NFL 2016 Season: Top 15 Storylines To Watch This Year

So… you’ve picked your fantasy team, you’ve watched Hard Knocks (and know far more about the Los Angeles Rams than you’d have ever imagined), you’ve scoured all the preview magazines and are already laughing hysterically at the Cowboys’ misfortunes (and probably the Eagles too when this gets posted).

Now it’s time to actually think about proper games and not glorified scrimmages. It’s time to bathe in football. It’s time to live week-to-week. It’s time to ignore family and significant others. Feed me nachos and bud light and take the kids to the park.

The greatest reality show on television is about to kick off and boy this is going to be a helluva season – I just know it will.

There’ll be referee drama, there’ll be MORE ‘deflategate’ discussion, and there’ll be more discussion about mediocre names like Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian, Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III than Clinton and Trump. We must not let potentially the most important election since 1960 get in the way of discussions about the Seahawks having the best secondary ever.

God bless the NFL. It’s back!

What follows is a C-Grade (at best) Nostradamus-esque guide to what will happen this year. If but one of these 15 events occurs, I will strain my friendships with ‘told you so’ like statements, and conveniently forget how wrong I was with the other 14.

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15 Will Jimmy Garoppolo do a Tom Brady?

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Many of us have probably forgotten that Tom Brady wasn’t expected to ever replace Drew Bledsoe during that famous 2001 season. Bledsoe was injured early, Brady assumed the role, then Brady got injured, Bledsoe played QB again, then Brady finally settled in the role. Bledsoe was the veteran, Brady the almost undrafted young upstart.

The circumstances are much harder this year for Jimmy Garoppolo (unlike Brady though, he was a 2nd round pick) to reenact this scenario. Brady is basically the greatest quarterback of all time and looks like he has loads left in his tank. Plus Bill Belichick, in his most animated of ways, put to rest any shred of doubt in our minds before training camp about this hypothetical.

But what if Garoppolo goes 4-0 during Brady’s suspension? What if his arm shows more strength and accuracy than Brady’s? What if the fans start to like him? What if the fans hate Brady’s haircut?

Boston is fickle remember… #jussayin’

14 Will the Eagles ruin Carson Wentz?

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The Eagles have had a rough couple of seasons. Trying to rebuild after the frankly bizarre reign of Chip Kelly (more on him later), the Eagles hired Doug Pederson and drafted Carson Wentz with the second pick out of North Dakota State.

Wentz will end up being the third choice quarterback on the 52-man roster for Week 1, behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. He’ll likely end up being second string by Week 2 though when Bradford inevitably goes down with whatever injury. My money is on the kicking tee striking the buttocks.

I can just see the upper levels of the Philadelphia Eagles pushing Pederson into pulling the trigger early and starting Wentz by Week 7, when they realize Chase Daniel is far from being any form of an answer.

They’ll ruin any confidence he builds and with that mediocre offensive line, Wentz will get absolutely pummeled.

Those classy fans will make him feel welcome though, I’m sure.

13 Will we still be down with ODB this year?

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The New York Giants’ enigmatic receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. has had two mammoth seasons since being drafted out of Louisiana State University. He gave us that one handed catch against the Cowboys, that haircut, the whip and the nae-nae and of course that infamous confrontation with the Panthers’ (now with division rival Washington) Josh Norman.

If he focuses on his game and not the conduct and character of his opposing defensive backs, he will continue his meteoric rise in the league.

If he continues to do idiotic things like he did with Norman, he will draw further ire around the league. The league is also unlikely to be as compassionate next time he lashes out.

Beckham needs to focus on what’s in front of him and he will be fine.

I’m praying that he doesn’t end up on an episode of ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ any time soon.

12 Cameron Jerrell Newton

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Last year’s Most Valuable Player had a rough Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos, as I’m sure you’re aware. With the return of Kelvin Benjamin, Newton will have an even better opportunity to succeed this year, you would think.

The Panthers have remained largely unchanged and their schedule is not exactly treacherous.

But, we all know how hard it is to go back to the Super Bowl when the whole league is gunning for you.

So if this were to happen, just wait for all the myriad of ridiculous tabloid reasons as to why. One of my favorites (for the wrong reasons) from last year was how Newton was too busy planning his endzone dances to ever be considered ‘elite’. So be prepared to hear that one dragged out if he’s not having another MVP calibre season.

Think I’m being too facetious? Remember who Green Bay fans blamed for Aaron Rodgers’ drop off last year? Olivia Munn.

