When Patrick Mahomes swept the Kansas City Chiefs to Super Bowl victory in Miami, all the talk was of a dynasty.
The seven months since have seen unprecedented change. But the NFL, a $25billion (£19m) industry, takes a knee for no-one.
The 2020 season begins overnight as the Chiefs host the Houston Texans. It features the game’s highest-paid players as Mahomes duels with fellow 2017 draftee Deshaun Watson.
With protests, without fans, the addition of two new stadiums and two more playoff teams, plus Tom Brady playing in red, it promises to be a season like no other.
Kansas City Chiefs head into the new season looking to repeat their Superbowl success
Super Bowl MVP Mahomes dislocated his knee in week seven, missed two games and mounted a miraculous recovery. It culminated with a crescendo of comeback victories in the playoffs against Houston, Tennessee and, most , San Francisco in Miami.
After rewarding the now fully fit Mahomes with a blockbuster $450million (£350m), 10-year deal, the Chiefs also tied up head coach Andy Reid and have kept most of their high-octane offense in place. In the draft, they added running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire to bolster their ground game.
Defensively, nomadic playmaker Tyrann Mathieu has found a home, and if his leadership and ball-hawking skills can infuse the Chiefs with the kind of belief which kept the San Francisco 49ers scoreless in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, don’t rule out a repeat.
But history is not on their side. Just 12 teams have made it to back-to-back Super Bowls. And only seven have won consecutive championships, the last being the New England Patriots in 2004.
Patrick Mahomes helped lead the Chiefs to success and will be now hoping for a repeat
Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
Las Vegas Raiders at Carolina Panthers
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriot
Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos
The Baltimore Ravens looked set to sweep into the Super Bowl, but met a buzzsaw in the shape of the Tennessee Titans and an inspired Derrick Henry in the Divisional Round.
With last season’s MVP Lamar Jackson thriving in Greg Roman’s scheme, the Ravens possess a fearsome defense, which has been bolstered by linebacker Patrick Queen in the draft and veteran lineman Calais Campbell in free agency.
Not for the first time, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan felt the Vince Lombardi trophy slip from his grasp.
And Jimmy Garoppolo, who already has two rings, may wonder if he’ll get the chance to add to them.
And while Shanahan is an offensive genius, the 49ers steamrollered into the Super Bowl thanks to a smothering defensive line, which bar the departed Deforest Buckner, remains intact.
In a season where continuity could be vital, the New Orleans Saints boast one of the best rosters and a coach and a quarterback who have done it all before.
But if they are to triumph they must do so without the deafening roar inside the Superdome, for the time being at least.
Backed by a rock-solid defense, can the Steelers reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017, a relative drought in Pittsburgh?
Elsewhere, the Seattle Seahawks are always there or thereabouts and Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was already giving opposition quarterbacks nightmares without Jadeveon Clowney.
Dallas should be explosive and the second year of Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay will be compulsive viewing for a myriad of reasons.
Dark horses? Indianapolis. Outsiders? Don’t sleep on Denver.
Last season’s MVP Lamar Jackson will hope to lead the Baltimore Ravens to the Superbowl
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXV in 2003 with a loaded defense. This season they are going about things a little differently.
No team has ever won the Super Bowl in their own stadium, but with the Raymond James Stadium set to host the big dance in February, the notoriously miserly Glazer family morphed into a bottomless pit.
In March came Tom Brady on a two-year, fully guaranteed $50million (£39m) deal. He may be 42, but is a six-time Super Bowl-winner and arguably the greatest quarterback to have played the game.
Next, Brady’s old sparring partner Rob Gronkowski pulled himself off a party beach and out of retirement. But can the tight end’s battered body still do it?
And when Leonard Fournette was waived by Jacksonville, the bowling ball running back – who has run for 1,000yards-plus in two of his three seasons with the Jaguars – was added to Bruce Arians’ offense.
With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, two lanky, fast receivers who have a claim to being the league’s best duo, already in situ, watching the Bucs won’t be dull. And thanks to some new duds, they look good too.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have brought in veteran quarterback Tom Brady, 42
Cam Newton is Brady’s successor at the new look New England.
Newton is looking to resurrect his career after multiple injuries, and has received praise from Bill Belichick, while offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels now has a mobile quarterback at his disposal.
But with a league-high eight players opting out due to Covid concerns (among them linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung), the Patriots also saw key defensive pieces move on in free agency.
The division has got stronger. Buffalo added receiver Stefon Diggs while their No 3 overall defense retains nine starters. Miami are steadily rebuilding, but the Jets are, well, still the Jets.
It would take a brave man to bet against Belichick: the Patriots have won the AFC East 19 times in the past 21 years, and for the last 11 seasons in a row. But despite their vast experience, a deep playoff run appears beyond them.
Cam Newton has succeeded Brady at the New England Patriots at quarterback
The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to an amended collective bargaining agreement in July and as a result, some 71 opted out of the season on health grounds due to Covid-19.
They include right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from the Super Bowl-winning Chiefs, who will continue to study medicine at Harvard.
But in a contact sport featuring 256 regular season games in multiple destinations, Covid-19 will undoubtedly continue to play its part.
After seeing baseball’s season derailed by a raft of positive tests, last month hearts were in mouths after 77 NFL players from 11 teams produced positive test results. They were quickly deemed to be ‘false positives’ from the New Jersey laboratory.
‘It will not be easy, and it will be different,’ NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, ‘but we are prepared.’sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has opted out of competing in the NFL this season on health grounds
Colin Kaepernick began protesting against police brutality and social inequality by refusing to stand for the national anthem before a 2016 preseason game.
Players have continued to kneel before matches, to the