Kansas City and Buffalo will lead the AFC, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is still a genius and the Dallas Cowboys can finally turn things around… BBC duo Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora on the burning issues ahead of the new NFL season
- The NFL season starts tonight with Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Dallas Cowboys
- Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills are likely to be biggest rivals for the AFC title
- Patriots coach Bill Belichick is still a genius and could make them contenders
- It is hoped the Dallas Cowboys can finally turn things around this campaign
- BBC duo Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora give their predictions on the new season
Osi Umenyiora and Jason Bell have two Super Bowl wins between them and will once again front the BBC’s NFL coverage this season.
Ahead of tonight’s season opener in Tampa, where the Buccaneers kick off their season against the Dallas Cowboys, the defensive duo – one of the best double acts in UK sport coverage – revealed their thoughts on the burning issues around the league.
From Mahomes to Brady and Belichick to vaccines, there was plenty to discuss…
BBC duo Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora preview the burning issues going into the NFL season
Who are your AFC contenders?
OSI: You have to look at the Buffalo Bills. Look at that quarterback, look at that defensive line, very, very good football players. Their receiving corps, running back, offensive line, very sneakily good offensive line.
So, you look at the Buffalo Bills over there. And you look for just adding to take that next step into being the MVP this year. We’ve already discussed with the Kansas City Chiefs, so those would be my AFC contenders.
JASON: I’m with Osi 100 per cent but my sneaky team is the Cleveland Browns.
They’re just so balanced. I mean, that team is really built for success. When you had your strength on defense and your D line, Myles Garrett could be the defensive MVP, and then your running backs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Those guys are the engine with a dominant offensive line, they can play keep away and they can really make it hard for the other two teams at the top of the AFC.
The Buffalo Bills are likely to give the Kansas City Chiefs the biggest test in the AFC title battle
And the NFC?
OSI: You have to go with the Green Bay Packers, you got to go with the Los Angeles Rams. You got to go with Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you got to go with the New Orleans Saints – if Jameis Winston can get his act together. And you have to go down to the Bermuda Triangle to play a game. Very, very difficult place to play.
There’s a lot of things not going to be a cakewalk for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like everybody’s thinking anything can happen if the Green Bay Packers get them again at home in the playoffs in that cold weather. Who knows what’s gonna happen to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
They kind of escaped last year when they played them in the playoffs so there’s a lot of things that can happen – a lot of things can go wrong for Tampa. There’s quite a few contenders. Nobody is talking about the Seattle Seahawks. Who knows what’s gonna happen with the Seattle Seahawks this year? So, there’s a lot of competition in the NFC also.
The Los Angeles Rams could make a bid for the post-season with Matthew Stafford now signed
JASON: Los Angeles Rams. That’s my choice the Rams in and it’s because of with the addition of Matthew Stafford, everything you’ve been hearing is McVay, Osi’s friend, has not been able to really run the offense he’s wanted to.
Last year, he can only run the plays he felt comfortable [that] Jared Goff could run. So now he can open up that full offense. So, we can see what the whiz kid has. And we know about this defense and Raheem Morris coming over, everybody knows he is a great football coach. He’s a great mind. They’re not going to change much. And he’s someone who can really relate to the players. So I expect that defense not to drop off at all. Maybe even play better.
What are your thoughts on Tom Brady?
OSI: Well, I think anytime you talk about a player performing at that level for what 19 years with the highest level of football is really unprecedented, something we haven’t seen before. And quite frankly, I don’t think we’re ever going to see something like this again.
He moved teams, a lot of people thought that ‘oh it was all about New England, it was all about Bill Belichick’ but he has absolutely obliterated that narrative. And he has shown that he is in fact, the GOAT quarterback, the best quarterback and probably the best overall football player we’ve seen, because the quarterback position is the hardest position of playing sports.
So all credit to him. His longevity, his achievements. He really is the best football player we’ve seen.
Tom Brady will line up again for the Bucs this season as he targets an eighth Super Bowl ring
JASON: You know, as a former player, I just look up and I think of all the sacrifice and dedication that he puts in every year to get himself out there, sustain throughout the year, stay healthy, stay accountable to his teammates, stay motivated. That’s so difficult.
So I think that’s the genius. And the greatness of what we’re seeing is somebody who every year can motivate him stuff like that, and obviously play longer than I have. But I’m telling you at the end of his career, what do you say? It’s hard to get motivated. It’s hard to go out there and get yourself prepared. But the fact that he does that, and he does it so well. That’s why we’re witnessing greatness.
