There’s not long now until the reigning Super Bowl champions, Tampa Bay, take on the Dallas Cowboys at the Raymond James Stadium, in the opening fixture of the season.
Can Patrick Mahomes take last year’s runners up back to the final for a third year in a row, helping the Chiefs lift the Vince Lombardi trophy for a second time? Or will Tom Brady lead the Buccaneers to an incredible repeat, a feat last achieved by the Patriots in 2004 thanks to their star QB… Tom Brady.
With a 17-game season to look forward to, soccer fans have a whole lot more to look forward to this year, but with the latest NFL odds suggesting a tight race to the Super Bowl, who are the players and teams to look out for?
2021 Potential Breakout Stars
Cam Akers – Running Back, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams running back showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie year when given an opportunity, but with Malcolm Brown signing for the Dolphins, those opportunities are set to increase this season.
Akers rushed 145 times for a total of 625 yards and two touchdowns in 2020, helping the Rams make the playoffs. The second half of last season saw a dramatic increase in his numbers as the rookie got to grips with the NFL.
He received just 26 carries in his first seven games, but carried the ball 132 times for 527 yards and 3 touchdowns in his final six games – two of those matches coming post season.
If you need any more reason to believe this is going to be Akers year, he’s changed his jersey number back to his beloved 3, the number he’s worn since he started playing. Throw in the signing of veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Rams Cam Akers looks ready to explode.
J.K. Dobbins – Running Back, Baltimore Ravens
At Ohio State, Dobbins had a 2,000-yard season as a junior and 4,459 rushing yards and 38 rushing scores overall during his three seasons. He also showed notable receiving ability in college with 71 career receptions and five receiving touchdowns, something he has yet to properly showcase in the NFL.
That could all be set to change with the departure of Mark Ingram, leaving Dobbins and Gus Edwards to share the load.
Admittedly, Dobbins had already proved his worth over Ingram towards the end of the season, with an impressive eight-game touchdown streak that saw him rush for 538 yards at an average of 6.3 yards per carry. With more game time, Dobbins is high on the list of the players to watch this season.
Jalen Hurts – Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
While a lot of attention will be focused on rookies Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Zach Wilson this season, Hurts, a second-round draft pick in 2020 could finally be ready to step into the limelight.
Last season Hurts became only the ninth quarterback in NFL history with four or more touchdown passes and no interceptions in his first two starts. He’s the fourth with five combined rushing and passing TDs and no interceptions. That includes all quarterbacks in their first two starts and not just rookies.
The quarterbacks 44 pass attempts are 13th-most in NFL history by a rookie without an interception and the second most in Eagles history. Hurts also became the fifth NFL quarterback and first ever rookie to have a game with 330 passing yards, three or more TDs and no interceptions in either his first or second career start.
D’Andre Swift – Running Back, Detroit Lions
Expectations are high for the second-year running back as he starts the campaign as Detroit’s No. 1 back, after Adrian Peterson wasn’t re-signed. In only 13 games, four of those starts, Swift finished his rookie campaign with 114 carries for 521 yards and eight touchdowns, to go along with 46 receptions for 357 yards and two scores.
Swift is one of the best at evading tackles and has the ability to impact a game with fewer touches. A second-round draft pick in 2020, the running back will benefit from Anthony Lynn’s appointment as Detroit’s offensive coordinator.
Super Bowl favourites
Kansas City Chiefs
It’s easy to forget that QB Patrick Mahomes is still young and still learning, despite what he’s already achieved in the game. After last season’s humiliating Super Bowl defeat, Mahomes will be desperate to lead his team back to their third final in three years, and lift the Vince Lombardi trophy for a second time.
Thanks to the drafting of Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey, the acquisition of left tackle Orlando Brown and addition of free-agents Joe Thuney and Kyle Long, the Chiefs look better than ever.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last years Super Bowl Champions will yet again be one of the teams to beat this season. In a first in the NFL’s salary cap era, all 22 Tampa Bay starters on offense and defense that appeared on the Super Bowl LV roster will be on the team for 2021. If that doesn’t say ‘repeat’, then I don’t know what does.
The Bills were not as aggressive this offseason but crucially, they have not been hurt by many losses. The team that lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game will expect to go deeper this year, especially with QB Josh Allen calling the shots.
Allen will be looking to build on an impressive 2020 season that saw him throw for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns, helping the Bills to a 13-3 record.
The Browns were the AFC team that came closest to beating the Chiefs in the postseason, losing 22-17 in the Divisional Round, and proving they need to be considered contenders this time around.
With rookie Grant Delpit and cornerback Greedy Williams out all last season, that performance looks even better. John Johnson III, Troy Hill and draft picks Greg Newsome and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah plus Jadeveon Clowney have all been added to the roster.
With so many great players on show and a title race that’s too tight to call, whoever lifts the Vince Lombardi trophy at the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, will be worthy Super Bowl champions.