11 Super Bowl LI

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Super Bowl LI has already been talked about for the wrong reasons.

Adele turned down the NFL to play the halftime show. What in the world were they thinking?! Adele?! Sure, the Super Bowl is becoming less and less about the game itself, and the commercials and halftime show are geared towards the other demographics of the country who aren’t Draft Kings playing, Bud Light swigging, jersey busting, buffalo chicken smelling men, but some of the choices for the entertainment have been, shall we say troublesome in the past.

Coldplay were dreadful last year. Madonna wasn’t much better in 2012. The Black Eyed Peas were worse the year before, and in the past we’ve had to endure such horrors as Jessica Simpson, P. Diddy, Kid Rock, Shania Twain, Sting, N’Sync and Phil Collins.

So who will the NFL ask for Houston?

Will they go down the dreaded Trap Rap route with artists like Future and Desiigner, or will they get (sigh) Beyoncé and Bruno Mars again.

It’ll probably be the latter, which is comforting… I suppose.

Pander to the people, NFL.

10 Gurley goes to Hollywood

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“Don’t hit 30!”, yells Coach Jeff Fisher during pretty much every practice scrimmage in this season’s Hard Knocks. And who can blame him. Last year Gurley had the third most rushing yards in the league (1,106) and 10 rushing touchdowns. He will be a massive weapon on an offense not exactly flush at the quarterback position. But expect teams to target him heavily.

Tavon Austin seems to have more of the charisma and flair for Los Angeles, but Gurley is the most revered talent on the offensive side of the ball for the Rams.

The new franchise needs to make a dent in the L.A. market, and while attendance at the preseason games appears solid, the ratings on television were apparently dismal .

It’s a notoriously fickle market out west, but in the no nonsense hands of someone like Gurley, the Rams have a steady crowd pleaser at the ready.

9 Los Angeles Chargers & Las Vegas Raiders?

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Los Angeles has the potential to go from having no NFL franchises to two, if the Chargers don’t do anything of significance this season. Owner Alex Spanos is desperate to move the franchise out of San Diego and into a better ‘funded’ situation in Los Angeles.

My question is, what happens to their uniforms? The Rams and Chargers have basically the same colors. That’s going to make it pretty hard to pick out crosstown rivals when you’re both in blue and yellow.

I have to admit that the Las Vegas Raiders has an incredible ring to it. The best uniforms in the league move to the Sin City – it all sounds perfect really. Rumors abound that with the recent sale of the UFC, the previous owners want to make a run at buying the Raiders from the Davis family and move them to Las Vegas. But the NFL is petrified of the gambling influence, and with Al Jr. (Mark Davis) showing some very paternal quirks, shall we say, it’s unlikely this will happen. So, London Raiders? Mexico City Raiders?

8 Minnesota Nice

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Just when it looked like the Vikings would be a definite contender in this year’s playoffs, Teddy Bridgewater went down with a horrific leg injury in practice prior to the final game of the preseason. While he was not considered elite in the eyes of most analysts, Bridgewater had progressed well over his first two seasons and was looking confident at the helm until the injury.

Once again, Adrian Peterson will have to assume the workload on those already worn shoulders. Expect Laquan Treadwell, Minnesota’s first round pick out of Ole Miss, to quickly find his feet also.

It’s such a shame for the snake bitten franchise. This year the expectations were high for the Vikings. They have a new stadium to christen and the rest of the NFC North isn’t exactly looking like a bunch of world-beaters.

Let’s hope it isn’t just another walk in the park for the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs… again.

7 America’s Team

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This term of endearment hasn’t really applied to the Dallas Cowboys for a number of years now. The Cowboys haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1995 and haven’t been revered much since then.

If anything, the Cowboys are closer to being the most hated franchise in American sports. Owner Jerry Jones has had his fair share of scandals (both personal and professional) and the team itself is dumpster fire-esque, epitomized by the loathsome character that was Greg Hardy on last year’s roster. Then there’s Tony Romo and his seemingly balsa wood strength bones, and the polarizing Dez Bryant in the locker room. Then there’s the fans, oh the Cowboy fans.

You have to wonder what the next controversy will be in Dallas? There’s been so many player arrests this offseason, it’s getting to be ridiculous.

At least Jason Witten will be there to provide some structure to the team.

6 Dr. Nick Riviera and the curious case of CTE

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It’s become pretty clear that the players are more than worried about CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and other concussion related injuries, with a number of big names retiring early over the last few seasons since various independent bodies have warned them of the situation.

