Well, folks, it's that time of year again — when Sundays are transformed from the day to cram in the weekend's allotment of homework, into the day to cram a weekend's allotment of chips and dip into your mouth.
The NFL season kicks off tonight when the Tennessee Titans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the defending champion Steelers. But even as the Steelers take the field in defense of their sixth Super Bowl, they are locked in a tie with everyone else in football.
At the start of every season, all teams are created equal. That's the best part of September football: Everyone thinks this could be the year. OK, well, everybody except the Lions.
Just think of last season. The New England Patriots seemed to be the team to beat in the NFL yet again, and Pats fans everywhere were ready for another ring to add to their already impressive collection. But, bam, before September ended, Tom Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury, and all of a sudden the playing field leveled just a bit.
Then there are the New York Jets. With Brady out of the lineup in New England and Brett Favre coming to the rescue, Jets fans were sure 2008 was the year — especially after Favre got off to a hot start, beating the hapless Miami Dolphins convincingly in the season opener.
But wait, that's right, the Dolphins won the AFC East last year. Chad Pennington, run out of New York in favor of the flip-flopping No. 4, led a team with only one win in 2007 all the way to the top and into the playoffs, in one of the best leagues in football — sending New York and New England to the golf course. Who would have guessed that in September?
And how about the Arizona Cardinals? Before the 2008 season, they were just the same old Arizona Cardinals. Sure, most people knew Larry Fitzgerald has some skills, but with a washed-up Edgerrin James at running back and an ever-aging Kurt Warner under center, hopes couldn't have been too high.
But months later, when Warner was near the top of the league in passing yards and some rookie running back named Tim Hightower from some little Football Championship Subdivision school had racked up double-digit touchdowns, even Cardinals fans weren't quite sure what was going on. Then, when they reached the Super Bowl, football fans everywhere released the collective, "Huh?"
Stories like these are what make the start of every football season so exciting. With only 16 games on the regular season schedule, even Week One can have a huge impact on a team's morale, momentum and playoff possibilities.
This season, there's even more excitement because of the storylines across the league. Will Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb click in Philly, or will the Eagles' gamble prove unwise? Will Minnesota's late acquisition of a 40-year-old future Hall-of-Famer spell success or make them look like suckers? Can Tom Brady reclaim his spot at the top of the league or will rookie Mark Sanchez steal his thunder in the AFC East? Will the Lions win a game?
All of these questions will be answered during the next five months, and every Sunday the questions that fans everywhere had before the season will slowly begin to answer themselves.
So, as Browns fans everywhere tell you that Brady Quinn will lead them to the promised land and San Francisco's faithful claim that this is the year they will return to the Niners of the 90's, don't call them crazy just yet. Sit back, relax and enjoy the next few weeks, and after that you can pretend you knew exactly what was going to happen.
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Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org
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