Chicago Bears to kick off 100th NFL season tomorrow prior to touching down in Tottenham next month
The 100th National Football League (NFL) season gets underway in the early hours of tomorrow morning (1:20am, Friday 6th September), when the Green Bay Packers travel to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears.
Matt Nagy’s Bears outfit is one of four NFL teams that will be touching down in Tottenham next month as the American sports franchise makes its long-awaited debut in N17.
They take on the Oakland Raiders at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday 6th October (6pm) before the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers square off a week later (Sunday 13th October, 2:30pm).
Ahead of the curtain raiser to the new campaign, we caught up with former NFL star Jason Bell for an exclusive chat about the forthcoming road to Super Bowl LIV and those two much-anticipated games in our borough.
Bell, 41, played as a cornerback/safety for the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and the New York Giants between 2001 and 2007. He is now a BBC Sport pundit and NFL UK Ambassador.
Q. What did you make of the NFL Draft?
A. It’s cyclical because the league is always changing, so everybody is trying to fix their roster, improve their roster or catch up to the new times in the NFL – whatever that may be. In certain, specific years, there is just more quality at one position, so that is what they are going to go for. If they realise that it’s a quarterbacks’ draft, then you are going to see a bunch of quarterbacks go. A lot of that predicates what happens in the draft. It’s about the talent there, unless you have a need and then you just get the top talent at that position. That is why you see those changes from year to year.
I’m excited to see Kyler Murray (the number one draft pick overall for the Arizona Cardinals). He is the closest thing I’ve seen to (former NFL quarterback) Michael Vick. I played against Michael Vick myself in the open field and it was embarrassing. He ran around me and I’ve never seen anybody accelerate like that. I’ve witnessed it first-hand and it is scary. Kyler Murray can challenge your leverage. You think you’ve got him contained, but he has got the ability to simply sprint past you. He’s going to have to do that as well because that offensive line he has is not that great. They’re going to have issues. The narrative surrounding Kyler Murray is so big that nobody is really talking about that defence and the deficiencies that they have.
We’ve seen NFL coaches try to implement that college system before and it hasn’t had crazy success. But, we are seeing the pro game take things from the college game that is having success. If (head coach) Kliff Kingsbury finds a happy medium, with a talent like he’s got at quarterback, people are going to watch the Arizona Cardinals I can promise you that.
I also like the two linebackers, Devin Bush Jr and Devin White. They’re going to have immediate impacts at Pittsburgh and Tampa.
Q. The New England Patriots won their third Super Bowl in five seasons last year. Did that have any influence on the NFL Draft, with the other teams perhaps adopting a more pragmatic approach?
A. Every team has their own philosophy. If you are trying to do the Patriots’ way, I’d say you’d better get Bill Belichick’s brain and that’s going to be hard to do! (Laughing). The thing that makes the Patriots so dynamic and special is that you have a Head Coach (Belichick) that is basically your General Manager. He knows every player from top to bottom of that roster and what they do well because he has picked them. He’s selected them, so – when it comes down to a game situation where he needs that talent to shine through – he knows what everybody on that roster can do. There are not a lot of teams that have the same cohesion as the New England Patriots.
Q. Is the perceived dominance of the New England Patriots a good or bad thing for American Football?
A. We’re very lucky. People can say what they want, but we are in a time in the NFL when we are able to witness greatness and talk about it for the rest of our lives. We might never see this again. Yes, there are people that are very upset at the dynasty that is in play, but it’s something like no other in sports. We should be very happy that we can take part in that journey.
Q. Who is your tip to win the Super Bowl?
A. There’s a very good chance that the Patriots could go back-to-back. They continue to adjust and they’ve played – and won – doing different things. They’re not just a team that says: ‘We do X and we’re going to do it all the time.’ They don’t do that, so they’ve got the advantage.
The Philadelphia Eagles also have one of the deepest, talent-filled rosters in the league right now. They’re just loaded. Injuries do happen, especially in your play-off run, so you need a thick, deep roster to maintain your momentum. I like where Philly is.
That’s New England’s strength as well. You see guys getting plugged in all the time that can play and know what to do. They’ve been coached up really well too.
Q. Which team or teams do you feel may struggle to live up to expectations?
A. I really expected the Indianapolis Colts to be a great team this year, but Andrew Luck’s retirement is a pretty serious blow.
Jacoby Brissett is a great quarterback and outstanding in his own right, but I was very high on the Colts prior to that announcement.
This (Oakland) Raiders project might not go well. That could be the one and it could blow up. That could be something where we’re like: ‘Wow’ because you have a lot of different personalities on that roster. You have a lot of guys that have been at other places and have caused a little bit of trouble, without naming any names. You’re putting all those people in the same pot and the outcome could be good or it could be tragic.
Q. Who should British and European NFL fans look out for this forthcoming season?
A. You’ve got to go with Kyler Murray as he’s going to be fascinating to watch. I cannot wait to watch him.
With his personality and the talent now at his disposal, (the Cleveland Browns quarterback) Baker Mayfield might be electric this year. Every game the Browns play – whether they win, lose or draw – may be a highlight reel. It could be crazy.
Pat Mahomes is an amazing talent and he has got even better. He just astounds people with the way he throws the ball.
He has got crazy arm strength, but – more importantly – he understands what his arm can do. He has truly figured out where he can throw the ball and the windows he can fit it in. He has confidence in that and you can see it. He knows how late he can actually throw it. When you understand your skills set, you become a very dangerous player and a good one. It’s always fascinating to watch the quarterbacks.
A lot of the established players are not the ones that I would focus in on. It’s the newcomers or those that are emerging and taking that next step.
To read Jason Bell’s views about the NFL London games between the Chicago Bears & the Oakland Raiders and the Carolina Panthers & the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, check out the forthcoming edition (October/November) of Haringey People magazine.