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A look ahead at the NFL season

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

OK, football fans. It's time. The NFL is back. In tonight's season opener, the reigning Super Bowl champs, my hometown Kansas City Chiefs, host the Detroit Lions. And the season kicks off in earnest this Sunday and Monday with everyone else in action, including one veteran quarterback taking the field for the first time not in a Green Bay Packers jersey. That's right. I am talking about Aaron Rodgers. Let's look ahead to the upcoming season with Nora Princiotti, staff writer for The Ringer. Hi, Nora. Welcome.

NORA PRINCIOTTI: Thank you so much for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. All right, Nora. You probably know how I would answer this question, but I want to turn this one over to you. Who is looking like a top contender going into this NFL season?

PRINCIOTTI: Well, I really get to suck up here, I guess, because the Chiefs are the team to beat. They are pretty clearly, at least to my eye, the most dominant team going into the season. That has everything to do with their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. And a lot of what I'll be watching for over the course of 2023 is going to be if a genuine contender to knock them off that Super Bowl pedestal emerges. But in the AFC and the Chiefs' conference in particular, there are teams like the Bills, who have been almost as dominant and explosive in the regular season as Kansas City, but are hoping to get over sort of a postseason hump. There are the Jets and Aaron Rodgers, who are going all in on this season. But it really comes down to can anyone beat the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes to me and probably to you, I'm guessing.

SUMMERS: That is very true. All right. I want to move on here and talk about the Aaron Rodgers of it all. I mean, he'd been with the Packers his entire career, won a Super Bowl, some MVP awards. And this year, after, like, a boatload of speculation, he will be playing instead for the New York Jets. I know it's early, but so far, does it seem like he's fitting in with the Jets?

PRINCIOTTI: Not only does it seem like he is fitting in. It seems like he is their poster child. He is their identity. The Jets are the Aaron Rodgers show now. And in New York and with a guy who has often been a little bit controversial in public but is comfortable being well-known, being famous, maybe sometimes even being infamous like Aaron Rodgers is, it's probably the only thing that we could have expected to happen. But it means that the stakes of the season for them are incredibly high. It's a great roster, but it can be hard to get a new player, a new quarterback, even someone as talented and experienced as Aaron Rodgers up to speed quickly. So there's a lot of risk in what they're doing with him as well.

SUMMERS: So, Nora, last thing - what teams have been flying under the radar this year? Do you have a dark horse pick that you think might have a breakout season?

PRINCIOTTI: One that I would definitely bring up as a dark horse is the Seattle Seahawks. I see there being four NFC contenders, and it's Seattle, San Francisco, the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. I think a lot of people would give you three and leave Seattle out of there. But I really think that they're ready. Their quarterback, Geno Smith, had a breakout season last year after winning the job. He'd been a career backup for most of his NFL life. And this is a year in which, for basically the first time, he's had an entire offseason to prepare, knowing that he was going to be the starter. And then the team as a whole - it's deep. It's young, they have a talented core. So to me, I think that they're ready not just to make some noise in the NFC West but in the NFC as a whole. I think they really do belong in that top tier.

SUMMERS: That's Nora Princiotti, a staff writer for The Ringer. Nora, thank you.

PRINCIOTTI: Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCOTT SCHREER'S "NFL ON FOX THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Patrick Jarenwattananon
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, alongside Ailsa Chang, Ari Shapiro and Mary Louise Kelly. She joined All Things Considered in June 2022.