Things I will Be Keeping An Eye On This Season:
Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow:
The Denver Broncos once had Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. Josh McDaniels came in for his first head coaching position, and he cleaned house (much like Mike Shanahan in Washington, except he is a veteran coach that has won a Superbowl).
They land Kyle Orton via trade, and draft Tim Tebow in the first round. Orton has a break out season, short of a 4,000 yard season, 3,653 to be exact. He threw 20 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions.
Tim Tebow had an opportunity to play the final 3 games last season. They went 1-2 with the rookie at the helm, but they played better and tougher overall.
Right now, Orton is the starter with Tebow backing him up. Under new management in former Broncos quarterback John Elway (favors Tebow), and a new head coach John Fox (favors Orton), we will see how this mile-high story unfolds…
Peyton Manning & the Indianapolis Colts
No, the future Hall of Fame quarterback is not in a competition to start, but he is racing against time. It is widely believed that he will be ready for the season opener, but how will one of the best players in the history of the game perform this season?
He has been dealing with a knee injury over the past year and a half (that we know of), and he has nerve damage in his neck. Football is a tough game to play when healthy, but when you’re the quarterback that lost his blindside protecting left tackle, Charlie Johnson, the Colts don’t appear to be a playoff team in my eyes. Injured knee and neck, a young/new/unproven left tackle, and only one stable receiving target in Reggie Wayne.
Let’s see…Dallas Clark was injured last season, Austin Collie could be a concussion away from hanging the jersey up (hopefully not), and word is that they have not been happy with Pierre Garcon nor Anthony Gonzalez. Then check out the other side of the ball and I see a defense that has done nothing to improve (lost Bob Sanders, although he couldn’t stay healthy for them).
To be honest, he has thrown for a lot of yards the last 2 seasons, but those weren’t typically Peyton Manning seasons and stats. His injuries and lack of protection have been taking a larger toll than people want to see. He threw 17 interceptions last season. He hasn’t had “elite” stats overall, and the team goes where he goes. He is a tough iron-man type of player, much like Bret Favre. He is great and always comes to play don’t get me wrong, but how much is too much?
Vick & the Philadelphia Eagles
They say Michael Vick he was given footage to study during the lockout by the coaching staff. He says recognizing a blitz will not be an issue this season. I think he is ready for the spotlight yet again. He has had an offseason to prepare physically and mentally as the starting quarterback (and face of the franchise), something he has not done since his days in Atlanta. Last year, he was thrown into the fire and the playbook. He ran a lot, and I expect him to avoid the hits and only run when he needs to. In camp, he has been accurate and added more touch to his throws. This guy sounds dangerous, a definite MVP candidate.
The question is health, something you can’t predict. There are 2 ways to look at it at the moment.
1. Vick has only been healthy for 2 seasons in his entire career because of his playing style.
I don’t believe that will be an issue from a playing style point of view, with Andy Reid (head coach) and Marty Morningweg’s (offensive coordinator) expertise at grooming quarterbacks. Morningweg believes he can be better than his historic project QB, Steve Young (Hall of Fame player & Superbowl quarterback)
2. Eagles fans know that they have acquired the best offensive line coach in the league, Howard Mudd. Mudd used to coach the Indianapolis Colts, creating an elite line to protect Peyton Manning. He retired 2 years ago, and Manning has been hit more than ever and is throwing more interceptions because of it. Someway, somehow, Andy Reid got him to come out of retirement to protect Michael Vick. The weakest part of the line is the right side, Vick’s blindside (he is left-handed).
The Eagles spent a first round pick on guard Danny Watkins, and signed former first round pick Ryan Harris from Denver. Between Harris and last year’s right tackle Winston Justice, I think the line will be formidable under Mudd’s tutelage.
So, we shall see if Vick can stay healthy or not.
Speaking of Health, What About Staffford
Matthew Stafford is a quarterback that has never completed a full season since he entered the league a few years ago. A lot of people are expecting good things from the Detroit Lions this season, depending on Stafford’s health.
I will tell you this, I like what the Lions are doing as a franchise and the players they are adding to the roster. I just think the hype and talk about playoffs is premature for them. Let these guys grow, because these are the new Houston Texans (predicted to make the playoffs for a few years now, and still haven’t made it). We can all agree that their progress is based off of this Stafford guy. Can he stay healthy? Is he tough enough? I will tell you, that offensive line is not pretty in Motown. He does have the weapons at the skill positions, and their defensive line is the complimentary reason for all the Lions hype.
I never wish injury upon anyone, but like everything else this season, we’re just going to have to wait and see.
Big Apple Questions:
Tom Coughlin has been said to be on the hot seat for several years now, so I’m curious to see if this is the make or break season for the franchise. I don’t think it is, but I do believe he and his quarterback Eli Manning are tied hand-in-hand. Eli has won a Superbowl, but they missed the playoffs and he led the league in interceptions last season (25). If the Giants don’t make deep playoff runs these next 2 seasons, they could be gone.
Jets Crashing & Burning?
Not necessarily the same situation for the Jets with Rex Ryan, but I do think Mark Sanchez will be under the microscope this season in the Meadowlands. Next season as well, is what I think will be a make or break season for his career in New York.
I do think Rex and the Jets have their work cut out for them (as every team does but Rex made the bold statement) to even make the playoffs. They lost in the AFC Championship game 2 years in a row now, but they have the 3rd toughest schedule in the league. With that said, I like Rex Ryan, but i’ll be staying tuned to hear his sound bites throughout the year.
