The NFL Season Kicks Off Hoping to Leave Distractions Behind

Rob Moynihan
FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 13:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots warms up prior to a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium on August 13, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Let the games begin! After a scandal-filled summer, the National Football League returns to action tonight when the Pittsburgh Steelers march into Foxboro, Massachusetts to take on the defending champion New England Patriots on a special Thursday night edition of NBC's Sunday Night Football at 8:30/7:30c.

While the Patriots organization hopes tonight's opener is only the first step to winning another title, the game will be especially meaningful for quarterback Tom Brady. In May, the league announced a four game suspension for Brady due to his role in the "Deflategate" controversy, accusing the Patriots of illegally tampering with the air pressure in the game balls of last season's AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts. But after appealing, Brady's suspension was overturned by a federal judge on September 3, allowing the three-time Super Bowl MVP to suit up against Ben Roethlisberger and the high-powered Steelers offense.

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"Any time cheating is involved, even allegedly, you have to take it seriously," says NFL Network analyst and former NFL MVP quarterback Kurt Warner. "But sometimes these things become a monster of their own and we lose sight of the bigger picture, which is two great teams competing on a level playing field. Now we can get back to focus on what this sport is really about."

Warner, who played twelve years in the league for the St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals, is also paying close attention to the rumors swirling around one or two teams potentially moving to Los Angeles next season. The Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, and the Rams, who left Los Angeles for St. Louis in 1994, are among the top three teams currently in contention.

"I understand that if you're going to bring a team back to Los Angeles, the Rams are a natural choice," Warner says. "But I want the history and all that we accomplished to be a part of the St. Louis community. I'm not sure how it's going to shake out, but I understand both sides of it. I believe St. Louis deserves a team, and I also believe L.A. needs to have at least one team."

As for which two teams have the best shot of making it all the way to Super Bowl 50 on February 7, 2016, Warner predicts a match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and the Denver Broncos, led by veteran quarterback Peyton Manning. "If they make a run of it, it will probably be his last year," Warner says. "But they're balanced between offense, defense and a running game. They've got all the pieces there."