Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning led his team, but last season the Giants went 9-7 and the year before he threw 25 interceptions. On an individual level, this is a big year for Eli Manning’s career.
Speaking of Manning, his brother Peyton Manning returns to the field in a new uniform and outdoors. Denver has thrown all their eggs in one basket after a playoff appearance. We have 3 things to evaluate: Can he stay healthy, is this the same player, does he take the Broncos to the playoffs?
Perfect segway to talk Tim Tebow, who got shipped from the Broncos to the Jets. Head Coach Rex Ryan wanted to improve the ground game, which Tebow led Denver to the best rushing attack in football last year. Ryan also created quarterback competition for Mark Sanchez. I like the idea of using Tebow’s talents as a quarterback, runner, and on special teams. Personally, I’d like to see the first 2-QB system in NFL history. Both guys have made clutch plays and won games, perhaps minimize their mistakes and maximize their strengths. The old saying goes, if you have 2 quarterbacks you really have no quarterback. Well, if you aren’t a winning team why force a guy to be better than he really is. If you don’t have a franchise QB then be creative and do whatever it takes to be competitive.
Which leads me to the Seahawks. I love what Pete Carroll stands for. Every position is up for grabs and that brings a team closer together. Seattle doesn’t have an elite QB, so they had a position battle and rookie Russell Wilson gets the first crack. To me it doesn’t matter if Matt Flynn gets paid more money, that just shows that you do whatever you can to get the best players on the roster. They simply paid the price to get Flynn on the team, a team that could make noise in the playoff picture.
Sticking to the quarterback position, I guess you have to admire Cleveland for choosing a direction. They drafted Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, who have become the young leaders of a rebuilding franchise. I wish they gave Colt McCoy more of a chance, because I think he can be good in the NFL.
A couple of big names on the heat seat this season: Michael Vick and Tony Romo. It’s pretty clear cut, stay healthy and make the playoffs. I know this is Vick’s first offseason in Philadelphia as the starter, but rookie Nick Foles is the next prospect to be groomed under head coach Andy Reid. As an Eagles fan, I think Vick would make as many mistakes as a rookie QB would. Vick still won’t slide, and every other hit has him missing snaps. The Eagles need to lean on Pro bowl running back LeSean McCoy, that will instantly make Vick and the offense better. As for Romo, it could be the lack of leadership on the coaching staff, but you only get so many chances. Whether it’s missing games or turning the ball over, he’s not really a leader. I think he’s a good player that needs to be on a run-first team, a team that has a strong head coach to get the best out of him.
Since we touched on the ground game a little bit, how about the recovery of Adrian Peterson. I’m rooting for the guy, he is absolutely special but his situation is alarming. He’s in a tough division with the weakest team. He has a second year quarterback and a questionable-at-best offensive line. The defense has aged and Percy Harvin doesn’t play every game. Peterson will be needed, and even if he posts MVP-like numbers, coming off an injury with the heavy workload he’s known for is something to watch. I think he’ll come back strong, but for how much longer in Minnesota?
How much longer does Maurice Jones-Drew hold out in Jacksonville? He needs to get back into camp before week one and prove his worth. He doesn’t have leverage for a new contract nor a trade, and needs to play at least 6 games for this season to count on his contract. By the way, I think the world of Mo Jo as a player and he’s on my fantasy football team, but you get paid for the contract you’ve earned and he’s got a couple years left. Just play the first 6 games and then sit out, instead of getting fined everyday.
For the record, I think the Jaguars with Jones-Drew can surprise people. In one of the weaker divisions, the AFC South, where the Texans are a little overrated for my liking, Jacksonville had the leading rusher and the 6th best defense under-the-radar with an improved secondary. This offseason they added Atlanta’s offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey as the new head coach, Blaine Gabbert will benefit with weapons like rookie Justin Blackmon, breakout veteran Laurent Robinson, and the forgotten but talented Marcades Lewis.
