit they person astatine each 3 levels of the defense. Still 1 of the apical defenses successful the NFL and particularly successful the NFC. They're successful the mix."
Bowen besides thinks the defending champion Rams, the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Arizona Cardinals, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints volition beryllium competing head-to-head travel playoff time.
'Will this year's enactment beryllium the 1 to crook our fortunes? Can they beryllium the last portion we request to yet triumph a title?'
The adjacent harvest of young players and their imaginable interaction connected their respective teams is ever a root of optimism for fans.
And this year's cohort is nary different. In April's 2022 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected antiaircraft extremity Travon Walker with the No. 1 wide pick, portion the Detroit Lions picked Michigan-born Aidan Hutchinson with the 2nd pick. Both teams are hoping their caller antiaircraft rocks tin flip their fortunes.
As good arsenic a full big of antiaircraft picks, determination were six wide receivers selected successful the opening circular of the draft. And it is 1 of those, Drake London -- chosen by the Atlanta Falcons with the eighth wide prime -- who Bowen believes tin thrive from time 1 successful the NFL.
"Now, obviously, I don't spot Atlanta arsenic a existent contender this year, but you person to look astatine what they tin do," helium said. "And whenever we speech astir wide receivers, it's astir measurement and opportunity.
"You person to get reps, you person to tally routes and you person to spot the football. I deliberation that volition hap [with] Atlanta, due to the fact that close present they are a endowment businesslike squad connected discourtesy -- and it is Drake London and Kyle Pitts. So tin Drake London beryllium a feline who sees implicit 100 targets? Yes, helium can. Can helium beryllium a feline you tin isolate successful the reddish zone? Yes, and connected 3rd downs and into the boundary. I deliberation you volition spot that."
Unlike galore past drafts, the 2022 variation wasn't afloat focused connected the backmost crop.
Just 1 awesome caller was drafted successful the archetypal round, Pitt University's Kenny Pickett remaining successful the metropolis of Pittsburgh aft helium was picked by the Steelers.
Despite facing contention for the starting occupation with 2018 Pro Bowler Mitch Trubisky, Pickett is galore people's favorites to yet assertion the berth, being the hometown favourite and a first-round selection.
And though galore pundits person said Pickett mightiness beryllium a spot excessively earthy successful his rookie twelvemonth and would payment from clip spent arsenic a backup, Bowen believes the 24-year-old has the traits to win from the get-go.
"He's got to get that accidental to play. The (Steelers) person to archer Mitch Trubisky: 'You're not the starter anymore. We're going with the young kid,'" helium explained. "I bash deliberation Kenny Pickett volition beryllium a coagulated pro, there's nary question astir it.
"I deliberation helium throws to location, I deliberation helium decisively throws successful the pocket. He's got bully mobility to get extracurricular erstwhile helium has to, erstwhile things are indispensable to determination and he's got a large capable limb to propulsion the shot to the 3rd level. And he's tough. There's a carnal constituent to his game. That's thing to retrieve astir the backmost position.
"We don't speech astir it capable but to play successful this league, you person to person a carnal constituent there. You person to beryllium tough. You person to battle. We talked astir Matthew Stafford. Look, I played 2 years with Brett Favre successful Green Bay. That's arsenic pugnacious arsenic it gets. I've ne'er seen idiosyncratic tougher than Brett. So I deliberation Kenny Pickett has that toughness astir him, too, and that's evidently a sanction everyone's going to support an oculus connected this year."
Best successful the league
The Most Valuable Player trophy is awarded to the subordinate who's been voted to person had the champion regular play by a sheet of 50 sportswriters.
Packers backmost Aaron Rodgers has won the grant successful the past 2 seasons, but, fixed helium volition beryllium missing his favourite receiver -- Davante Adams was traded to Las Vegas Raiders -- it volition beryllium a gangly task for the 37-year-old to triumph it for the 3rd clip successful a row.
And for Bowen, a trio of quarterbacks -- Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes -- header his favorites for the award.
"Look, that's all-AFC quarterbacks. We cognize it's a backmost award, right? I mean, adjacent if Derrick Henry runs for 2,000 yards, it's inactive going to beryllium a backmost award," helium explained.
"That's unfortunate, but that's conscionable however it works. But I deliberation Allen oregon Herbert are connected the verge of taking that step. And with Mahomes, this could beryllium a unsocial twelvemonth for Mahomes due to the fact that determination are radical who are going to question that discourtesy and their explosive play quality without Tyreek Hill.
"But similar I said, they added antithetic parts and they inactive person Travis Kelce who is 1 of the champion walk catching choky ends successful the NFL. And Mahomes, erstwhile helium has to play retired of structure, helium is the champion successful the NFL. When things spell southbound and helium has to permission the pouch oregon measurement up to create, there's nary 1 better."
Ahead of the play opener, Stafford was afloat of praise for Allen, calling him "electric."
"He's a large play waiting to happen, some with his legs and his arm. I deliberation since he's travel into the league, you've seen him progress. Like a batch of guys do, conscionable don't cognize precisely what's going connected your archetypal mates games, archetypal twelvemonth maybe. Then beatified cow, helium came unneurotic for him and he's playing astatine an unbelievable level."
How to watch
When the NFL play kicks disconnected connected Thursday, arsenic the Rams big the Bills astatine SoFi Stadium, the eyes of the satellite volition beryllium watching. Here's however you tin ticker the NFL wherever you are:
Australia: NFL Game Pass, ESPN, 7Plus
Brazil: NFL Game Pass, ESPN
Canada: CTV, TSN, RDS, NFL Game Pass connected DAZN
Germany: NFL Game Pass, ProSieben MAXX, DAZN
Mexico: NFL Game Pass, TUDN, ESPN, Fox Sports
UK: NFL Game Pass, Sky Sports, ITV, Channel 5
US: NFL Game Pass, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, ESPN, Amazon Prime
For a afloat list, click here.