By Sean Simara  @Sean_FottyMad  @TLE_Sport

The NFL made its triumphant return last week as we start on the long and bumpy road to Houston Texas for Super Bowl LI.  During the break of course there’s been a hell of a lot of highs and lows. Some players have departed and some will return.  Some have caused controversy but as ever all eyes were locked in game week one, and the hopes of many that their team got off to a good start.

Nearly 18 months after the initial scandal, ‘Deflate Gate’ is still hovering over the Patriots’ heads and, after a long legal process, Tom Brady decided to no longer pursue the case and accepted a 4 game ban.  New England shouldn’t miss him too much; 3 of the 4 games are at home so Jimmy Garoppolo will step in and should be good enough to get at least 2 wins.  Once Tom Brady returns you know he will be in one hell of a mood, which normally means wins for the Pats.  Anything less than a Super Bowl run will be seen as a failure in the eyes of the Patriots.

You can’t keep Dallas out of the headlines.  Tony Romo will be out for 6-10 weeks so rookie QB Dak Prescott will have an opportunity to impress.  He will need to because The Cowboys also signed Mark Sanchez who was released from Denver Broncos, although I’m not his biggest fan.  On a brighter note rookie, running back Ezekiel Elliott is a early contender for ‘Rookie of the Year’ and should have a big impact in Big D this year.

Colin Kaepernick has provided headlines over the summer for incidents off the field but could this inspire him and the 49ers this year?  Well, he will start the season behind Blaine Gabbert.  The NFC West is loaded though and it will still be very hard for them with the LA Rams, Seahawks & Arizona Cardinals.

Another new QB I will be keeping my eye on this year is Paxton Lynch who will have some big boots to fill for the Super Bowl Champions.  The Broncos secondary is still elite but can that be enough again?  Green Bay Packers were hurt by the injury to Jordy Nelson who missed the whole of last season.  You don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone.  Now he’s back so will Aaron Rodgers find his mojo again?  A slimmed down Eddie Lacy (RB) should also help – he was far from his best last season.  They are an aging team but if they can keep everyone healthy, they will most definitely be in the mix again.

Elsewhere in the NFC North the Minnesota Vikings were dealt a cruel blow in the summer with Teddy Bridgewater picking up a horror knee injury.  So the Vikings had to act fast and they did, picking up QB Sam Bradford from the Eagles which has gone down very well in Philadelphia.  The injury prone QB will not be missed.  Carson Wentz the number two draft pick has been named starting QB.

Carolina Panthers should have really been Super Bowl Champions – they really should have, but the fairy-tale ended on a sour note.  In the aftermath we even saw Cam Newton throwing his toys well and truly out the pram.  Josh Norman has left too so can they go one step further this time?  It will be hard as last year they were an unknown quantity, unlike this season.

The Arizona Cardinals could well be the must see team of the year.  The offensive tools they have on offer is frightening; they just all have to stay healthy.  David Johnson (RB) and Larry Fitzgerald (WR) have the potential to have stand-out seasons.  A lot of pressure is on Carson Palmer this year.  Another exciting team to watch for me, offence-wise at least, is the Buffalo Bills.  They were 8-8 last year but I do like the trio of Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins.  They may just sneak into the playoffs.

LA Rams will have all eyes on them as they have relocated from St Louis but I can’t see them doing much.  Oakland Raiders will be confident with Derek Carr entering his 3rd season in the NFL.  I also have to mention Robert Griffin III who starts again at the Cleveland Browns.  Could he rediscover his fine form?  Elsewhere the Pittsburgh Steelers do have a very explosive offence and have maybe the best WR in the game in Antonio Brown (there’s plenty of competition however).  But again they should have a strong season and, of course, the Seattle Seahawks can never be ignored.

The London games this year will see Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts, LA Rams v New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals v Washington Redskins so there’s plenty to look forward too on these shores.

AFC Winners: New England Patriots

NFC Winners: Arizona Cardinals

Super Bowl Winners: New England Patriots

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa – San Diego Chargers

Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers

Defensive Player of the Year: Jadeveon Clowney

These are my early picks for the upcoming NFL season.  Follow me for more news and views through the season.

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