Back to the Texans, we will see if Matt Schaub is good or just marginal. He threw for some nice numbers before Houston got a running game, and has been injured a couple times. This is a big year for Schaub, and please don’t buy into the nonsense about Andre Johnson losing a step. He’s still a top-3 receiver. Arian Foster and Ben Tate form the best tandem in the league with head coach Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme. Wade Phillips turned the defense around from last to elite, I’m just skeptical about the defensive talent after the departures of DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams. A scheme can only take you so far.
Jake Locker, is he a franchise quarterback? If Kenny Britt returns to form and Kendall Wright starts on the right foot, Tennessee will have pieces around Chris Johnson who will have a bounce back year. If things go right for the Titans, Jaguars, and Colts, the division filled with young signal-callers could be revamped overnight.
Let’s keep the chatter in the AFC South and talk some Colts. Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener make the move from Stanford to Indianapolis. That’s got to be a dream come true for them, to inherit a franchise and form the core right out of college. Reggie Wayne decided to take a leadership role and stick around. The downfall is that the offensive line is a project as well as the running game. With new head coach Chuck Pagano, he brings his defensive scheme from Baltimore that features Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis on the edges. The Colts are usually known for good tackling at linebacker and in the secondary. This team could have a quicker turn-around than expected.
No need to debate Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, I think they will both have successful careers. If they were in the same division it would certainly be a reason to debate, but there doesn’t have to be a guy that tears it up with the other flopping. You can debate, I like them both. This year I see Luck and the Colts winning more games. RGIII and the Redskins have an aging defense, weak offensive line, so-so receivers, and a tougher division that features a handful of standout pass-rushers.
I really like the chiefs. Kansas City wont he AFC West 2 seasons ago for a playoff appearance. Last year they lost starters: QB Matt Cassel, RB Jamal Charles, TE Tony Moeaki, and S Eric Berry. I like the offensive pieces they have added alongside Dwyane Bowe over the past couple of seasons: RB Peyton Hillis, TE Kevin Boss, WRs Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin. They were still one game away from winning the division and making the playoffs. After all, they protect home field and they were the team to snap Green Bay’s undefeated streak.
Carson Palmer. He was thrown into the fire after sitting on his couch. Is he going to throw for 3,500 yards? He could, he has fast receivers and a strong running game with Darren McFadden. Palmer has to limit his turnovers, and I don’t think he can lead the Raiders without throwing the ball a lot. We shall see, I am a fan of their new offensive coordinator, Gregg Knapp, formerly the QB coach of the Texans. The defense needs to play smarter, and they certainly have the playmakers in the front-7 to put pressure and force turnovers. They will need to play at a high level to compensate for the secondary, something new coach Dennis Allen had to do a lot of last year with the Broncos.
I do like all the veteran role-players the San Diego Chargers have accumulated, I just don’t see the impact players and leadership on the roster. Eric Weddle is an All-Pro safety, but you don’t fear the Bolts’ defense whatsoever. The defensive line has no push, and they spent another high pick on a linebacker. Melvin Ingram could come in and do the job, but ask DeMarcus Ware in Dallas if his stats are even relevant to the Cowboys’ success. Philip Rivers is an top-tier QB that had a challenging year behind a battered line. We’ll really get his best Donovan McNabb impersonation. Sure he’s better in the pocket and not as mobile, but in the sense of maximizing your weapons and overachieving without star players.
I guess Antonio Gates is something to watch, will his durability issues hamper his performance and possibly career?
Jay Cutler. I think he’s in line for the best season of his career. Before his injury, the Bears were 7-3 and that was coming off a postseason where they hosted the rival Packers in the NFC Championship game!
Yes, the Packers & Patriots have easy schedules and should get a bye week come playoff time. The addition to Cedric Benson to the Packers backfield is overlooked. I like New England bringing Brandon Lloyd and Dont’a Hightower on board. These teams speak for themselves, they’re ready to go on both sides of the ball.
Atlanta should win the AFC South the Panthers and Buccaneers trying to turn the corner and the Saints missing head coach Sean Payton. But will they? Matt Ryan has to step his game up with that supporting cast and improved defense.
