6 Sep 2017

Patriots remain the team to beat

11:20 am on 6 September 2017

The 2017 NFL season begins this week with some old faces in new places, a second team in LA and relaxed touchdown celebration rules.

The Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady in action.

The Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady in action. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

But one thing that has not changed is the New England Patriots' status as Super Bowl favourites.

The reigning champions, who host the season opener on Friday against Kansas City, are powered by 40-year-old Tom Brady who has shown no signs of slowing down despite being well beyond the age when quarterbacks generally lose a step.

Brady's close friend and trusted receiver Julian Edelman is out for the season with an ACL tear but wideout Brandin Cooks, acquired from the New Orleans Saints in March, and tight end Rob Gronkowski are just a taste of his many passing options.

But the Patriots are not invincible and there are plenty of obstacles between them and a berth in the February 4 Super Bowl in Minnesota, perhaps none tougher than Le'Veon Bell's Pittsburgh Steelers and Derek Carr's Oakland Raiders.

Atlanta Falcons.

Atlanta Falcons. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Atlanta Falcons, whose high-powered offence is led by reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Matt Ryan, will be eager for a fresh start after squandering a 28-3 third-quarter lead in last season's Super Bowl.

But the NFL is not always sympathetic to losing Super Bowl teams as only two have come back to win it all the following season -- the 1971 Dallas Cowboys and 1972 Miami Dolphins.

The Dallas Cowboys have a team built to compete for a Super Bowl but without Ezekiel Elliott, who is awaiting an appeal of his six-game suspension for his alleged role in a domestic violence case, will need to avoid a slow start.

Together with quarterback Dak Prescott he helped restore the swagger to a team that won three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s.

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The nation's second-largest city, which had gone 21 years without a team until the Rams left St Louis for Los Angeles last season, will suddenly have two franchises as the Chargers have since left San Diego for the City of Angels.

A number of familiar faces will by wearing new colours this season as former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement to join the Raiders while 2012 league MVP Adrian Peterson has joined the New Orleans Saints.

But one popular name who will be without a team is former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose refusal last season to stand for the national anthem as part of his protest for racial injustice led others around the NFL to follow suit.

The embattled quarterback is good enough to start for a handful of teams but his supporters claim he is being pushed out because of his political action.

The new season should also feature a whole lot of fun as celebrations for touchdowns and other highlight-reel plays will no longer be flagged or fined by the league for being "excessive."