31st August 2017. For fans of American football, the long drought of the offseason is finally almost over. With the next season beginning in just a few weeks, it's time to ramp up the hype levels again and start building excitement for the games ahead. With this year's draft in the books and the first games of the pre-season starting to peek over the horizon, now is also a good opportunity to catch up on what you need to know about the upcoming season. Some players have changed teams, and other teams have had their fortunes shift. There have even been some rule changes implemented for the upcoming season. With two divisions and 32 teams between them, keeping track of everything that goes on each year can be a challenge. Whether you select one favourite to watch or opt to follow several on their journey through the months-long regular season, there's sure to be no shortage of excitement. The 2017 season also features another first for the NFL: more overseas games. In past years, the league has played two games as exhibitions in London. This year, that number jumps up to four! What else has developed since the end of the last Super Bowl?

Important developments in the off-season

The off-season is a time for horse-trading, team-building, and deal-making in the NFL. After the New England Patriots clinched yet another Lombardi Trophy at the conclusion of Super Bowl LI, every team in the league returned home to begin planning for next year. A few developments have made for some potentially interesting changes this year. First, of course, is the relocation of the San Diego Chargers to Los Angeles, following the St Louis Rams to the California city. They are now known, of course, as the Los Angeles Chargers. Next, six teams changed head coaches this off-season. The San Francisco 49ers had a disappointing 2016-17 season and opted to replace their coach with Kyle Shanahan, an experienced offensive and defensive coordinator. Both the LA Rams and Chargers picked up new coaching staff, while the troubled Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars also added new talent to the top coaching spot. One notable player announced his return to the field: "Beast Mode" Marshawn Lynch. Previously a Seattle Seahawks player, Lynch retired several seasons ago but is now back to play for the Oakland Raiders. Though he's been away from the game for several years, watch for him to work hard and come back with a vengeance. As one of the most exciting players to watch in their prime, we'll have to hope he still has some of the playmaking abilities that made him famous in the first place. Plenty of trading accompanied this year's NFL Draft, which saw fewer big names and major, exciting picks than previous years. The first overall pick was defensive end Myles Garrett, selected by last year's biggest losers, the Cleveland Browns. The second pick went to the Chicago Bears, who drafted promising quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears have had consistent issues at the QB position for some time and looked to strengthen their position on the field this season with their draft pick. Also selecting a quarterback in the hopes of kickstarting their offence on the field were the Houston Texans, who selected back-to-back college champion, Deshaun Watson. As the leader of a top college football team, Watson looks poised to bring some much-needed life to the Texans' gridiron game. Other teams focused on shoring up their passing or running games with careful picks. With more than 30 wide receivers going to teams in the draft, it's clear many American football teams want to develop in this area.

Which are the teams to watch this year?

So, which teams could make a big run towards the Super Bowl this year? We can't ignore the possibility that the New England Patriots will make another run for the championship. Even though Tom Brady continues to age, he has not shown signs of slowing down yet. Head coach Bill Belichick continues building a strong offensive line around Brady as well, while the defence continues to punish other teams in the league. Whether you love them or hate them, expect the Pats to continue to be one of the best teams in the league. The Dallas Cowboys have built a formidable team over recent seasons and may be finding their footing with a new offensive formula and quarterback. The Baltimore Ravens should also have a strong showing this year as their team continues to work in good rhythm with one another; its defence continues to post big numbers while making heart-pounding stops in the red zone every season. Don't count out the Cleveland Browns or the Jacksonville Jaguars, either ? though both have had very rough seasons in the past; they are also moving towards the end game of "rebuilding" phases. With their draft picks, Cleveland may hope to be a contender again finally.

NFL players of note for the 2017 season

Rooting for your team is exciting, but so is watching your favourite player catch a long pass or break through a seemingly impenetrable wall of defenders. We've already mentioned that Marshawn Lynch is a player to watch. Who else out there is worth your attention too? Here are some of the lesser known players who might have a breakout year. Ken Crawley, a cornerback for the New Orleans Saints, came to the team as a free agent last year ? then saw tonnes of action. With explosive power and good fundamentals, the Saints will look to start him in more games this year. He could be a big playmaker, and Drew Bree?s penchant for long passes, he could be a crucial element. Dalvin Cook, a new running back with the Minnesota Vikings, had an impressive college career and a national championship win. Cook has incredible speed and prowess on the field when handling the ball. If you catch a Vikings game, don't forget to keep an eye out for #33. Tyreek Hill, of the Kansas City Chiefs, racked up an insane amount of receiving yardage in last year's season. Look for him to repeat the feat again this year, especially as the Chiefs gun for a repeat of their division championship. Of course, there are many more interesting players too ? so check out some games and form your own preferences, too.

New rules and tweaks to the game

Each year, the league convenes a meeting of team ownership to discuss how to make things better for the next year. As part of these discussions, owners and league leadership propose, discuss, and vote on proposed changes to the rules. This year, the NFL instituted several new rules and changed others. Here's a quick breakdown of what you can expect to see. Who doesn't love a good touchdown celebration? The NFL, for one ? pundits have dubbed them the "No Fun League" for several years as excessive celebration penalties increased dramatically. Now, the league has said it will loosen restrictions once more. We can hope to enjoy watching players celebrate their accomplishments in real time again. Teams will be able to retrieve two players from the Injured Reserve this year, instead of the usual one, giving many teams more strategic depth and a better ability to plan. If two star players receive injuries early in the season, it will no longer be a battle to decide which should return for crucial games later in the year. This move should be positive for both players and fans. Overtime periods have been shortened. Except for playoff games, overtime quarters will now be 10 minutes instead of 15. Last season, numerous games dragged on through OT, causing problems with fans. Now, the shorter period may spur on more action and exciting plays. Of course, it could also lead to more tie games. We'll have to wait and see what the outcome of this rule change will be over time.

Who will go all the way to the Super Bowl this year?

Whether you're a big fan of the Miami Dolphins or you favour the perennial winners of the New England Patriots, the 2017 NFL season has plenty of exciting play in store for fans this year. This year's Hall of Fame game was on August 3, the pre-season officially kicked off on August 10, and we are currently in the midst of four weeks of exhibitions and practice games. The real fun begins with Week 1 of the 2017 season, which begins 8th September. Mark your calendars and start watching for news about players and teams emerging with greater frequency as we approach the start date.