The start of the NFL regular season is a mere hop, skip, and a jump away. Game #1 begins tomorrow with over 250 more regular season games to follow. I can already hear my couch calling my name for the next five months.
As the defending Super Bowl champions, New Orleans Saints host the Favre-filled Minnesota Vikings tomorrow night, many questions continue to filter in about all 32 NFL teams. Let’s do a quick breakdown of the question marks that plague each team as the season begins.
49ers – The NFC West is the armpit of the NFL, but the 49ers are the most solid team in the division. There’s improvement on the offensive line and the defense ranked 4th in sacks and 5th in forced turnovers last season. The question mark remains at quarterback. Alex Smith has the reigns for now, but backup David Carr may need to step in.
Bears – Will hiring Mike Martz as offensive coordinator help Jay Cutler become the QB that the Bears traded for? Cutler threw a league leading 26 INTs last season. Cutler has speedy receivers in Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Devin Aromashodu, but are they polished enough to run in Martz’s system?
Bengals – They’re some people’s pick to make it to the Super Bowl and now they have the playmakers to do it. Terrell Owens stood out in preseason, but will the grind of the regular season make Chad Ochocinco and Owens butt heads if things don’t go their way? Maybe VH1 can handle this impending mess.
Bills – Buffalo teams only succeed when they have a strong rushing attack and a solid defense. Western New York weather is harsh and new head coach Chan Gailey has backed the change to a 3-4 defensive alignment. He also drafted C.J. Spiller who looks to start in a crowded backfield. The question is will this new defense and an improved rushing attack support the Bills lackluster passing game?
Broncos – Of course the breath-holding, arm bending question that football fans are asking is how much will Josh McDaniels use Tim Tebow. Kyle Orton has proven himself as the starter with a stronger arm and year in McD’s system under his belt, but Tebow had moments of glitz during preseason. Expectations around town are a Mile-High.
Browns – LeBron pretty much gave Ohio the middle finger this summer and the Browns are about to do the same this fall. Brady Quinn is out and Jake Delhomme is in as is Peyton Hillis who is already very “in” with fans. The passing game is invisible without any solid wideouts, so where will production come from?
Buccaneers – Youth is the name of the Bucs game. Head coach Raheem Morris is 33 and QB Josh Freeman is 22. Combined, they are half the age of Raiders owner, Al Davis, right? Can the youngsters learn to win at the pro level?
Cardinals – The Cards took some tough departures in the off season. Kurt Warner packed up his locker for the last time and headed to the beaches of retirement. Antrel Rolle was released, and Anquan Boldin’s complaining sent him off to Baltimore. Derek Anderson is #1 on the depth chart with Matt Leinart fleeing to Houston after being cut. Making the playoffs this year would be like a drink of cold water under the hot desert sun.
Chargers – The Kings of the AFC West for the past few years had a few off season dramas of their own. They’ve made the playoffs consistently, but getting to the Super Bowl has been harder than landing on the moon. Will an average defense and a younger running game get them to the Big D in February?
Chiefs – We all know that Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis can throw a mean one-two punch from a defensive and offensive playcalling perspective, respectfully. However, are there enough pieces in place to KO the Chargers, Broncos, and Raiders? Save for the Raiders, probably not. A lot more pressure will be placed on the shoulders of the King of the Castle Cassel. Can he one day rule the AFC West?
Colts – They will be in Dallas on the first Sunday in February. Offensively, Peyton Manning has more weapons than Germany during WWII. Defensively, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are healthy. Enough said. Injuries are the only thing to derail this high-speed train.
Cowboys – They’re the team everyone loves to hate. In the past, they’ve looked better on paper than on the field. This year’s motivation? The Super Bowl is being played at home in Jerry’s World. The talent on this team is impeccable, but the season will come down to Tony Romo’s leadership and Wade Phillips’ coaching ability – two things that are always a question mark.
Dolphins – The best pro team in the state of Florida has run support in the way of pass support. Chad Henne has Brandon Marshall and Anthony Fasano to throw to in addition to their already tough backfield (Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams). If the defense can stop the pass, they can compete with the Patriots and Jets in the AFC East.
