Who do you think will win at the Sports Authority Field in Denver?
The fervour surrounding the return of the NFL feels like it continues to incrementally grow leading up to every season.
For all the controversies the league has dealt with over recent years – from the Ray Rice assault, to ‘Deflategate’ and now Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest – the sport remains firmly entrenched as the most popular in the United States.
When it comes to international appeal, the NFL pales in comparison to the NBA and MLB. It’s a league and sport specialised to the Western Hemisphere because it’s so ingrained in Americana.
And yet, the NFL has rightly come under heavy criticism from many in its home country, even those that love it most, for its authoritarian leadership and propaganda agenda.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has propositioned his way to judge, jury and executioner regarding any discipline, while many celebrations and acts of individualism have been abolished to create a ‘No Fun League’ atmosphere.
Underlying all that are concussions, which, even after you overlook the league’s lack of awareness on the topic, has the potential to threaten the sport’s very existence.
Brain injuries and head trauma are real issues and as more and more people learn about their dangers, it’s inevitable that fewer and fewer children will be allowed to play by their parents. Those same parents, however, are most likely watching the NFL and have no problem with their children watching too.
That is a microcosm of the general attitude of a majority of NFL followers. There’s no ‘ignorance is bliss’ here. The issues are front and centre and very much known. This is all about turning a blind eye to those issues for the purposes of entertainment.
And entertaining it continues to be, now more than ever.
Perhaps no major sporting league has benefitted more from technological advances of the digital age than the NFL.
It’s easier than ever to follow the sport, which has truly managed to become a year-round spectacle despite having only a five-month season of actual play.
Coverage of the NFL draft and free agency can be found far and wide, while training camps are well-attended and preseason games attract plenty of viewers for what is meaningless action.
So much of that exposure is fuelled by gambling, and its subset, fantasy football.
Many actually believe the NFL’s injury report – which has undergone changes this off-season, namely doing away with the ‘probable’ designation – exists for the purpose of aiding gambling handicappers.
Colin Kaepernick says he's donating proceeds from his jersey sales back into the communities pic.twitter.com/qjRQzB37qO— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 7, 2016
Even if you’re not gambling – which is very much illegal in the UAE – it’s likely you have at least one fantasy team.
Fantasy football has come far from the shadows of nerdism in the internet’s early days to now practically being a prerequisite for following the NFL. Chances are if you’re even casually interested in the NFL, you’re in some sort of league with your friends, co-workers or family members.
What’s helped the fantasy boom has been the evolution in the style of play in real life. Passing is at the forefront more than it ever has been, with the action more fast-paced and points aplenty.
But even with the importance placed on having a top-tier quarterback, the Super Bowl last season was won by a renowned defence.
The highly-coveted parity is still alive and well, even if the aesthetics have shifted.
All of that makes the NFL enjoyable, as long as you don’t think too much on the issues. Another scandal will spring up at some point this season and attract our outrage, but it won’t draw our eyes away from the product.
With the NFL season kicking off on Friday, this little guy was definitely feeling the excitement of the new season as he delivered a bone-crushing hit on an opponent to deny a certain touchdown.
When did they start teaching kids to tackle like this?