NFL HOT READS
By Anthony McClean, Editor – in – Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN (BASN?BASN NEWSROOM): That silent murmur you hear in the background are the nation’s football legions awakening from their long hibernation. It’s that time of the year when the familiar terms like controlled scrimmages, two-a-days, first-team reps, and (unfortunately) fantasy league projections are heard on a daily basis.
Let’s have someone cue up the Bus Boys because, with the opening of NFL training camps, we can truly say “the booooooys are back in tooooooown”.
By the time you read this, Hall of Fame weekend will have already commenced while the Bills and Giants have already busted some heads to open the preseason schedule. Yeah the MLB pennant races are heating up and the college football camps are opening up as well, but America’s most known sports passion is set to re-burst upon the horizon.
Today, we’ll give you a little primer heading into this week’s first official week of exhibition play. We’ll ask some questions that you may be inquiring about while also talking up some topics that others may not wanna talk about. You may walk away saying “Oooooooh, what he said!!” But in that same vein, we’ll also try to open up your inner Bernie Mac by saying out loud what you’re thinking.
Here we go!!
1. Is the Super Bowl window closing for the 49ers and Broncos?
With a new home opening in Santa Clara (and a chance to break in said home with Super Bowl Fitty), the expectation level for the Niners is at the highest it’s been since the days of Young, Rice, and others. Especially because of the near misses over the last three seasons; considering that their direct rivals in Seattle are the current holders of the throne, it has turned into a Super Bowl or bust season in ‘Frisco.
As for the Mile High Club, they used the off-season to build up a defense that’s still smarting from getting pimp-slapped by the aforementioned Seahawks. Both squads have a good mix of youth and veterans on the roster. One man’s opinion: the defection of RB Knowshon Moreno to Miami may hurt the Broncos more than folks think. At the end of the day, both teams will be in the mix. But if they don’t do this year, both rosters may be looking at a major overhaul a year from now.
2. Who will win the Jets’ QB battle: Geno Smith or Michael Vick?
Despite the fact that Mr. Smith showed some improvement in the final three games of 2013, Gang Green decided to bring in Vick for a little “competition”. While I respect the opinion of NFL coaches, I do not think Geno is the worst starting QB in the league contrary to their most recent poll. Clearly, No. 7 had better weapons at Morgantown as a senior than as a rookie in Jersey last year. The additions of RB Chris Johnson and WR Eric Decker are improvements, but there still isn’t an impact player on Rex Ryan’s very Vanilla offense. Given all the over the top criticism and scrutiny, I think Smith will be the man for the Jets this season if they’re going to make a serious run.
3. Speaking of QB’s, which first round signal caller has the best chance to start this season?
While the hype concerning Johnny Softball in Cleveland has been jammed down our collective throats, one may only need to go to the Twin Cities to see a real impact quarterback in Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
Given the fact that Matt Cassell has been in and out of the lineup and that Christian Ponder has never taken full reign of Minny’s offense, the last player picked in the first round may very well be the best QB on the Vikings roster. Don’t be surprised if Teddy Ballgame is under center on Opening Weekend.
4. Is Mike Tomlin quietly on the hot seat in Pittsburgh?
Despite an overall record of 76-44 (5-3 in the postseason) and two Super Bowl appearances, one gets the feeling that Omar Epps’ unofficial stand-in isn’t really appreciated in the Steel City.
Back-to-back seasons of 8-8 will usually do that, but even before that, there have been quiet grumblings from fans and media who have questioned Tomlin’s coaching style. Last year’s 0-4 start to go along with their offensive woes didn’t help matters either. Now I’m not saying that this year is a playoffs-or-bust situation and given the historical patience of the Rooney family, Tomlin is probably more secure than most tenured coaches in the league. This season may wind up being more about shushing his critics and getting the Black and Gold back to league prominence.
5. How long will it take Lovie Smith to get the Bucs in the postseason?
It’s a coming home party for Tampa’s former linebacker coach under Tony Dungy. Much like when he took over the Bears in 2004, Smith inherits a team that was abysmal on offense (30th in points scored, 32nd in total yards and passing yards) and strong on defense. Smith’s influence should help the defense improve, but they’ll only go as far as the offense will take them in the tough NFC South.
Free agent signing Josh McCown will likely be the opening day quarterback, but they’ll need a return to form from RB Doug Martin (who missed most of last year with a shoulder injury) to be a serious contender. More than likely, it may take a couple of seasons before we can take this team seriously.
6. Why is mainstream media still buying the hype about the Patriots?
For the last five seasons, Team Tivo has taken advantage of being the best team in a very weak AFC East. While the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills have shown flashes of contending with New England, overall they’ve never really been true challengers to the throne.
Quite frankly, the nasty little secret is that the Pats haven’t really had a championship caliber defense to be a real Super Bowl contender during this stretch. They’ve good enough to make the postseason, but not good enough to bring home another Lombardi Trophy. Until the defensive “genius” Mr. Belichick develops a killer D, he and that Brady fella will fool the media again and be able to live off their long-standing reputations for another season.
7. Are the Arizona Cardinals really ready for “prime time”?
Even with a 10-6 record last year — following a 4-4 start — the Cardinals were all dressed up but had nowhere to go when the playoff party started. Due to several tiebreakers, Arizona just missed the postseason despite a strong finish including a win at Seattle.
Their defense can play with anyone in the division, but they still have their ups and downs on offense. Yes, Larry Fitzgerald is still a beast. But an aging and inconsistent Carson Palmer (24 TDs, 22 picks) may be the main reason why Bruce Arians’ squad may be on the outside looking in again in 2014.
8. Can the Texans be the 2014 version of the Chiefs?
The thought of All-Pro DE J.J. Watt teaming with No. 1 overall pick LB Jadeveon Clowney should give Houston fans a reason to look forward to the season. A healthy (and hopefully happy) Andre Johnson at wideout and Arian Foster in the backfield is another reason to celebrate as well.
However, all bets are off if first-year head coach Bill O’Brien is serious about handing the keys to longtime journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Yes, we all know he’s keeping the seat warm until either fourth-round pick Tom Savage learns the offense, but having someone who’s a career 27-49-1 starter in the league send an awful message to your team and your fans. If you think they can do a worst to first run with him at QB, good damn luck!!
9. Which NFC East team has the better chance for a turnaround: Washington or New York?
Adding WR DeSean Jackson to D.C.’s new offense under first-year head coach Jay Gruden will cause a bit of a buzz on the Beltway. A healthy Robert Griffin III is another factor in a possible D.C. turnaround. However, a defense that has been the team’s Achilles heel over the last two years has to make a drastic transformation for there to be any talk of playoffs.
As for Big Blue, how Eli Manning bounces back from a career-high 27 picks in a new offense will have a large bearing on their postseason possibilities. Given the mediocrity of this once strong division, both teams could improve but not make the playoffs. Just a hunch, I think Washington may be the team most likely to improve on a dismal 2014.
10. Considering all the suspension controversies, why hasn’t Commissioner Goodell yet to rule on Jim Irsay (now 152 days and counting since his arrest for DUI and drug possession)?
As of press time, Commissioner Goodell has yet to rule on the latest arrest involving the Indianapolis Colts owner. On March 16, Irsay was arrested for suspicion of DUI and drug possession in Carmel, Indiana.
A police report stated that he failed a sobriety test before he was arrested and that they found multiple prescription drugs inside his vehicle. Given his past transgressions and the climate since the Ray Rice suspension outcry, the Commish can’t drag his feet any longer on this matter.
Not too surprisingly, the mainstream media has focused more on the Rice issue instead of Irsay. Stay tuned.