The league’s response continues to be fairly appalling and certainly leaves them open to further litigation in the future.

Roger Goodell needs to be far more open to discussion and recognize the wrongs of the past. Of course, it’s not only his fault, he is merely the spokesperson for the owners and sponsors etc. There’s far more benefit to the boardrooms to keep CTE issues in the dark than to actually address them.

But for a commissioner who, despite immense financial success for the league, is so despised, this issue appears to be one that could be a redemptive one for him, rather than a hinderance.

5 The High Sparrow

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I’ve started to think of Roger Goodell as the High Sparrow character from Game of Thrones. Without going too deep for all you who don’t watch the show, the High Sparrow is a chief priest and leader of a religious militia who assumes control of the capital for a time, until they are all massacred by the Queen for getting too big for their britches.

Goodell, like the High Sparrow has become a judge, jury and executioner in the NFL, as we saw with deflategate and more recently with a few players and some vague allegations of their use of HGH, which ultimately they were cleared of.

You have to wonder what’s the next issue that will rear its head and make Goodell go into full ‘High Sparrow mode’? What will he prosecute and sentence on this time I wonder? My money will be on players smoking marijuana in states that have legalized it.

4 Da Bears

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Chicago is a huge market, as we know. It is a city that is absolutely obsessed with football. Sure the Blackhawks have won titles, and the Bulls are still one of the most globally recognized brands, but this is a Bears city first and foremost (don’t say ‘Da Bears’… so annoying). Unfortunately the Bears have been rubbish for so long.

Chicago has had to endure some truly terrible teams since the 1985 Super Bowl, and this city is really getting sick of talking about that team. It is craving for a winner.

Tempers came to a boiling point in 2014 under Marc Trestman. Everyone was sick of so many 6-10 seasons.

The situation looks better under John Fox, but there’s still that small problem of Jay Cutler at quarterback, the metaphoric stone in the city’s collective Jordan sneakers.

Will the team make strides this season? God I hope so. And with those wide receivers, Cutler has no excuse not to.

So it’ll be another 6-10 season I’m sure.

3 NFL Asia?

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The NFL’s global reach continues to expand. For years there’s been games in London, and this year there will be three there (Colts vs. Jaguars and Washington vs. Bengals, both at Wembley Stadium, and Giants vs. Rams at Twickenham). The NFL has also added a game in Mexico City, with the Raiders playing the Texans at the Azteca in late November.

With all this in mind, you have to wonder what the next destination is for the NFL. It could sell out a stadium pretty much anywhere, and there’s been discussions about having games in China and Japan recently.

From a purely selfish point of view, I’d love to see a game with 100,000 plus fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia, but of course it’s not exactly close and would be logistical nightmare.

Europe is not out of the question obviously, with Germany being an obvious choice.

2 Who is Chip Kelly?

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I just don’t get what the big deal is, or was quite frankly, with Chip Kelly. Sure he was a success with Oregon, but he never won a National Title. He was known for this fast paced offense, often going no-huddle.

That works at the college level, when players are still learning the game, and kids work better with stripped down plays, but this is the NFL! Professional players who live the game and are experienced play there. Playing no-huddle should be a last resort for coaches. Sure, you might catch a defense off guard a few times, but the game at the professional level is far more nuanced than in college. You’ll get found out quickly, and he did in Philadelphia.

Kelly’s squad composition was also bizarre during his time at the Eagles. It felt like he was having a fire sale with the aim to rebuild through the draft. You can’t do that in Philly, Chip! Schemes, quarterback play and coaching win at the end of the day, just look at the Patriots.

Given San Francisco’s poor squad this season, don’t expect to see much different from Kelly. His genius status has faded and he’ll be out of a job sooner than he realizes.

1 Bengal-bungle again?

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As a teenager in Australia, learning about the NFL, I sometimes would confuse the Bengals with the Browns. Both cities started with ‘C’ and they have similar colors. There was also the fact that they were both awful franchises.

Things haven’t changed much for one of those Ohio teams, but now it appears that the Bengals are victims of their own inflated sense of self. Last year’s playoffs was a clear case in point. The Bengals should have won their playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but made brain fart after brain fart, epitomized in the moments where Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones seemed to forget that people and cameras were actually watching their disturbing actions on the field.

Cincinnati has a brilliant receiver in A.J. Green, a competent quarterback in Andy Dalton and a ferocious defense.

But if they don’t collectively learn to play the game with more professionalism, they might as well be like that other team in Ohio. Marvin Lewis has got to get their heads right. If that happens, they can win it all.

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