Football is back, baby! |

Football is back, baby!

Ah, yes. America’s long, terrifying nightmare is finally over; college and professional football is back!

If you’re anything like me, you likely spent most of your Labor Day weekend glued to a big flat-screen TV watching the high number of college football games available at the click of a button. That’s probably unlikely though, considering where we live and what’s available to us just by walking out your front door.

Oh well, I enjoyed my holiday weekend taking in the “greatest weekend ever” in college football history with a ridiculous slate of games Saturday through Monday night, highlighted by Louisiana State losing (ha ha, more on this later) to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field; Houston upsetting Oklahoma; Florida State mounting a ridiculous comeback over Ole Miss; Texas stunning Notre Dame to stake their claim in a triumphant return to relevance in college football, and of course, Alabama stomping (ROLL TIDE!) Southern California at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

I’m a huge Crimson Tide fan, so that was fun to watch. For USC fans? Not so much (Sorry, Ron Milhorn).

But now that an exciting slate of games has passed, it’s time to gear up for the best football out there — the National Football League.

As I’m sure all of you in this wonderful valley are aware, the Denver Broncos begin their title defense Thursday night against the team they took down to win Super Bowl L, the Carolina Panthers.

The game to start the season marks the first time since 1970 that a Super Bowl champion will open the following season against the team it just beat to win it all. How cool is that? We get to watch history in the first game of the regular season.

Good job, NFL.

Although some of the big names from that great Super Bowl are gone (thanks again, Peyton) there’s still plenty to get excited about with this kickoff to the season in Denver.

You have Von Miller against Cam Newton again, along with the Panthers’ improved passing attack squaring off with a stout Denver secondary. Then, you have the fan base badgering Newton, who famously stormed off the podium following the loss in the Super Bowl. That fact alone has me excited to see how Broncos fans receive Newton at Mile High.

On top of Thursday’s opening game, there are plenty of story lines to follow with the Broncos, including Trevor Siemian, C.J. Anderson, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, Adam Gotsis and Aqib Talib. Will the defending champs come back in 2016 hungry for another world championship, or will they be complacent and go through the motions?

Outside of this game, there’s plenty to be excited about across the NFL.

How do the Vikings move forward without Teddy Bridgewater? Is Sam Bradford going to be enough to get Minnesota over the hump and lead them on a deep playoff run? What about the Cowboys, who will be without Tony Romo due to a broken bone in his back yet again. Romo’s injury forces rookie Dak Prescott — the darling of the preseason — into a starting role for a playoff-hopeful team. While Prescott looked good in preseason, I still expect a ton of work for Ezekiel Elliott. That alone should be so fun to watch.

What about the Steelers, Giants and Seahawks? Is this the year those three teams put it all together and make a serious push for the Super Bowl with three elite QBs in Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Russell Wilson, who happened to all be top five QBs last year. Could an even bigger year be on the horizon for the trio?

This is a big year for my hometown Steelers. Here’s hoping this is the year they get ring No. 7.

With all that said though, I’m intrigued to watch the Josh Norman-Odell Beckham Jr. battle that will now take place two times this year. Norman has talked a lot of smack for a guy who got burned early and often by Beckham last season, but that’s not much different from any of the other top cornerbacks in the league.

In the end though, I will have my eyes glued to the Arizona Cardinals, who might be the most fun team in the entire league. Bruce Arians is in the discussion for best head coach in the league, while Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Chris Johnson and other forgotten veterans have experienced career resurgences in the desert. That’s a fun team to watch any time, any place, any where.

If you can’t tell, I just love football regardless of the level. It’s a great sport that is capped off by the great level of play in the NFL. Thursday night’s game starts a great stretch of sports entertainment for the next five months. Football has been — and likely always will be — king of professional sports.

So this Thursday, kick back, relax and enjoy the start of a great season. I know I will.

Here we go, Steelers, here we go!

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