With NFL training camps set to open next week, there are storylines galore to delve into. Here are the 10 questions I'm most eager to get answered as players return to the field and conclude their summer breaks ...
But the Saints' plan to have interim head coach Joe Vitt run the team in the preseason, followed by offensive assistant Aaron Kromer in the first six weeks of the regular season, then Vitt taking over again in Weeks 7-17 after his own six-game suspension ends, is not likely to be seamless -- no matter how much groundwork has been laid this offseason. In-season routine is pivotal to a team's makeup, and this year will be anything but routine in New Orleans.
Only time will tell in regards to his physical state, but Broncos fans might also need to be patient with Manning as he acclimates to his new surroundings. The ultimate creature of habit, No. 18 has lost much of the familiarity he relied upon during his 14 years in Indianapolis, and that can't be replaced overnight. He'll find his comfort zone, but everything's not second nature just yet, and that might be the biggest challenge Manning faces in his celebrated change of venue for 2012.
Patriots receiver Wes Welker astounded everyone by returning from a 2009 Week 17 ACL/MCL blowout for the 2010 opener, but it would be even more impressive to see Peterson do it at the contact-heavy running back position. I wouldn't bet against him, even if the fantasy football crowd stays away from him in the early rounds. He'll no doubt open camp on the PUP list, but he's driven like few athletes, and pushing the boundaries of expectations is the kind of challenge he relishes and craves. Unless there's a setback in August, the Jaguars would do well to prepare for a steady dose of No. 28 on Sept. 9. All Day long.
New York is undertaking a two-quarterback experiment that has disaster written all over it, especially since Sanchez's confidence level was all but deflated by the end of last year's ugly 8-8 ride, which closed out with three consecutive Jets losses. New York bucked him up with a new contract extension, and then sent mixed signals by bringing in Tebow, who represents the mother of all potential quarterback controversies. Popularity wise, the pairing is a TKO waiting to happen for the sometimes tender psyche of Sanchez. It's not a matter of if, but when Tebow Time comes. And in New York, it'll be more fascinating to watch than ever.
The opportunity in San Francisco is certainly there for Moss. He's on a good team, as he requires in order to give maximum effort, there's an obvious need for more downfield passing with the 49ers, and he might just have been humbled a bit by his journeyman experience of 2010 and his one-year retirement in 2011. The mental part of the game has always mattered greatly with Moss, but he's 35 now, so he has to re-prove his physical skills, too. Are his legs still elite? Can he separate and jump like the Moss of old? He's going to have to show more than just his strong minicamp work this spring to beat back the doubters and return to prominence once more.
Cleveland would be thrilled if it gets close to what division rival Cincinnati experienced with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton last year: A strong start, then decent, consistent play throughout most of the rest of the schedule. The Browns were 4-12 last season, so pushing .500 would constitute significant progress. Cleveland is impressed with Weeden's maturity, his accuracy and smooth passing mechanics, and his ability to see the field and anticipate routes. But the preseason is when the rookie has to put the pads on and convince his teammates that he's the horse to ride. He'll get every shot to close that deal, and the hunch is it won't even take all of August.
Logic tells us free-agent addition Matt Flynn is in the driver's seat in Seattle, ahead of both 2011 starter Tarvaris Jackson and rookie third-round pick Russell Wilson. But Flynn's meager track record -- two NFL starts -- means there's no reason to anoint him the clear-cut No. 1, so Carroll didn't. He wants Flynn to work and earn the job in the preseason, because it'll count for more in the locker room if he does. That's just the way the NFL works.
The QB storyline will consume all the oxygen in Seattle's training camp, but in reality, it's Flynn's job to lose. If the Seahawks were happy with Jackson, they wouldn't have signed Flynn and spent their highest pick on a quarterback in 10 years by taking Wilson. And despite Carroll's infatuation level with Wilson's potential, the smart and resourceful rookie figures to be a Wildcat package option this year, with a better chance of beating out Jackson for the backup job than truly pushing Flynn for the starting gig. Unless he falls on his face(mask) in August, Flynn should be the last man standing under center in Week 1.
Revis has two years and $13.5 million left on the four-year, $46 million front-loaded deal he signed in early September 2010, and contends the Jets knew they would have to re-address his contract before the 2012 season. New York doesn't see it that way and wants to get at least three of the deal's four years completed before it talks extension in 2013. I wouldn't expect the Jets to budge much on this front, especially before September, and yet both sides have some leverage to use this time around. Revis knows extensions usually don't get granted with two years remaining on a contract, but he also knows New York's Super Bowl dreams are probably DOA without him.
While the 49ers look like the clear class of the NFC West, and the Saints, Falcons and Panthers are all formidable in the NFC South, I'd be surprised if the Rams and Bucs aren't both flirting with .500 this season, winning some games in unexpected fashion. Despite last year's collapses, there is talent to work with in St. Louis and Tampa Bay, and it begins with the bounce-back seasons I expect from both clubs' quarterbacks -- Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman. The two former first-round picks got into some bad habits last year and clearly regressed, but the hires of offensive coordinators Brian Schottenheimer in St. Louis and Mike Sullivan in Tampa Bay were good moves that will surround the young QBs with good coaching and help raise their performances back to those impressive 2010 levels.