NFL London 2017: The Preview
For what we are about to receive... Gary Jordan looks forward to four more big regular season games in the UK's capital
The wait is over. It always seems like such a long time between the Super Bowl ending and a new season starting, and true enough 7 months is a fair amount of time for fans to get their football fix. Yes, the combine, draft, mini-camp, and full training camp with preseason games do fill the void, but there's nothing quite like the full-on action that meaningful regular season games bring.
It's become the norm now to expect the NFL to bring games over to the UK and once again they have delivered. Once more they sold out in good time, and this time another game has been added to the list, raising the total to a staggering four games to be played on these shores. We should never take these games for granted, but consider ourselves extremely fortunate to get any games let alone the four we are about to receive. With many other countries across the globe seeing themselves as suitable hosts, only time will tell if the number increases here, or stays at three or four, as the NFL expands globally. Mexico have another game this year after a successful stint on Monday Night Football, other possible countries in the future include Germany and Australia, but for now the NFL is focusing all its attention on the UK fanbase. A base which now boasts a 40,000-strong season ticket holder list, something that would create jealousy amongst a few firmly established teams.
There were encouraging words from esteemed NFL journalist Peter King, as he joined an NFLUK roadshow this past Spring. He couldn't sing the praises of the fans here high enough, nor how knowledgeable they are. With the games that have taken place here, with big name team owners such as Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft pushing the envelope hard, King stated that with a few logistical creases smoothed out a franchise could well be here by 2023. The small acorn that was planted in 2007 when the first regular season game was played outside North America – New York Giants playing the Miami Dolphins at Wembley – is indeed growing into the mighty Oak the NFL hierarchy dreamt it would.
With four games spread across two stadiums, over six weeks, it's a real test of how far the game has come here in the UK. Should there be a franchise here in the future the NFL will have to start to experiment with games in the latter part of the season, but no team yet will give up a game late in the season when playoff runs are being chased. Also, the Tottenham Hotspur stadium will be ready for the 2018 season, new territory to discover for all involved.
Exciting and heady times for sure. For now, though, let's look ahead to what this year brings.
Sunday September 24 – Wembley Stadium – 2.30pm
Week 3 – Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars
The UK has a love/hate relationship with the Jags. This is largely because they've not been very successful. A perennial struggler in the AFC South they are the team that has been under contract to play in London the most and have until the last couple of seasons always fallen the way of a big loss to more illustrious opponents. They tend to draft well, but the promise of that talent has yet to flourish. The Ravens visit for the first time and with the season not even a month old will be looking to lay a marker down in the AFC North. Super Bowl winning QB Joe Flacco will want to put a couple of poor seasons (by his standards) behind him, but with a young team around him the pressure will be on.
Sunday October 1 – Wembley Stadium – 2.30pm
Week 4 – New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins
Drew Brees never seems to age and he racks up the yards year after year. He now has superstar running back Adrian Peterson in the backfield. The former Vikings back will want to show that he's not past his best days and if this tandem deliver it could be a long day for Miami and the rest of New Orleans' opponents this year. Miami will want to back up a good 2016 and take the challenge to the Patriots in the AFC East. They will need a strong day from Jay Ajayi rushing, and for their defence to be on top form, if they are to get the win at Wembley.
Sunday October 22 – Twickenham Stadium – 6.00pm
Week 7 – Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams
An NFC West matchup under the lights at Twickenham halfway through the season will be a great spectacle. Arizona fly over for the first time and fans finally get to see WR Larry Fitzgerald in the flesh. His acrobatics and speed will delight the crowd. After an indifferent last season Head Coach Bruce Arians will want to go back with a W to springboard the rest of the season. The Rams have been a team in flux for a while now and just when you think they may have turned a corner they fall flat and go on an awful run of games. Jared Goff is now the QB in the hot seat, they have solid players but this could be another year in the basement.
Sunday October 29 – Twickenham Stadium – 1.30pm
Week 8 – Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns
When QB Teddy Bridgewater went down injured in the early part of the 2016 season, so went the Vikings' hopes of a good run at the playoffs. Coach Mike Zimmer will need QB Sam Bradford to step up again, but with a lack of outstanding talent around him on offense it's the defence that will keep Minnesota in games. Depending on the starts the two have, Cleveland will see their first trip to the UK starting the game as underdogs. Their 1-15 record in 2016 will be hard to turn around into anything respectable. Yes, they drafted well and Myles Garrett has huge potential, but he cannot do it all on his own. Coach Hue Jackson knows that he and his team need to improve quickly but staying competitive in the fierce AFC South is no easy task.