Welcome back, real football.
After a turbulent offseason that involved far too many stories about police investigations and plea deals, you've never looked so good.
The last time we saw an NFL game that counted, a steady rain soaked everyone and everything inside Dolphin Stadium. At the end of the night, the Indianapolis Colts didn't care. A wet Super Bowl championship, which they won against the Chicago Bears, is every bit as sweet as a dry one.
For the Colts, the only thing sweeter would be two consecutive Super Bowl victories. Only seven teams -- the Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, and New England Patriots -- have done it in the game's 41-year history. Only the Steelers have managed to pull it off twice.
"It's hard to win it to start with no matter if it's your second go at it, your third, your fourth, or your first," says Jon Gruden, whose Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't come close to hoisting a second Vince Lombardi Trophy since winning Super Bowl XXXVI. "It's such a competitive league."
And never has the competition looked more daunting than it does entering the 2007 season, which kicks off tonight when the Colts face the New Orleans Saints at the RCA Dome.
The AFC arguably has the four best teams in the league in the Colts, Patriots, San Diego Chargers, and Baltimore Ravens.
The season should start off in grand fashion tonight with what figures to be a festival of points on a field that will be occupied by two of the NFL's most explosive offenses and defenses that are prone to allowing big plays.
Peyton Manning isn't going to hesitate to air it out to ultra-dangerous wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, and rookie Anthony Gonzalez in the slot. Manning can expect plenty of help from talented second-year running back Joseph Addai, who takes the full rushing load after the offseason departure of Dominic Rhodes.
The Saints are equally capable of striking quickly and often. They have an elite quarterback of their own in Drew Brees, and game-breaking receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson. In addition, they have a dynamic running and receiving threat in second-year back Reggie Bush.
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Twenty-six other teams begin their schedules on Sept. 9. Among them is the Patriots, who added a great deal of talent on both sides of the ball in the offseason and are widely regarded as the favorite to win Super Bowl XLII. They open against the New York Jets, considered the Pats' strongest competition in the AFC East.
On the same day, the Chargers take on the Bears while the Eagles face the Green Bay Packers. The Chargers have a new coach, Norv Turner, but pretty much are the same team that posted an NFL-best 14-2 record in 2006. The Bears still have shaky Rex Grossman at quarterback, but their defense remains one of the league's best. With Donovan McNabb back from a serious knee injury, the Eagles are poised for another shot at the Super Bowl. Brett Favre is back for another season with the Packers, although Green Bay's greatest strength might very well be its defense.
Week 1 wraps on Sept. 10 with a Monday Night Football double-header. AFC North rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati square off in the first game, which will be followed by an NFC West showdown between up-and-coming Arizona and San Francisco.