Don’t Sleep On the Panthers & Cam Newton
Cam newton is the favorite to start, and I’m a fan of having the #1 pick in the draft starting from day 1. Let’s see how Newton plays in his first season, he is an exciting young player with the intangibles to succeed. He has the smarts, size, arm, and speed, let’s see if he can put some of those tools together in his rookie season.
I do think the Panthers did an excellent job in resigning their own players this offseason (all Pro Bowlers or Pro Bowl caliber players), middle linebacker Jon Beason, running back Deangelo Williams, offensive tackle Jonathan Gross, and defensive end Charles Johnson. But they also added tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen. Their new offensive coordinator was the tight ends coach in San Diego (worked with Antonio gates who went undrafted), Rob Chudzinski. They still have Steve Smith and added Legadu Naanee (another former Charger).
Their defensive coordinator, Sean McDermott (from Philadelphia) will work hand-in-hand with new head coach (from San Diego and Philadelphia as well) Ron Rivera. This team has the toughest schedule in the whole NFL so I don’t expect a lot of wins with a rookie quarterback, but I don’t think they are far off from success and I actually like their future better than the Detroit Lions and even their rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But that’s just me.
Other stories to follow:
Kansas City Chiefs running back situation, between Jamal Charles and Thomas Jones.
The Green Bay Packers offensive line, as well as their running game with Ryan Grant and James Starks.
How Ronnie Brown fits in Philadelphia’s pass-heavy offense, behind LeSean McCoy whom led the NFC in all-purpose yards.
Will Donovan McNabb shake off that forgettable season in D.C. and bring some of that fire he had in Philly? He finally has a running game with A.P. and a Leslie Frazier-run defense could make them competitive in the NFC North. I don’t think the same can be said if rookie QB Christian Ponder has to play for any reason this year.
Kevin Kolb. Will he get Larry Fitzgerald to sign an extension? How will he play in his first season as a starter? In a winnable division, how with the Cardinals finish with their big investment at the helm?
With Nick Barnett and Shawne Merriman in Buffalo, will a good pass defense also be a good run defense (their run defense last year is nothing to comment on)? They have promise on offense with Fred Jackson and Steve Johnson, can Ryan Fitzpatrick take the Bills out of the cellar and into relevance?
Washington Redskins are deciding between Jon Beck and Rex Grossman to be their starting quarterback. Does Mike Shanahan know what he is doing or has he lost it? They have a decent run game with Ryan Torrain and Tim Hightower, but that defense and offensive line is suspect at best. I know Chris Cooley and Santana Moss are good players, but without a proven QB can you really take the Redskins seriously?
Jacksonville Jaguars have David Garrard as their quarterback. They have made the playoffs with him, beaten the Colts with him, and he has even made the Pro Bowl (believe it or not). They have added some good players on defense and Mercedes Lewis is blossoming into one of the better tight ends in the league. This is a strong running team. I think this is a dark-horse team, but will they win games? What is first round pick QB Blaine Gabbert’s role this season?
Cincinnati Bengals have the 5th most favorable schedule this season, but they have a young nucleus of: QB Andy Dalton, WR A.J. Green, WR Jordan Shipley, TE Jermaine Gresham. They will be leaning on their running game of Cedric Benson and the shifty Bernard Scott. They replaced Jonathan Joseph with Nate Clements, and the defense looks solid enough to compete in the division if Dalton can have a good rookie season (not expected, but it can happen).
Big D? Will Rob Ryan put the Big “D” back in the playoff hunt? They have a good front 7, but can the back end in the secondary do enough? Offensively their line is average, but they do get QB Tony Romo back from injury to lead them.
Hibernating? The Bears have a mess on the offensive line, but Mike Tice is a great coach and did enough to get them to host the NFC Championship game last season. Can Cutler stay up right? If so, will he throw to his team and new big WR Roy Williams, or toss it away to the other team? Matt Forte and his contract situation, will that affect his play with Marion Barber and Chester Taylor behind him? You know their defense will be something to think about with Urlacher and Briggs, they allowed the 2nd least points last year (behind Green Bay).
Raiders swept the division last season, the only team to do so (6-0). Will they build off of that? Jason Campbell and Darren McFadden need to be healthy to do so. With Michael Bush returning and losing TE Zach Miller, expect them to lean on the running game yet again. Another suspect offensive line, if they can give Campbell the time, can he make the throws to his talented WR core (Schillens, Heyward-Bey, Murphy, and now TE Kevin Boss)?
Chargers running back Ryan Mathews, will he perform this year? Another question about a player and his health, but that is the game of football. Mike Tolbert is expected to split the carries to help the cause, he is a tough runner himself. If their run game can be average, the Chargers can make a deep run with Vincent Jackson back full time to help Rivers get it done (Not to mention Gates and Floyd).
The Browns made some progress last season, will they continue to do so? They now have their QB of the future in Colt McCoy, they have a west coast offense that should help Peyton Hillis and the running game, and they had some impressive wins last season against the Saints & Patriots.
The Rams and Sam Bradford. Steve Spagnuolo leading the defense, Josh McDaniels calling the offense. They have superstar Stephen Jackson, and signed WR Mike Sims-Walker. They might have a draft steal in rookie TE Lance Kendricks. I’m hearing some people calling rookie DE Robert Quinn the defensive rookie of the year. I like what team is doing, and put them with the Panthers and Browns in having a good future.
I like their potential, players and staff as a whole, better than that of Tampa Bay and Detroit. Just my thoughts, all teams are in similar positions with the Buccaneers being the closest, admittedly.