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NFL early 2024 storylines: Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow return, Caleb Williams and Jim Harbaugh arrive and Jerod Mayo leads a new era

As the NFL closes the door on Super Bowl LVIII and the 2023 season, we take a very early look ahead to some of the storylines awaiting in 2024, from Aaron Rodgers' return to a new era for the New England Patriots; follow the NFL offseason across Sky Sports, including the 2024 NFL Draft

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Recap some of the best bits from an incredible NFL season on Sky Sports

Patrick Mahomes wasted no time in looking towards 2024 in his pursuit of a third straight Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl win, so we thought we would do the same.

While the NFL Draft prepares to deliver a new marquee quarterback to the league, there are new beginnings in the offing and high-profile injury returns pending as teams fight to deny the Chiefs a historic three-peat.

As we head into the long offseason break, here is an early glance at just a few of the big storylines awaiting in 2024...

Rodgers’ return

Remember him? Aaron Rodgers was the story of the 2023 offseason, joining the New York Jets as the four-time MVP face of a franchise revival in a trade from the Green Bay Packers after 18 years at Lambeau Field. The Jets had not been to a Super Bowl since upsetting Don Shula's Baltimore Colts in January 1969, managing just 17 winning seasons out of 54 ahead of the 2023 campaign while enduring the league's longest active losing streak of seven straight years. Rodgers was supposed to flip the narrative and complement a championship-ready defense to turn the Jets into the NFL's newest contenders.

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Star quarterback Aaron Rodgers was greeted by Jake Paul before he suffered a potentially season-ending injury on his debut for the New York Jets.

His season was over just four plays into his debut, Rodgers suffering a season-ending Achilles in his new side's season opener against the Buffalo Bills. The Jets would go on to endure a year of misery behind back-up quarterback Zach Wilson, amounting to an eighth straight losing season at 7-10. Rodgers is primed to make his return in 2024 in search of his second Super Bowl ring, armed with star weapons Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall as well as one of the league's most talented young defenses, led by Quinnen Williams and Sauce Gardner.

Patriots under Mayo

The New England Patriots embark on a new era in 2024 as they begin life under first-year head coach Jerod Mayo, who is the man tasked with succeeding the great Bill Belichick following his departure after 24 seasons. Mayo had long been touted as the Patriots' next in line having served as inside linebackers coach since 2019 and garnered a reputation as one of the league's brightest young defensive minds.

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Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold look into the head coaching change in New England, with 37-year-old Jerod Mayo replacing Patriots legend Bill Belichick

Belichick leaves hefty boots to fill, having guided the franchise to six Super Bowl wins out of nine visits to the NFL's season finale during his time in Foxboro. His exit, though, arrived on the back of a 4-13 finish to the 2023 season, at the foundation of which had been an offensive collapse that leaves the franchise searching for its next long-term quarterback. The chance to address their troubles under center could come at the 2024 NFL Draft, where they occupy the third overall pick with USC's Caleb Williams, North Carolina's Drake Maye and LSU's Jayden Daniels looming.

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Mayo's presence offers some continuity to a Belichick-driven defensive scheme that, despite the lack of results, has continued to place among the league's best, while his most pressing task will be mending an offense that ranked 31st in total yards, 28th in passing, 26th in rushing, 31st in scoring and 31st in EPA/play this season. That job will also fall on the shoulders of newly-appointed offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, who moves across from the Cleveland Browns as perhaps Mayo's most important and to-be-scrutinised hire.

Chiefs three-peat?

It took mere minutes after sealing victory over the 49ers at Super Bowl LVIII for Mahomes, Travis Kelce and the Chiefs to switch their attention to winning three successive championships. Sunday's win saw them become the first back-to-back champions since the Patriots in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, with their sights now set on becoming the first franchise in history to win three in a row.

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Highlights from the Kansas City Chiefs against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII from Las Vegas

As long as Mahomes is healthy and under center, they are contenders. As much was reaffirmed this season as he clinched a third ring despite a year of struggles on offense for Andy Reid's side. Kelce may not be the perennial 1,000-yard receiving target of years gone by, but he starred in the playoffs to suggest he can yet play a defining role as Mahomes' favourite weapon. Rashee Rice has assumed a place in the trust circle, so too has running back Isiah Pacheco, while the Chiefs are likely to seek reinforcements on the outside. They meanwhile own the youngest defense in the NFL, with offseason priorities likely to be retaining both defensive tackle Chris Jones and cornerback L'Jarius Sneed.

The Harbaugh-Herbert tandem

There is a new sheriff in Hollywood. There may be a new contender in Hollywood, as a result. Jim Harbaugh will take charge of his first season as Los Angeles Chargers head coach as he makes his return to the NFL having just led Michigan to College National Championship glory.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh gestures during warmups before the team's Orange Bowl NCAA college football playoff semifinal against Georgia, Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Harbaugh will be the coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, leaving Michigan after capping his ninth season as coach of college football...s winningest program with the school...s first national championship since 1997
Image: Jim Harbaugh arrives in Los Angeles looking to lead the Chargers to contention

His job is to steer Justin Herbert and his envied arm talent towards a place among the league's perennial playoff quarterbacks, where by now he should probably already be. Brandon Staley paid the price for Herbert's expertise going unrewarded as he was fired as head coach mid-way through the 2023 campaign, a stumbling defense proving a defining factor in his departure.

Harbaugh has built a reputation for turning struggling teams around: in 2007 he took over a limping Stanford programme before leading them to two college Bowl games in four seasons; in 2011 he took over a San Francisco 49ers team that had missed the playoffs for eight straight seasons before leading them to three straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl; in 2015 he took over a Michigan team without a Conference title since 2004 before guiding them to a Championship. He knows how to win.

