With Tom Brady’s retirement back on track, his Tampa Bay Buccaneers will steal the spotlight heading into Thursday’s NFL season opener, in a championship that will have the quarterback obsessed with winning his eighth Super Bowl.
Brady’s high-profile retirement, announced shortly after the Bucs lost in the playoffs to the Los Angeles Rams, champions of the last Super Bowl, lasted a few weeks and Tampa welcomed its star player with open arms.
This season, Brady’s team will have Todd Bowles at the helm and Bruce Arians, who led Brady and the Bucs to a Super Bowl title two seasons ago, will now be a consultant.
For Arians, Brady is “throwing better than I’ve ever seen him” heading into his 23rd NFL campaign and while the quarterback’s absence from some preseason activities for personal reasons alerted the league, the player says he is ready to go for another crown.
At 45 years old, Brady warned that his competitive fire “still burns.”
“I have a lot to prove this year,” said the NFL superstar. “I’m out to prove that I’m still capable of leading a team to a championship.”
– Tom “is iconic” –
In a season in which the Rams will try to become the first team in 18 years to sign a two-time champion, the Bucs are putting all their chips on their leader.
“Tom is Tom,” rookie running back Rashaad White said. “He’s our leader. He’s everything we want. He’s our captain. He’s iconic.”
But beyond Brady and the defending champions, controversy is once again setting the pace at the league’s kickoff.
The scandal is still alive and splashes among others the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, Deshaun Watson. The player was suspended amid allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions.
Watson, who missed the entire 2021 season amid the allegations while with the Houston Texans, did not face criminal charges and landed a five-year, $230 million contract with the Browns.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills attempted to skirt controversy when they jettisoned rookie kicker Matt Araiza two days after a civil lawsuit was filed alleging he was among a trio of San Diego State University players who raped a 17-year-old girl. Allegations the kicker denies.
The NFL, immensely popular and repeatedly the center of controversy, also enters the season facing a lawsuit by three black coaches, led by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, alleging racism in the league’s hiring practices.
– Rams, two-time championships in their sights –
The Rams kick off Thursday against a Bills team widely touted as a Super Bowl contender.
Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Rams in their bid to repeat is the physicality of their quarterback, Matthew Stafford, who played through pain last season.
However, Stafford declared himself “ready to play” and without limitations as the difficult start to the season looming.
The Bills fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in the American Conference championship game two years ago and to the Chiefs in overtime in the second round of the playoffs last season. A loss that for quarterback Josh Allen served to bolster the Bills’ resolve.
Allen said the arrival of new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey means the Bills’ offense will be even better this year. They hope the changes will carry them all the way to Super Bowl 57 in Phoenix, Arizona, on Feb. 12.
The season will also feature five international games, including Brady and the Bucs against the Seattle Seahawks in Munich on Nov. 13, the first regular-season game in Germany.
Mexico City will host one game, while three games in London include Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers taking on the New York Giants in October.
Rodgers, who earned a four-year, $200 million extension, won his second consecutive NFL MVP award last season, the fourth of his career, but the Packers have bowed out early in the playoffs the past two years.