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What to know as the 2022 NFL season begins

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It is safe to come out now, football fans. The NFL is back. Tonight the reigning champion LA Rams host the Buffalo Bills. Now, this new season features new hopes for players and teams, ongoing scandal and, as always, Tom Brady. That's right. The 45-year-old is back again after retiring and then unretiring during the off season. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now to explain. Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: OK. So Tom Brady - I thought he was trying to spend more time with his family.

GOLDMAN: Well, he did during his 40-day retirement.

CHANG: Nice. That's quality.

GOLDMAN: But it is being reported his return for another season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is causing strain within his family. He took 11 days off from training camp to deal with personal things, according to Tampa Bay's coach. Now, of course, all Bucs fans care about is, can he lead the team to another title? He can as long as he's healthy. But it'll be interesting to watch.

CHANG: OK. Well, besides Tampa, I'm curious. What other teams are players are you going to be keeping an eye on?

GOLDMAN: A lot of talk about Buffalo, one of the teams playing tonight. The Bills have never won a Super Bowl. They famously lost four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s but never broke through. Now, that could change this year behind a great quarterback, Josh Allen, a great defense and just a very good, complete team. Two other quarterbacks to watch - Justin Herbert of the LA Chargers and Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles. They've been building to a breakout season, and this could be it. Three predictions for you, Ailsa - and now expect the exact opposite to happen.

CHANG: OK. And I'm sorry, but it seems like scandal is just, like, a regular part of the NFL experience. And that's no different this season, right?

GOLDMAN: That's right. And, again, several involve bad treatment of women. The Deshaun Watson case in Cleveland - he'll serve an 11-game suspension in relation to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. Much of this off season, The Washington commanders commanded the wrong kind of attention with their owner Dan Snyder for an alleged toxic and misogynistic workplace environment.

CHANG: And yet, I mean, Tom, it seems like despite all of that ongoing scandal, the NFL - it's still wildly popular. Can you please explain this to me?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, still the No. 1 spectator sport in the U.S. It's thrilling. It's in this country's blood. For a more nuanced answer, I will quote Travis Vogan, a University of Iowa professor. He studies sports in American culture. He told The New York Times NFL fans are, quote, "OK with the contradictions and the hypocrisy and even the discord that exists within the league. People will say football is so American because it's about violence and capitalism and territory. But maybe the hypocrisy and discord and corruption are just as American."

CHANG: Oh, my God. Well, that says a lot about us. Well, I cannot let you go without asking about tennis. Can we just talk about the amazing match last night at the U.S. Open?

GOLDMAN: Oh, an amazing match that started last night and ended at 3 this morning New York City time. It took Spain's Carlos Alcaraz five hours and 15 minutes to beat Italian Jannik Sinner. Both are part of an exciting new generation of men's players. And, Ailsa, I can barely contain myself thinking about tomorrow's semifinal match between Alcaraz and American Frances Tiafoe. They are both playing sizzling tennis, both huge fan favorites. Expect a thriller in this one.

CHANG: It'll be epic. That is NPR's Tom Goldman. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.