Burrow is back

Joe Burrow has been watching, waiting, and plotting his return as one of the league's leading hopes and candidates to spoil a Chiefs party that refuses to switch off the music. The Cincinnati Bengals had been among the favourites to reach the Super Bowl heading into the 2023 campaign, only for their season to be blunted by a year-ending wrist injury to Burrow in their Week 11 clash with the Baltimore Ravens. Burrow will be back for 2024, hunting a return to the playoffs two years removed from Cincinnati's Super Bowl defeat to the Los Angeles Rams.

Burrow exited the game after a second quarter touchdown pass to Joe Mixon
Image: Joe Burrow will be back for 2024!

If Mahomes is considered the NFL's No. 1 quarterback, a healthy Burrow is right there alongside Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson as the next in line. In fact, there is a strong case for him being the best equipped to take Mahomes and the Chiefs down. The Bengals have some business to handle when it comes to the contracts of Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase, but everything points to a team re-establishing itself among the contenders as long as Burrow is there.

The next wave of QBs

The chasing pack is growing. CJ Stroud has fast-tracked the Houston Texans rebuild into playoff threat territory, Jordan Love and his Green Bay Packers team just stunned the Dallas Cowboys into familiar postseason misery with the youngest offense in the league, and Anthony Richardson will be back from injury to spearhead Shane Steichen's tailor-made Indianapolis Colts as one of the NFL's most intriguing talents under center.

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The best plays from Texans quarterback CJ Stroud, who won this season's Rookie of the Year award

What of Bryce Young? The 2022 No. 1 overall pick endured a torrid rookie season with the Carolina Panthers under the now-fired Frank Reich and with owner David Tepper creating unwelcome headlines off the field, but will now have the opportunity to establish a long-term union with newly-appointed head coach Dave Canales, who just inspired some of Baker Mayfield's best football with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had no weapons; he needs weapons. He had no protection; he needs protection. Year two will be fascinating.

Caleb Williams, Justin Fields and the Bears

A new star is on his way to the NFL, but which jersey will he be wearing come September? USC's Caleb Williams is widely regarded as the top quarterback available at this year's NFL Draft and one of the future faces of the league, with the Chicago Bears in pole position to acquire his Heisman Trophy-winning services as current occupants of the No. 1 pick. Their dilemma comes in the form of current quarterback Justin Fields, his strong finish to the campaign and public support from Bears teammates in favour of him retaining his job at Soldier Field.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams is expected to be the No 1 pick at the NFL Draft
Image: USC quarterback Caleb Williams is expected to be the No 1 pick at the NFL Draft

Comparisons to Mahomes somewhat epitomise the expectations surrounding Williams. For all the Bears might think of Fields and for as good as he can potentially be, Williams could well fit under the 'too good to pass on' category as the calibre of franchise-propelling prospect teams are scrambling for in the bid to keep up with Mahomes and the Chiefs.

Should the Bears draft Williams, where next for Fields? Should the Bears keep Fields, who leapfrogs them in the Draft to take Williams?

Brazil, Munich and London!

The NFL's international road trip reaches a new corner of the planet in 2024 as the league heads to Brazil, where the Philadelphia Eagles will host the first regular season game at Sao Paulo's Arena Corinthians on the Friday of kickoff weekend.

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Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold discuss the NFL 'ticking off' different continents, as 2024 looks to be a year of further worldwide growth for the game

It represents one of five international matchups on the 2024 NFL schedule, with the Jacksonville Jaguars set to play at Wembley Stadium for the 10th time while the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings host games at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the Caroline Panthers make their Germany debut at the Allianz Arena in Munich.

Brazil features as part of the next chapter in the league's escalating global expansion, which recently saw Madrid confirmed as the newest addition to the calendar in 2025. With the pace the league is moving overseas, it would come as no surprise were a Dublin or a Paris announced as another new host partner by the end of the year.

Who will come again?

The chasing pack are fed up. Fed up of Chiefs success. And, on this occasion, fed up of Chiefs success against the odds.

The 49ers exited the 2023 season kicking themselves, having held a 10-point Super Bowl lead and knowing the chances to pull away against the Chiefs were there as the league's most talented championship-ready roster came away empty-handed in Las Vegas. Kyle Shanahan's widely-scrutinised wait for a ring goes on, while the pressure is suddenly heightened for Brock Purdy as the Mr Irrelevant quarterback seeks to lead his star-studded offense back to the Super Bowl. They are already the betting favourites to win it all, but how do they respond to bitter heartbreak?

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We take a look back at the lead-up and best bits from Sunday's action at the Superbowl, where the Kansas City Chiefs came out victorious

MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens looked like the class of the NFL as they cruised through the regular season, only to hit a Chiefs-shaped blockade and find themselves ruining another premature end to a season that had promised so much. Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills were the league's most frightening postseason proposition after turning their campaign around with a ruthless winning streak to propel themselves back among the Super Bowl favourites, only to run into the Chiefs. The Miami Dolphins, led by Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill, boasted one of the league's most feared offenses only to see their Super Bowl aspirations derailed by marquee injuries and, well, the Chiefs.

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Highlights from the Detroit Lions against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game

Mike McCarthy is playing for his job as Dallas Cowboys head coach after their shock playoff defeat to the Green Bay Packers, and the same might be said of Nick Sirianni after the Philadelphia Eagles' demoralising finish to the campaign a year out from reaching the Super Bowl. Perhaps the most intriguing story, though, comes in Detroit, where Dan Campbell's Lions must ensure this remains a new long-term chapter of contention after reaching the NFC Championship Game.

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