Eagles – They’ve made eight playoff appearances in the last ten years thanks in large part to Donovan McNabb. Now, Kevin Kolb has the reigns of this team and the City of Brotherly Love is waiting to see just how much love he deserves. Just like Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Kolb will have all eyes focused on him as he replaces a city’s legend.
Falcons – Those dirty birds have the offense. The question is will there be any big playmakers on defense – specifically pass defense. John Abraham is aging and he had a dip in sacks from ’08 to ’09.
Giants – G-Men in ’10 could be a realistic possibility. They’re practically the same team they were in ’07 except at linebacker. Making the playoffs could be tougher than winning in them considering the NFC East is so tough. Keeping players healthy will be the big key as will Osi Umenyiora’s attitude.
Jaguars – Cross the two t’s and dot the one i in Tim Tebow’s name – He went to Denver. The fan base is more Tebow fans than Jaguar fans. They didn’t get “their” QB and instead they’re stuck with a mediocre David Garrard. Many important rookies have improved simply by becoming second year players, but Garrard remains the backbone of the team, and he’ll need an ’07-like performance.
Jets – New York’s “other team” may just be larger than the Giants now. We all know that Rex Ryan’s mouth is. They’re playing in arguably one of the toughest divisions in the league. The big head scratcher is if Mark Sanchez will fall into a sophomore slump.
Lions – The Lions are like that beginner golfer that hits into the bunker and needs eight swings just to get out. After a 2-30 record over the last two seasons, there’s one thing that describes the Lions’ fan base: Passionate. If the Lions can play with as much passion as their fans have, they’ve got a shot at graduating from “laughing stock” to “respectable.”
Packers – All the Packer-backers think this is their year if the o-line can protect Aaron Rodgers. Another issue is the health of the secondary. Al Harris is already out to start the season, so Charles Woodson will need to carry a heavy load on his aging body.
Panthers - Peanut Butter and jelly. Bert and Ernie. Salt and pepper. Smash and Dash. All go together and do not stand alone. Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams both rushed for over a 1,100 yards last season. Can anyone find the right recipe to stop them?
Patriots - You can never count the Patriots out. Mr. Hoodie himself is like Darth Vader – always someone to keep one eye on while the other is focused on the task at hand. The run offense needs to balance out Tom Brady’s arm. If that happens, the Patriots will take first in the AFC East.
Raiders – JaMarcus Russell is out and that automatically makes the team better. The Raiders were rather sane in the off season and their roster is once again filled with talent. The question becomes can anyone fold this talent together and turn it into one cohesive unit?
Rams - I see dollar signs resting on top of Sam Bradford’s helmet. Those 86 million greenbacks ($50 million guaranteed) better ensure that the Rams go from 1-15 to at least 2-14. It can’t get much worse than last season, and they’re banking on their #1 draft pick for the “pick-me up.”
Ravens - The Ravens have been hit with some injuries, but their offense has finally caught up to their defense. In fact, this may be the year where their offense is better than their defense. The major question on this team is at cornerback, but they are still Super Bowl contenders.
Redskins – Like the Raiders, the talent is limitless. If Mike Shanahan can be the glue to this puzzle, the Skins’ stand a chance to compete in a very tough division. Just like in Philadelphia, all eyes will be on Donovan McNabb under center.
Saints – Things haven’t changed much in New Orleans except that Scott Fujita is now gone. This automatically makes them a top Super Bowl contender. Will the team stay healthy enough for another 16-round fight into the Super Bowl? If so, da Saints done won da Super Bowl again.
Seahawks – Some of Pete Carroll’s teams at USC look better than the Seahawks do. The pass defense needs work as does the running game. Just like the Seattle weather, this team remains grey with little chance of sunshine.
Steelers – There are two types of Steeler teams: One with Ben Roethlisberger and one without him. The big key here is for the Steelers to win their first 4 games without him.
Texans – There’s talent and depth on this team. They could come in 2nd behind the Colts and clinch a wildcard spot in the playoffs. If the future finally becomes the present, then Houston won’t have a problem.
Titans – The team can’t rely solely on Chris Johnson. Will Vince Young and the Titans defense finally rise to the occasion?
Vikings – Health, health, health. That’s the key to the Vikings success. Brett Favre playing the entire season on a bummed ankle would be remarkable as would Percy Harvin gaining control over his migraines.
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