Every year about this time, you can count on trendy NFL predictions making the training-camp rounds. You could practically set your calendar to them, like the swallows returning to Capistrano. If NFL training camps are in full-swing, it must be time to pick some NFL sleepers, surprises and flops.
After all, who doesn't want to be trendy? Why Doc Martens, when you can slip on some Toms? Why post something on MySpace when you can Tweet? So let's separate fact from fiction and sift through the trendiest picks circulating this summer. Which ones have wings? And which won't fly?
No more kinder, gentler, pushover
And we haven't even mentioned
It could only lead to better things, including in the standings. Personal discord often leads to locker-room discord. And if the Cowboys ever wondered exactly where the line was for Drama Overload, the 2008 season crossed it.
This summer, players and coaches are talking and playing football. Pretty much only football. Let's not forget that with or without T.O., Tank and Pacman, the Cowboys remain one of the most talented teams in the league.
Romo has been working hard on passing technique and protecting the ball, and Felix Jones is emerging as a spectacular talent.
Sure, the Cowboys may always teeter on the brink of some kind of neurosis, simply because they are Jerry Jones' Cowboys and drama is part of the business plan.
But they were the most under-achieving team in the NFL a year ago. With clearer heads, a harder-working and determined Romo and Phillips taking more charge of discipline, things could get a lot better.
As for Romo, did his penchant for making the big flub at the most inopportune times leave with T.O. and Jessica? It's hard to believe those distractions caused Romo to make big mistakes. He has yet to prove he can carry a team to the next level.
Still, the biggest hurdle to overcome remains Wade Phillips' job status. At the first sign of trouble, after the first two-game skid, the rumors are sure to start. There is no distraction quite like a coaching change. It's not a matter of if, but when names like
How long will the players really respect Phillips' tough-guy stance, too? After 30 years of being the same kind of guy, coaching the same kind of way, could anyone expect Phillips to change? Hardly.
Oh, yeah, a couple other reasons it may not fly: the Eagles and the Giants.
As a famous former President from southern California would say, well, there you go again.
It's true. With
Usually, the Chargers find a way to get full reading so many press clippings. Several factors point to a different end to this story. Foremost, the franchise player, Tomlinson, is now 30. That's a magic number for NFL players. It's that time when they look back at what they have and haven't accomplished, and come to significant decisions.
Tomlinson seems to have "the look" in training camp this year. He is determined to do anything to get that elusive ring, similar to the
The Chargers are healthier, too, than they've been in a couple of years. And in a division they should easily win, getting some rest and a bye come playoff time could make a world of difference.
Turner infamously has taken more than one team to terrific starts and high hopes, only to see them deflated. He is a brilliant play-caller who has yet to be a strong leader for an organization.
Unfair? Not really. The Chargers certainly could make injuries an excuse for the dismal end to the 2008 season. But the fact remains that since
And what about the clock on the wall? Time is undefeated. Tomlinson may have a chip on his shoulder in hopes of proving critics wrong, but he is 30. That doesn't change. And Merriman broke down last year. He's not old, but he's been suspended for steroids and steroid-users have been known to break down much more easily.
The Chargers also have serious questions to answer along the offensive line and in the secondary, where time is catching up as well. They should have enough to win the division, but against better competition another disappointment could loom.
He's the anti-Walsh. Walsh used brainpower to convince you to fall in line with his philosophy. Singletary just beats your brains in. OK, maybe not. But he is using attitude, toughness and old-school ways to round his tawdry team into shape. The Niners are doing tackling drills this summer, for gosh sakes.
And why not? The Niners were a soft franchise. They needed the swift kick in the pants that Singletary has brought, and has continued to bring, during camp.
They're clearly improved in key areas, too. Obviously, a Mike Singletary team is going to play good defense. They were good last year and should be better, especially against the run. Middle linebacker
The running game also could be key in terms of ball control and
Run the ball and defend the run. Be tough. Be accountable. Work on fundamentals. Yup, Mike Singletary is in charge. That's a great start.
And when a head coach's favorite drill is called the "nutcracker" -- you don't want to know -- that's pushing the envelope.
Singletary is pushing this team like it never has been pushed before. That can be a good thing, but it can also backfire, especially when the roster is so thin and the quarterback is, frankly, bad.
The 49ers briefly flirted with the idea of signing
The Niners also have yet to sign first-round draft pick
The Texans have one of the best offenses in the game. Period.
The offensive line returns intact for the first time in the organization's history. There is superstar talent
The perennial division-contending Colts and Titans have suffered significant personnel loses and fallen back to the pack, so to speak. There is Pro Bowl-type talent at defensive end (Williams), linebacker (
The Texans have yet to get a full season out of Matt Schaub, too. Some of his injuries have been flukes, but ultimately he's missed a lot of time. Are you banking on
Also: The Texans may have finished 5-1 last year, but they also started 0-4. They are a notoriously bad to begin the year.
And there is a reason there are so many new faces on the defensive side, including first-year defensive coordinator
Pioli is easily among the best personnel in the business. If he says quarterback
Gone are the country club days of not holding all players to the same standards of professionalism. The perfect example: It took 2008 first-round pick
Also gone are the days of hiring re-tread coaches. And the
Let's not forget the importance of 44-year-old
There has been a lot of attitude and complacency on this team, a product of the previous regime. That doesn't get better overnight. Veteran players are griping,
The offensive line is mediocre: Gone is Pro Bowl tight end
Pioli also added 14-year veteran
The club's sponsor should be Band-Aid.
And did we mention that the $63 million franchise quarterback never has started a playoff game or been a regular NFL starter?
This is a team that has needed only the slightest of jolts to make the leap from good to great. And Cutler is looking like he's it.
Because of a couple of off-field stories involving Cutler's uneasy departure from Denver and rumored squabble with Bears linebacker
He's the most productive quarterback the Bears have had since
On an otherwise good team, a quarterback can indeed make a huge difference, especially when that team plays defense and has a terrific running back, like the Bears do in
Despite quarterbacking a bad Denver team, Cutler still threw for more than 9,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, while completing better than 60 percent of his passes.
It was the biggest question the Bears faced going into camp, the biggest question now and likely will be the question until someone proves otherwise.
One other thing. The Bears pride themselves on always playing great defense and certainly have Pro Bowl talent all over the field, with Urlacher,
It was that kind of talent that helped the Bears rank No. 1 in the league in scoring defense in 2005, and No. 3 in 2006, when the Bears advanced to the Super Bowl. But where has that defense gone? The last two seasons, the Bears have dropped to 28th and 21st in the league.