Will any Super Bowl scars show for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday – and beyond?
JASON: Well, they did what they needed to do this off-season and that was totally rebuild the offensive line in Kansas City. So, he’s probably going to go out there and show that he’s very relaxed with them, and that new offensive line.
I think this is a good match-up against Cleveland because their strength is that defensive front. And they are a team that’s in a position that they could beat Kansas City and really push them this year because of the way the defense is built. So, I think it’s going to be a great match-up for them to see where they are at the start of the season.
Do you think his aura of invincibility slipped?
JASON: I don’t think he’s shown any weakness. Even in the Super Bowl he showed you, even under duress, he was still able to try to make something happen. A quarterback is only as good as his protection and his playmakers around him. He knows he has the playmakers so with just a little protection, he is going to be even more dangerous.
Patrick Mahomes has a new look offensive line as he bids to reach yet another Super Bowl
The league is well aware of Patrick Mahomes and his skill set, but they have shown the only way to beat them is to make sure you get at him and you put that pressure on him and that’s why they’ve worked on that offensive line.
The last time the Patriots had a tight end tandem, Belichick changed the league. Can he do that again?
OSI: With a young rookie quarterback, he’s going to lean on the running game, going to lean him a power game, a quick game. You have two dynamic playmakers at the tight end position that give you the easy throws over the middle of the field, you have the wide receivers that can also stretch the football field – they’ll take the top off the defense.
I think with this type of offense and with this type of quarterback – who might not have necessarily the arm strength of Aaron Rodgers, but he’s very accurate with the passes, he can read the game – I think this is completely into what Bill Belichick is going to be able to do with this quarterback and this offense. I think they’re going to have a fantastic year.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has two tight ends this season as he looks to mix things up
JASON: The genius of Bill Belichick, everybody else is trying to spread you out. And 11 personnel. And it’s because now you have to prepare for something different each week. And Belichick wants you to have to change everything you’ve been doing all week to get ready for him.
He’s going to run power football, he’s going to use those two tight ends, and he’s going to make everything look different. He has built that team to be strong up the middle the same way he’s done with his defense. And that’s because he understands. He always goes in a different direction. He’s always a trendsetter.
Can Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence get results straight away in Jacksonville?
OSI: Well, I’m not going to say straight away, there’s going to be a learning curve. Meyer came from the college system and didn’t even coach the last three years. But he has been successful everywhere he’s gone. I don’t think this is going to be any different in the NFL, I just think it might take a little bit of time – young quarterback, young players all across that football team. You don’t expect them to go out there and meet barnstormers immediately, but they will be a good football team at some point.
JASON: You got to be patient with this kid, especially the first four games. It’s just a whole new team a whole new way. He’s a pro now, it’s all different. So I think he’ll be great in the future. But I expect him to get better kind of midway through the season, you’ll start to see a shift with his ability.
It will be a tough opening few weeks of the season for rookie QB Trevor Lawrence and the Jags
How long do you think it’s going to be before we see Trey Lance and Justin Fields?
Bears fans are desperate to see Justin Fields line up as their QB but Andy Dalton is expected to start in week one
OSI: Well they better not put Justin Fields out there right now behind that offensive line! I think things would be quite ugly for him. I think maybe he might want to sit behind Andy Dalton for a little bit.
And then Trey Lance, from what I’m hearing from (49ers coach Kyle) Shanahan, he might be he might play both of these quarterbacks at the same time. I mean, there’s a system in place where one might start one week depending on the opponent, and then the other goes the other week.
So I think it’s not going to be that long before we see Trey Lance. I would assume it’s going to be quite a bit longer for we see Justin Fields.
JASON: The fan base in Chicago wants to Justin out there like tomorrow. So there’s going to be some pressure on there. They they really don’t have any commitment to Andy Dalton, the fan base that is, so it’ll be interesting but Osi’s right.
I mean, they need to figure out how that offensive line is going to play but he can make plays with his feet. So that might be the reason he gets on the field.
If you are on a team, are you saying anything to an unvaccinated team-mate?
OSI: Well, I’m not saying anything to him to be completely fair. I think whatever somebody decides to put in this body, you can’t force them to do that. I mean, they might have their reasons for not doing it. I’ve seen some people are not want to get vaccinated on religious regions. How are you going to say, oh, if this is my religion, that you should absolutely have to do that.
I mean, I’m vaccinated. Jason’s vaccinated. But I’m not going to force anybody or come down harder than anybody who doesn’t get vaccinated, because I can understand why they wouldn’t do that.
