NFL: Star power missing but plenty of interest in NFL season

Marshawn Lynch runs the ball against the Carolina Panthers. Photo / Getty Images
Marshawn Lynch runs the ball against the Carolina Panthers. Photo / Getty Images

The loss of some star power to retirement and a suspension to one of the league's greatest players has done little to dampen excitement ahead of an NFL season that will mark its return to Los Angeles.

When the reigning champion Denver Broncos host the Carolina Panthers in a Super Bowl rematch on Friday, it will kick off an NFL season unlike any seen in decades.

Gone are Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Oakland Raiders safety Charles Woodson, Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch as the quartet, who have a combined 54 seasons between them, led a parade of big-name players who hung up their cleats in 2016.

As for Tom Brady, one of only three quarterbacks with four Super Bowl wins, he is serving a four-game ban as part of the "Deflategate" scandal that will force him to miss the first quarter of the regular season.

The absence of such talent leaves big shoes to fill and there are many eager to take their place, including flamboyant Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and dynamic Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, both of whose teams are among the favourites to reach February's Super Bowl in Houston.

No team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots did it in 2004 and 2005 and while Denver will be without future Hall of Famer Manning, they are still a championship-calibre team powered by one of the NFL's best defences.

The Seahawks, who came within one pass of repeating as Super Bowl champions in 2015, have been perennial contenders over the past four seasons and, despite the loss of powerhouse Lynch, will boast a team stacked with talent on offence and defence.

While losing a player of Brady's calibre would be a blow to most teams, the talented Patriots remain favourites to win the AFC East division title for an eighth consecutive year.

There is also plenty of excitement on the West Coast since the country's biggest sport is back in the country's second-largest TV market.

After 21 seasons in St.

Louis, the NFL's Rams are back in Los Angeles, where they played from 1946 to 1994.

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