America’s most popular sport will begin its 95th season next Thursday and for the NFL, the pigskin is soaring through the sky and viewers are watching in record numbers.
Sports Illustrated asks “Where did all the gunslingers go?” The answer is simple: Most of them reside in the NFC, where eight Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks grace this week’s regional covers of Sports Illustrated.
OTHER PREVIEW COVERS: Romo-Foles | Cutler-Stafford | Brees-Ryan
The NFC West is arguably the league’s best division, with three teams winning at least 10 games last season, including the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and the NFC-runner up San Francisco 49ers.
The division no doubt goes through these two teams, and the contrast between the quarterbacks could not be more different.
The bright lights are now on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, after leading Seattle to a 43-8 thrashing of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
PREVIEWS: NFC: East | West | North | South | AFC: East | North | South | West
Wilson is living a sort of charmed life these days. Whether it’s seeing his face in seemingly every other commercial, making the rounds at basketball games, or dealing with his name being in the spotlight, the 25-year-old is not about for settling for one Super Bowl title. And because that is not in his nature, Wilson won’t be resting on any sort of laurels.
“I don’t have everything I wanted,” Wilson tells SI’s Greg Bishop. “I’m far from that. I keep searching. Is that sick? Is that weird? I don’t know. But I’m not satisfied with last year’s results.”
Wilson’s counterpart down the West Coast, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has his own goals. He wants to be the best player in the league and win Super Bowl titles; something that has eluded Kaepernick and his teammates in each of the past three seasons.
“I feel like I’m a good dude, and I’m a cool person to be around, but I am not that damn cool, Kaepernick says. “As much as I’d like to think, This is great, everybody loves me, I just don’t buy that. It was never like that before.”
Kaepernick, 26, found out quickly this summer that perception is not exactly reality. A TMZ headline that read “Colin Kaepernick Investigated For Sexual Assault” had many around the league wondering about his future. But Kaepernick and two other NFL players were not charged with any crime after the alleged incident in a Miami hotel.
The Niners had no problems putting their confidence in Kaepernick, giving him a six-year contract extension this offseason that could be worth up to $126 million. The deal includes $12.328 million in guaranteed money.
The 49ers have been to three straight NFC championship games and have one Super Bowl appearance, but no hardware to show for it. That said, Kaepernick is fully prepared to put the Niners on his shoulders and hoist the franchise’s first Lombardi trophy in 20 years.
For more of Wilson and Kaepernick, check out this week's issue of Sports Illustrated (subscribe here).
2014 Sports Illustrated Covers