Cam Newton might not rush for all those touchdowns, but he is the real deal so don’t expect Carolina to be a slouch. In fact, I like them to win the division. You heard it here first.
I like what Tampa Bay is doing on both sides of the ball, but I will take a wait and see approach with them. I’m not sold on QB Josh Freeman.
I don’t think the Saints will be marching in the playoffs this year. Coach Payton is an offensive genius, and the bounties will be out on their offensive players such as their fearless leader, Drew Brees. They definitely have the weapons to contend, I just think the coach made the passing lanes and exceptional play calls which will be missing from the sidelines on gameday.
The Eagles defense was better than you think, they just gave up highlight plays in crucial moments. They tied for the lead with 50 sacks and the defense finished 8th. They have an elite defensive line, greatly improved linebacking core with DeMeco Ryans and rookie Mychal Kendricks, with cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie starting after a year to adapt.
David Garrard was playing well for Miami and is a good leader, unfortunately his back injury is reoccurring and you can’t depend on that. It gets rookie Ryan Tannehill on the field earlier and I think that’s the right move for them. I’m not sure I agree with new coach Joe Philbin getting rid of skill position players chad Johnson and Vontae Davis, but linebacker Karlos Dansby isn’t afraid to speak his mind. If Reggie Bush can pick up where he left off last year, although they don’t have standout receivers, Bush combined with the 3rd ranked run defense could thrust them into playoff contention. That’s if everything goes right, and that’s a big if that I’m not counting on.
I do like the Bills on the other hand. I seem to trust Chan Gailey as an offensive orchestrator. Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown the ability to be a game manager capable of a breakout game here and there. Passing targets Stevie Johnson and Scott chandler should get more looks, but this is a run-first team depending on Fred Jackson. The opportunistic defense got better with health, and it doesn’t hurt to add a defensive standout like Mario Williams.
You know, I really don’t have positive expectations for Arizona. The Cardinals don’t have a QB, although you can always count on the blessing that is Larry Fitzgerald. He’s a true pro, and will help polish rookie Michael Floyd. They may have to wait another year to get someone at the helm, but at least they have a stout defense and Patrick Peterson returning kicks/punts. That may be their best offense teams actually kick to him. Hopefully the ground game between Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams can give this team a spark and fighting chance.
I think the Rams are ahead of the Cardinals a little bit, starting from the top with new coach Jeff Fisher. They have more pieces defensive and have a nice line, perhaps it helps the back part of the defense out in a division with a lot of offensive questions. You can always depend on Stephen Jackson, the workhorse in the backfield does it all. Sam Bradford has to follow the path of Matthew Stafford, stay on the field and complete passes. He doesn’t have Megatron, but neither does any other team.
Speaking of Detroit, I think they’ll play similar to last year. They might be over .500 but they could miss the postseason. We’ll see if the defense can be leaned on when the offense hits a wall. How many fines does Ndamukong Suh get this season? I think they’re more bark than bite personally.
James Harrison has been activated, he’s another guy that needs to stay away from controversy before his account is wiped out in fines. The Steelers are another year older on both sides of the ball. The defense was the best ion the NFL, they won’t drop from the elite level. Offensively they are fun to watch in the passing game with those explosive receivers, when the line isn’t getting Big Ben knocked out of the game. The run game has gone from physical to barely existent the past couple of years. I still think this is the team to beat in the AFC north, every team has flaws.
Marvin Lewis fought through thick and thin with Cincinnati. Last year the rookie QB/WR tandem of Andy Dalton/A.J. Green led the offense. They think Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis can produce better at RB for them as a 3-down back. The defense played itself into the elite conversation and will be strong again. Keep your eyes on TE Jermaine Gresham who is due to breakout. I like this team to make the playoffs, but some think Dalton has a sophomore slump.
Baltimore I see taking a step back. Ray Rice, can he stay healthy another full season as a smaller workhorse back? The Ravens defense took a big hit when Terrelle Suggs went down, they will miss him and they did get older on that side of the ball. The receiving targets are marginal at best and Joe Flacco, no I’m not sold and held off as long as possible to mention him.