Twenty questions to contemplate as 2010 season comes into focus
Every NFL season starts with a host of unanswered questions, and this year it's even more so. With the opening of the first training camp less than 10 days away -- Dallas, on July 24 in San Antonio -- here are 20 pressing questions, in no particular order, that begged to be answered as the 2010 preseason looms:
If you're an Eagles fan, you wish Philadelphia had more of a running game and a stronger defense to help lift some of the burden from Kolb's shoulders, but that's somewhat off-set by the explosive receiving weapons Philly has amassed in recent years. There's no way to replace McNabb's experience all in one season, so Kolb can be expected to make some glaring mistakes as he learns the subtleties of playing the position. But Reid will always show patience and refuse to panic or cave to the talk-show ranting, and my sense is Kolb will reward him with a solid and occasionally spectacular first season on the job.
The tricky part of Boldin finally escaping Arizona and
When you factor in the Ravens re-signing veteran receiver
Of course they are, but no one in Nashville is about to pass out due to lack of oxygen just yet. I'd say the chances of the Titans third-year running back showing up for the start of camp in Nashville on July 31 under his present contract ($550,000 base salary in 2010) are less than 1 in 1,000. CJ has no leverage past training camp, but he has talked too big and has way too much pride invested at this point to give in without extracting some large chunk of flesh (more like money) from Tennessee.
Recent reports that the team is willing to convert $2.5 million of incentives into a bonus and get Johnson over the $3 million threshold this year could be the foundation of a deal, and he seems open to that kind of short-term fix. But don't you get the feeling this story couldn't possibly end that quickly or neatly? I'll be surprised if we're not tracking the Johnson holdout at least through the first two weeks of camp and possibly past the first preseason game.
The looming lockout in 2011 complicates the situation, because owners around the league are trying to tighten their payroll in case there's a work stoppage, not jack it up. This much I know: Johnson's not getting the $30 million-$40 million guaranteed he said he wants in a new deal. Not this summer. Not entering the third season of a five-year rookie contract. Enough to make him feel appreciated and to be able to claim victory in his stand-off with the team should do the trick and get him to report to work in mid-August. But where that magic number will wind up being, no one can say just yet with certainty.
There's always a chance the Raiders could jump in and try to trade for Washington's $100 million headache, because that's the sort of thing the Raiders have been known for (and they did acquire
And now we learn that Haynesworth is reportedly losing weight in an effort to make himself less valuable as a nose tackle in Shanahan's 3-4 formation and force a trade, no doubt royally ticking off the Redskins new head coach. Unless someone rescues Washington from this mess of its own making, and I don't think that's likely, things are going to get worse before they get better in D.C.
The Raiders have a long track record of going with veteran re-tread quarterbacks, and the results definitely have been a mixed bag. Into that history steps Campbell, the former Redskins first-round pick who was shipped to Oakland once Washington landed Donovan McNabb. Campbell had a tough and uneven five-year stay with the Redskins, but who ever departs D.C. looking better than when they arrived? (We'll wait here while you come up with an answer.)
Any way you cut it, Campbell is a considerable upgrade over
New Raiders offensive coordinator
All indications continue to point to the Patriots' highly productive slot receiver being cleared for full participation at some point this preseason, and possibly even getting significant practice time during training camp. That's a fairly remarkable timetable for his return given that he tore both the ACL and MCL in his left knee on Jan. 3 of this year, on a non-contact play in New England's Week 17 loss at Houston. But when we saw Welker doing most of the same work everyone else was doing in New England's OTAs and mini-camp practices in late spring, it became apparent that his presence in the Patriots lineup for the Sept. 12 season opener was a pretty safe bet.
The Patriots, no doubt still reeling a bit from that first-round playoff beatdown by Baltimore at home, could certainly use Welker at full speed from day one of this season. In their opening seven games, they face five 2009 playoff teams in Cincinnati, the Jets, Baltimore, San Diego and Minnesota. A slow start in that stretch of the woods by New England and those brash-talking Jets might own the AFC East by Halloween.