JASON: I think the one beautiful thing about the locker room and the exposure we had to that is that players have these conversations with each other, they can go to each other and talk to each other and be real with each other. And that’s what good teammates do.
Only two teams, the Atlanta Falcons (pictured) and the Buccaneers, are 100 per cent jabbed
So I just expect those conversations have already happened, and will continue to happen. And players try their best to understand each other and get on and get on the same level, as far as you know, understand that they have different opinions and things of that nature.
OSI: If somebody says, ‘God says I shouldn’t take this vaccine,’ like what do you do? How do you really argue with that? Right? Like, are you arguing against someone’s religion? So you’re you almost have to take everything in stride, and just hope for the best.
Who’s your pick to be the best defense?
JASON: I’m still thinking the Rams and Tampa Bay. Both of them because of that defensive line the pressure they can bring, but obviously the Rams when you’ve got a No 1 corner like Jalen Ramsey, no matter what happens at the other secondary positions.
This guy is flexible, he can move inside and outside. It allows you to do a lot and allows you to be very flexible with your play calling so even though they lost their safety John Johnson, they still have their main centerpiece, which is Jalen Ramsey. The one thing that’s the worry is the depth. Their depth isn’t great, but their stars are amazing.
OSI: When you have players like Aaron Donald, I mean, on the defensive line. And you have a Jalen Ramsey back there pretty much any defensive coordinator who goes down there is going to look pretty good.
The Denver Broncos have the potential to be one of the best defensive units in the entire NFL
But you also want to look at the Denver Broncos. I like Vic Fangio and I like the things he has done with that defense last year. You got Von Miller coming back pairing back with Bradley Chubb. You got the secondary players. I mean, this is a fantastic defensive football team.
You ever go up there to play a game in Mile High Stadium you can’t breathe, the air’s thin, things are difficult to do up there – and this guy has a fantastic ability to call plays and make things happen for that defense. So look out for the Denver Broncos also.
How do you see things shaping up in Green Bay?
JASON: For some reason, Aaron Rodgers finds a way to motivate himself. So I think that’s exactly what will happen. Once again, he made a very good point of saying he loves his team-mates, he loves his coaches, he loves everybody he’s on the field with. His problem was with the front office, that happens all the time in football.
We as players, when we get on the field we’re not worried about that. So I expect Aaron Rodgers to go out there and be exactly who he is – a playmaker, a star, and he’s got something to prove again, and that’s when he’s at his best. So I think he’s actually got this team to kind of rally behind him. And just like we talked about Bill Belichick, even when they were winning, he always claimed they were the underdog.
He had them thinking like that. So Aaron Rodgers now everybody needs an opponent, and whoever that is, they get behind and they attack their own. It might be the front office, but Aaron Rodgers is figuring a way to get this whole team behind him. So I expect them to play well.
It has been a rough summer for Aaron Rodgers but expect him to get the Packers firing again
Can Green Bay’s former coach Mike McCarthy inspire the Cowboys this season?
OSI: Well, I think you absolutely have to hope so. And the only reason why I say that is not because I like the Dallas Cowboys, but because we have a guy there by the name of Aden Durde, their defensive line coach, and we’re rooting for him at all costs. So we expect them to succeed!
Now, should the Dallas Cowboys be a good football team, they have all the talent in the world. They got a very good quarterback, offensive linemen coming back, good receivers. On the defensive side, Dan Quinn is going to be over there calling the defensive plays, good defensive linemen, some good secondary players, they brought in the linebacker Micah Parsons, he should be Rookie of the Year on the defensive side of the ball. So they have everything going for themselves. And also they’re in a pretty weak division, which is the NFC East.
So should they be able to make that step forward? We sure hope so and this should be the year that they do it.
This could finally be the year the Dallas Cowboys turn things around and make the play-offs
How much of a factor will the extra game be?
OSI: Well, I know there’s a lot of hoopla about that, but I don’t think it’s gonna have a lot of impact on the players physically, I think it’s going to make a lot of impact on a lot of people’s wallets and players are going to be very happy about that.
I mean, there’s going to be some extra money here. And you know, the league is going to expand and people get to enjoy football for an extra game. But I don’t think from a physicality standpoint, if you think about the NFL, if you think about the practices you’ve been by the games, already a physical sport.
I don’t think one extra game is going to impact players the way a lot of people are talking about.
JASON: It’s just usually hard for the rookies, but we really don’t care about them. It’s hard for them every year!
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