America’s most popular sport will begin its 95th season next Thursday and for the NFL, the pigskin is soaring through the sky and viewers are watching in record numbers.
Sports Illustrated asks “Where did all the gunslingers go?” The answer is simple: Most of them reside in the NFC, where eight Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks grace this week’s regional covers of Sports Illustrated.
The Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler and the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford share our NFC North cover. Neither of the quarterbacks' teams made the playoffs last season -- but for entirely different reasons.
Cutler and the Chicago offense -- led by Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery's 19 combined receiving touchdowns and running back Matt Forte’s 1,933 yards from scrimmage -- carved up defenses, but their defense could not stop anyone, especially on the ground, giving up 5.3 yards per carry and 161 yards a game. Those totals were by far the worst in the league.
Stafford had another 4,000-yard passing season, but did his offense no favors by getting picked off 19 times. Only the New York Giants turned the ball over more than Detroit, so coach Jim Caldwell was brought in to attempt to lead the Lions to just their second playoff appearance this century.
For more, check out the scouting reports for each of the 32 teams in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated (subscribe here).