Why, of course, it's once again
Favre says it has been eight weeks now since he went under the knife and things haven't progressed as far along as he thought they would. He can walk, but as he ironically noted, you have to do more than walk in the NFL. (You mean like, run for it on third down late in regulation of the NFC title game?) So there you have it. He wants to play, but can't yet. He's still healing. Thanks for the retirement-unretirement update, Brett.
Now, what do you say we all just let him alone for another month, then look up in time to see him making a triumphant return to Minnesota in mid-August, once the Vikings have gotten past all that silly business of holding training camp in Mankato? Who's with me? Yes, I see that hand,
OK, I know Big Ben must serve at least four games of his NFL suspension and that takes us into early days of October, but you get my drift about the unknowns in the first month of the Steelers season. As I wrote the day the league handed down his punishment, a four-game suspension (and that's still all I expect he'll serve) is not a death sentence for Pittsburgh's 2010 season. With
They won't thrive, but they will survive, just as they have done in the eight games that Roethlisberger has missed in his starting career. The Steelers are 4-4 in those, and when I look at their first four games of this season, I see a 2-2 start in the offing. Pittsburgh is home against the Falcons in Week 1, then at the Titans, at the Bucs and home against the Ravens. Could they do worse? Yes. Better? Probably not. But I won't be writing the Steelers off in the AFC North without Roethlisberger around in the early going. History says that would be a mistake.
Not really. Not where it really matters most -- the standings. I think the Redskins will look better, play harder and give their opponents a much tougher time than they did for most of last year's 4-12 debacle under the overmatched (and undermined)
At least the Redskins offense should be entertaining and more efficient than it has been for most of the past decade. With McNabb on hand to run Shanahan's offense, there won't be much that No. 5 hasn't seen before or experienced first-hand. But the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants have plenty of offensive talent too, so Washington's not going to separate itself from the pack on that front. A fast start might be the Redskins best chance to flip the script. They play four of their first six games at home, and if they can come out of that stretch at 4-2 or better, momentum and the energy created by their fresh start might carry them further than we expect. To be sure, more than four wins are in the offing in D.C. But in reality, third place might wind up representing overachievement.
If the expectation level is wildly over-optimistic, say, in line with
In time, perhaps, but not initially. For now, any potential Clausen-mania phase in Carolina seems to be a development for another day with
Carolina head coach
This should be fun. You could put shoot-from-the-lip head coach
Most coaches would hate the distraction of having their training camp turned into a documentary series, but not Ryan and not his brash-talking Jets. I expect that they will not only embrace the national exposure, but also might push to have the series extended into the regular season. I'm kidding. I think.
Competition has been Carroll's big theme of the offseason, and he's preaching the mantra that his starters will be pushed at each and every position. If they don't respond, they won't be his starters any more. Sounds good now. Let's see how it works during the regular season, when the ex-USC coach won't have 100 players on the roster and his biggest task will be to start reversing the losing habits and defeatist mentality that has gripped the Seahawks the past two seasons.
No matter what we think of it at the moment, the
No one knows for sure if Reid's gutsy trade of McNabb within the NFC East will backfire on him and the Eagles in 2010 and maybe a few more years to come. But this much we do know: It's going to be fairly easy to determine the success or failure of the move because the standings will tell us. If the Redskins make the playoffs and the Eagles don't, it's a big swing-and-miss for Reid and revenge for McNabb. If the Eagles make the postseason with
And if both teams make or miss the playoffs, then it's going to come down to each record, how they fared in their two games against each other, and how the future looks in Philadelphia and Washington heading into 2011. To me, it's pretty clear that the Redskins are significantly improved with McNabb under center, but I'm equally certain that Reid won't entirely lose his coaching touch with No. 5 now wearing burgundy and gold. Sounds like the potential for a win-win trade, but there's plenty of time for it to boom or bust for the two old friends from Philly.
