I can’t believe it is that time of year already.
When The Worldwide Leader begins their annual camping trips to places like Flowery Branch, GA, Oxnard, CA, and Bourbonnais, IL that can only mean one thing: training camp is starting for the NFL.
While I am not one of those people who flood practice facilities in obscure parts of their state to hang out all day in the middle of the week just to get a glimpse of grown men in helmets and practice shorts, I am very excited for what the 2014 season has in store. Hopefully teams (*cough* Denver *cough*) have had enough time to lick their wounds and are ready for what should be a season full of the necessary story lines and talent that should keep us all tuned in for 17 weeks and playoffs after that.
Before I get to the top-5 just three quick questions on things that didn’t quite make the top-5 but I felt were with noting nonetheless.
- What will be the impact of suspensions to Ray Rice, Josh Gordon?: Unfortunate.The announced two game suspension to Baltimore Ravens running back was another blow to teams trying to become playoff contenders or change their identity through development. The Ravens were 8-8 in 2013 after a Super Bowl victory in 2012; being without Ray Rice for two games (abysmal 2013 aside) isn’t going to help them get back on track. The same can be said for the Cleveland Browns. Josh Gordon is looking at sitting out the entire year after (yet another) violation of the leagues drug policy. After committing over $115 million dollars in guaranteed money this offseason they could ill-afford their best player missing time due to more bad choices personally.
- Is Jimmy Graham’s crusade for production over position valid?: Yes. I agree with Jimmy Graham when he decided to fight for his ability to be considered among the elite pass catchers in the NFL. It’s nice that for owners and managers it makes things easier for them to slot based on position; but Graham, whose receiving averages of 1,169 yards and 12 TD’s per year since 2011 put him in the company of the best wide receivers in the game, should not be concerned with anything but what he is doing for the Saints and their offense. He recently signed a deal that will pay him $40 million dollars ($21 million guaranteed) over the next four years. Now Graham won’t be crying poor anytime soon, but simply because of his position (Tight End) he is going to lose more than $20 million dollars over the life of his contract. That needs to be changed in the next CBA.
- Is it is time to change the name of the franchise in Washington, D.C.?: Yes…Maybe. I’m not going to get too political with this point. I don’t even like the fact that politicians are wasting their time on it, really (sure they can find better things to do with their time). I will just say this: I feel that enough people are offended by the name of the franchise for it to be changed. Whether that happens or not time will tell, but it has gone beyond mere discussion at this point and something needs to happen one way or the other.
The Top Five Questions Needing Answers:
- Can the NFC East’s Quarterback’s Regain Their Swagger?: Eli Manning led the world in interceptions, Tony Romo’s season was cut short due to back surgery, and Robert Griffin III looked nothing like 2012 RGIII when he burst on the scene in Washington. Nick Foles was very good in 2013, but the rest of the division took big steps backwards. There’s a new staff in Washington which should help RGIII and his development year three. Eli Manning is back under center with new leadership on the offensive side in former Packers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. I like Eli’s game a lot, and have a hunch he is going to be a lot better in 2014. Tony Romo’s injury was not a good one, and questions abound whether or not he’ll be the same player he was before he got hurt. These three quarterbacks (with Nick Foles needing to continue to play at a high level) will be the key for the division and their regaining their status among the best in the league. Will they do it?
- Did the Denver Broncos get tough enough?: The lasting image of the Broncos in 2013 was supposed to be them carrying their record-setting quarterback, Peyton Manning, off the field in New York in a glory. Instead they were lucky they could even carry their helmets as the Seattle Seahawks put a historical whooping on the Broncos. Believe me when I tell you that loss was a true team effort on the Broncos part, and John Elway wasted no time in trying to make the team tougher on the defensive side of the ball. Did the additions of Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and T.J. Ward in the offseason do enough to get them back to the Super Bowl and over the hump?
- Are Andy Dalton and Alex Smith worth the keys to a franchise?: Andy Dalton and Alex Smith have a lot in common. Both have been in the playoffs the last three seasons (2011-13). Both have 30 wins in that same span of time (Dalton is 30-18, Smith 30-9). Both are seen as winners in the NFL, which is important. But if given the option are you ready to hand the keys to your franchise over to them long-term? That is what’s at stake for both entering this season. Smith, a former number one overall pick for the 49ers, took a little longer than expected but is now looking to be given that chance to be “the guy” again in Kansas City beyond this year. Dalton, 26, is hoping his work in putting the Bengals in the playoffs the last three years will be enough to merit him being given a long-term deal in Cincinnati. Their play this year (and winning in December and January) will ultimately decide both fates.
- Is St. Louis ready to elicit memories of 2000?: I make no secret of my affinity of the Rams and what they have put together the last few years. Their defense, with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, have the look of a top-2 unit, the run game has rotating options in Zac Stacy and rookie Tre Mason, and Sam Bradford was playing at an All-Pro level before an ACL injury ended his season. Can they put it all together? Can Bradford stay healthy and guide this team to the postseason in what is arguably the toughest division in football? It starts now, in trying to figure that out.
- Do the Bears finally have it all in place for a playoff berth?: The Chicago Bears have been on the outside looking in for the playoffs for the last three years. Last season their offense bordered on historic; with Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, and Martellus Bennett all giving Marc Trestman’s offense a great opening act. Did you notice I didn’t mention Jay Cutler? That’s because once again he missed significant time with injury (which led to Josh McCown getting a nice dealing Tampa Bay). The NFC North is loaded with talent, and if the Bears are going to get over the hump and reach their full potential they need their faith in Jay Cutler (signed 7-year, $126 million dollar contract, $50 million guaranteed in January) to pay off big. They also need to avoid second half slumps that cost them great positioning for a playoff spot. Since 2011 the Bears are 17-7 in their first eight games and 9-15 in the final eight. Are they ready?