Reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes will begin his quest for a fourth Super Bowl trip in five seasons on Thursday when the 104th NFL season kicks off.
Mahomes, the 27-year-old quarterback who led Kansas City to a second Super Bowl title in four campaigns last February, will guide the Chiefs against visiting Detroit in the opener.
He'll be trying to spark Kansas City to a conference final for the sixth consecutive season in hopes of reaching Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas on February 11, 2024.
Most NFL clubs will launch their season on Sunday, while Buffalo will visit the New York Jets, now quarterbacked by four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, on Monday.
Mahomes says he is motivated by his desire to capture yet another Super Bowl crown.
"I think I always have that chip on my shoulder," Mahomes said. "It's more that I understand how lucky I am to be here.
"You don't have these windows where you can win Super Bowls too long usually, and luckily for us that window has been very big. But you go out there and you have that mentality every single year, you’re going to try to win that thing again."
The Chiefs are without a key player in their defensive unit as tackle Chris Jones remains a contract holdout, hoping for a better deal. Jones, 29, was part of a career-high 44 tackles and matched his career best with 15.5 sacks, starting every game in his seventh NFL season, all with Kansas City.
"He's the best defensive player in the league," Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. "He's deserving of all the money in the world."
Kelce, the top target for Mahomes, caught 110 passes for 1,338 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. But his status was in doubt after suffering a hyperextended knee in a Tuesday's practice.
While the Chiefs remain the beat to beat, no club has won back-to-back Super Bowls since Tom Brady guided the New England Patriots to victory in the 2004 and 2005 NFL championship spectacles.
But for the first season since 1999, legendary quarterback Brady will be missing, retired after a record haul of seven Super Bowl titles.
There are a host of other clubs waiting to seize the throne, including the Jets, with 39-year-old Rodgers arriving from Green Bay in April.
"I believe we have a legit chance to do it," Rodgers said. "I believe we're one of those teams."
He'll direct a club rebuilt to win now but one that hasn't won a Super Bowl since 1969 and hasn't reached the playoffs since 2010. Rodgers says chemistry is a key as much as talent.
"This team is really talented," Rodgers said. "We'll see if that other part sticks together."
- Ravens spend big to fly high -
The Eagles, led by quarterback Jalen Hurts, lost to Kansas City in the Super Bowl seven months ago but are expected to contend as well along with San Francisco, the Josh Allen-sparked Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, who have been without Joe Burrow for nearly six weeks of training due to a calf injury.
Detroit goes into Kansas City Thursday with hope of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and winning a playoff game for the first time since the 1991 post-season.
The Lions won eight of their last 10 games last season to finish 9-8, their best campaign in five years. Jared Goff, who quarterbacked the Los Angeles Rams to the 2019 Super Bowl, returns to direct the attack after throwing for 4,438 yards and 29 touchdowns last season.
Baltimore signed run-pass threat signal caller Lamar Jackson to a five-year extension worth $260 million and spent $15 million on three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who last played in the 2022 Super Bowl when he suffered a second torn knee ligament. If the two unite well, the Ravens could fly high.
"I got a great group of guys around me and right now I feel like is the time to elevate," Jackson said.
Baltimore's $303 million payroll trails only the Jets and Cleveland.
Hope returns in Washington after new owner Josh Harris took over in July from Dan Snyder, who bought the club in 1999 and oversaw only two playoff triumphs.