Graphic by Olivia Schanck

As the leaves begin to change and the autumn breeze begins to blow, we are reaching the golden time of the year for football fans. The NFL is entering its 102nd season in 2022, and if the 101st was any indicator, fans are in for quite a treat. Back in February, the Los Angeles Rams ended a 22-year championship drought with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. This is the franchise’s second Lombardi trophy. Both teams are title contenders again this year. 

To start off the discussion of the NFL’s best, the Rams will set out to be the ninth team in NFL history to repeat champions. The main stars, such as quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, will have somewhat of a new squad. The team lost tackle Andrew Whitworth, edge rusher Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the off-season, resulting in them bringing in linebacker Bobby Wagner and wide receiver Allen Robinson. This team will be one of the favorites to win the NFC.

The Bengals kept nearly all of their young core and vastly improved their previously weak offensive line to protect their budding superstars, quarterback Joe Burrow and receiver Ja’Marr Chase. The team had no real free agency losses so the AFC’s defending champions have the same core intact. However, in a much tougher conference, the Bengals will have to prove that they were not a one-year wonder and can compete with the top competition year in and year out, something that the franchise hasn’t been able to do yet.

The team with the highest odds in Las Vegas are the Buffalo Bills. The team features five All-Pro team selections from a season ago, in addition to the signing of future hall of famer Von Miller and slot receiver Jamison Crowder. Having the league’s top ranked defense a season ago, and an extremely explosive offense, it seems that the team’s only weakness has been winning close games. Hopefully for Bills Mafia, the Bills will do what they do best, and “circle the wagons” as the great Chris Berman would say.

Tom Brady came out of a brief 40-day retirement to return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his 23rd NFL season. Brady and his squad figure to be in contention to win the NFC. Rob Gronkowski — Brady’s go-to target for over a decade — retired, but plenty of other lethal weapons remain. Not only are All-Pro receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin returning, but the team also added arguably the best receiver of the last decade in Julio Jones. In addition to having a fast, young, and talented defense, the Buccaneers also traded for Brady’s old New England teammate, guard Shaq Mason, to add to the already loaded roster. If Tampa can stay healthy, we very well could see the GOAT walk away from the game on top with rings on eight fingers.

With those aforementioned being some of the NFL’s elite teams, there is a team close to home that is not considered to be elite by any measurement, the New England Patriots. The Patriots are now predicted to be a middler team in a very crowded AFC. There is a question on all fans’ minds. Is Mac Jones going to have a big second year jump that a lot of good quarterbacks use as a stepping stone to a great career? It has been a confusing off-season for the most successful franchise of the new millennium.

The Patriots losing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for him to become the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders was not the best start for the franchise. However, the decision to replace him with two former failed head coaches who have never called an offensive play is a bit head scratching. Their draft board was also confusing to many fans, taking guard Cole Strange and receiver Tyquan Thornton in the first and second round respectively, but only time will tell on that. The team did bring in receiver Devante Parker from Miami to help stabilize the pass game. But with an off-season of uncertainty and a sloppy training camp, a winning season may be the goal for the Patriots.