When I spoke to New Orleans head coach
In that respect, I like the Saints' chances of suffering only a slight case of Super Bowl hangover. I don't believe for a minute that quarterback
For the second offseason in a row, the Bears went out and landed a franchise-type player whose acquisition created headlines and jacked up Chicago's playoff hopes, not to mention its payroll. But Bears fans have reason to be warier this time around about the difference-maker factor because Chicago with Cutler in 2009 actually fared two games worse (7-9) than it did without him in 2008 (9-7). You can look it up.
Could Peppers use his fresh start in the Windy City to flash the kind of dominating, disruptive play he showed at times during his uneven eight-year career in Carolina? Absolutely. On paper, the Bears' defense is much improved with Peppers at one end, and his mere presence could have a welcome cumulative effect on the rest of
The Broncos are in love with Tebow's work ethic, ability to soak up new information, and continued improvement and refinement of his oft-dissected throwing motion. But the math problem that Denver head coach
That's why I expect the training wheels analogy to be somewhat closer to what Tebow's 2010 season will look like, with McDaniels making him his No. 2 QB some weeks and finding mid-game opportunities to insert him with a fairly specific package of plays. Goal line or red zone scenarios make the most sense given Tebow's proven effectiveness as a ballcarrier, but I don't think McDaniels will stop there or be able to resist the urge to build Wildcat formation packages around Tebow's unique throw-run threat.
McDaniels has said that Tebow won't play another position like fullback or tight end while he's learning how to quarterback in the league, and I almost want to take him at his word ... until I remember where McDaniels cut his NFL coaching teeth: In New England under
Here's how the NFL usually works: If you happen to be the coveted first player selected in the draft, you get the biggest contract and the red-carpet treatment everywhere you go -- at least until the season starts. Then the beatings commence. History says that while you're counting all your money, you shouldn't be counting on too many wins after you've been drafted by one of the worst teams in the league. St. Louis fits that script to a T, having won just three times in the past two seasons, and with only six victories since the start of 2007. Contrast that with the fact that Bradford only lost seven starts during his entire collegiate career and you begin to get a sense for the atmospheric change he's likely in for with the Rams.
Bradford simply doesn't have much of a supporting cast at the moment and the Rams might be wise to ease him into the lineup as the season unfolds rather than follow the
Nowhere is the hot seat hotter than in New York, where the coaches and managers who are placed on it get almost daily reminders of their precarious status from the media. But just 2½ years removed from the Giants' memorable Super Bowl win, Coughlin enters the season with a discernible sense of urgency and pressure on his shoulders. That's the natural outgrowth from last season when New York's heady 5-0 start dissolved into a 3-8 non-playoff finish with the Giants defense collapsing in the final month.
They don't do ultimatums in the Giants' front office, but it was pretty clear when team owner
How the season unfolds will tell us plenty about Coughlin's fate in 2011, but suffice to say that if the resurgent Jets are the only winning story in New York this fall, change will likely be in the air for the Giants.
I love suppositions of this sort. You hear something along these lines almost every year. It sounds fairly intelligent and probing on the surface, but is usually far too simplistic in focus. I mean, if you can tell me that the Colts' other opponents will be able, on a regular basis, to execute a surprise onside kick to start the second half of games, thereby stealing vital possessions from Indy, then I'll start buying the blueprint thesis.
Oh, and it would also help if teams hoping to beat the Colts and Manning can devise a way to make sure they intercept him with three or four minutes to go in their games, taking their picks back 70 yards or so for much-needed, game-clinching touchdowns. That always works pretty well. The same with having your quarterback, as
Yes, the Saints had an excellent game plan against the Colts and executed it almost flawlessly. They took big chances that paid off in big ways, and they stayed aggressive all game. Other teams will no doubt take a cue from that approach and try to force the issue against Indy to a degree that maybe they haven't in the past. The Colts could definitely see that mentality from opponents more often this season. But no, a blueprint for beating Indy still doesn't exist apart from simply making better plays than the Colts at the game's biggest moments.