Super Bowl championships cannot be won during training camp practices and preseason games, but they can be lost because of events that occur in July and August. Starting players and superstars suffer injuries during drills and exhibition contests that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Coaches, front office individuals and those who compete on the field are guilty of miscues and mistakes that cost clubs chances of pursuing postseason football and a title. In a league where there are only 16 regular season contests, every day during the grueling campaign is significant for a roster that begins a summer with its eyes on the prize and the most significant trophy in the sport.
All 32 NFL franchises will make mistakes that could and, in many cases, should have been avoided. Some of these miscues are forgotten by fans if the teams responsible for the missteps go on playoff runs. Others, however, linger over clubs and even cost people jobs. Who could have guessed in August 2017 that the New York Giants, advertised as Super Bowl contenders on the first day of that month, would play so poorly that head coach Ben McAdoo would bench Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith, and that McAdoo’s decision would lead to him getting fired? That’s one mistake he, former general manager Jerry Reese and others within the Giants wish they could have back.
32 Arizona Cardinals: Believing in Sam Bradford
The Arizona Cardinals must ensure that rookie quarterback Josh Rosen is ready to play at the snap of a finger once Week 1 arrives, because his moment could come that quickly.
Veteran Sam Bradford is expected to start under center, but Bradford’s knee that has betrayed him before is one misstep or hit away from once again failing him.
In an ideal situation, Bradford would keep Rosen sidelined by playing well and remaining healthy until the end of the campaign. You would also probably love to win the lottery, but you shouldn’t quit your job after you buy a ticket at your local convenience store ahead of a drawing.
31 Atlanta Falcons: Keeping Julio happy
After Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones ended one of the shortest supposed holdouts in recent NFL memory, one could assume that quarterback Matt Ryan will want to keep his favorite target happy throughout the season. There’s nothing wrong with using Jones as the No. 1 WR he is, but Ryan and company cannot forget about rookie Calvin Ridley.
Ridley has the size and hands to become a star in the Atlanta offense. The 23-year-old could also become bored and disinterested if he feels ignored during contests, especially if he sees favorable match-ups against poor secondaries. The relationship between Jones and Ridley is wonderful as of early August. The Falcons need that to remain the case for the next four months or so.
30 Baltimore Ravens: Flacco or no Flacco
The famous football adage teaches that NFL teams that have two quarterbacks actually have no quarterbacks. That could be the case with the Baltimore Ravens. It doesn’t really matter what fans think about Joe Flacco, the Super Bowl champion who hasn’t been elite since that season.
Baltimore either needs to trust that Flacco can be the best signal-caller to win the most games possible, or the team needs to see what rookie Lamar Jackson, drafted with the final pick of the first round, can do under center. Jackson was acquired, in part, to put pressure on Flacco. The Ravens either need to fully support the veteran or drop him on the depth chart.
29 Buffalo Bills: Rushing Josh Allen
Quarterback Josh Allen is a project. Those in charge of the Buffalo Bills need to repeat this to themselves over and over again regardless of whatever happens during preseason games and in the fall. On paper, Allen could become a franchise QB who leads the Bills to monumental wins with his huge arm.
Starting him before he is ready could, however, be disastrous.
The Bills are one of several teams heading into September knowing they probably aren’t winning the Super Bowl this time around. Let Allen learn from the sidelines, and only play him when he is ready to face defenses that are doing more than going through the motions of August contests.
28 Carolina Panthers: Not letting Cam be Cam
Any suggestions that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton needs to change the way he plays or rely less on his legs at this point of his career are absurd. Newton is only 29 years old. He should be in his physical prime. It wasn’t all that long ago when Newton was the league’s MVP.
The Panthers need Newton to be more consistent and make smarter decisions when throwing the ball.
That doesn't mean there should be any restrictions on what he is asked to do as the offense’s CEO. Let Cam be Cam. It’s worked before, and it’s the easiest recipe for success for the 2018 Panthers.
27 Chicago Bears: Forcing Mitch Trubisky
Are you a fan of the Chicago Bears worrying about what you’re seeing from quarterback Mitch Trubisky during training camp? You aren’t alone. Perhaps these concerns will prove to be silly come September when the results matter, as Trubisky could show he has taken steps in the right direction following a rocky rookie season. Players in the locker room know who has it and who doesn’t.
Forcing Trubisky to work through growing pains if he isn’t all that much better than the product who played last December wouldn’t benefit the Bears, and it may be a negative for the 23-year-old who was probably inserted into the lineup before he was ready last year.
26 Cincinnati Bengals: Duel backfield
There should be no competition for touches coming out of the backfield of the Cincinnati Bengals. Giovani Bernard will receive carries and even passes in certain situations, but the time has come for quarterback Andy Dalton and the Cincy offense to lean on Joe Mixon. Mixon let some fantasy football owners, and maybe even the Bengals, down during his rookie campaign.
The 22-year-old has the goods to embrace being the bellcow back for the club.
He even took steps to shed some weight and get into the best shape of his young career ahead of training camp. Mixon has the talent to be a team MVP if the Bengals are able to win more than some believe.
25 Cleveland Browns: QB carousel
Much has been said and written about how the Cleveland Browns have failed to find a franchise quarterback time and time again since returning to the NFL in 1999. There is apparently no QB battle between Tyrod Taylor and rookie Baker Mayfield, as head coach Hue Jackson is all-in on starting Taylor; for now.
What happens if Mayfield outperforms Taylor in the preseason or if the Browns lose the majority of the team’s games in September and October?
Jackson needs to stick with the decision he makes, whatever it is. Flipping back and forth between the two is unacceptable.
24 Dallas Cowboys: Leaning on Dak Prescott
Yes, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott experienced a sophomore slump in 2017, so much so that he took steps to correct supposed issues with his mechanics this past offseason. Before getting overly concerned about what you see from Prescott, remember that he is not supposed to be the face of the Dallas offense.
The Cowboys have one of the best running backs in the business in Ezekiel Elliott, a talent who has to be the focal point of the offense if the Cowboys are going to make a move up the conference standings. Elliott should lighten the load for Prescott, and the RB needs to contribute more in the team’s passing attack.
23 Denver Broncos: Not using Jake Butt
When the Denver Broncos drafted tight end Jake Butt, the club realized that he was not going to play a down of meaningful football during his rookie season after he suffered a torn ACL during his final college game.
Butt is back and fully participating in practice, and the fifth-round talent is expected to step up and earn additional reps with each preseason contest.
All eyes will be on quarterback Case Keenum to build upon the reputation that he established while with the Minnesota Vikings. Using Butt as a red-zone threat, something Keenum has done during training camp, could be a key to the signal-caller finding success with his new team.
22 Detroit Lions: LeGarrette Blount?
LeGarrette Blount is a fine player to have on the depth chart and in the backfield for short-yardage situations.
Leaning on him for any amount of the season could be a mistake that the Detroit Lions can avoid by trusting rookie Kerryon Johnson.
Johnson is learning life in the NFL on the fly, like others, but he is earning positive reviews from those observing the team’s training camp practices. Detroit’s rushing attack needs to (finally) provide a lift for quarterback Matthew Stafford. If the team’s offensive line can routinely open lanes for Johnson, the 21-year-old could be a sleeper to win Rookie of the Year honors.
21 Green Bay Packers: Too pass heavy
Obviously, the Green Bay Packers are going to rely on quarterback Aaron Rodgers to win them games now that he is healthy and back in the staring lineup. Maybe the 34-year-old should not be asked to do too much in this offense.
After all, the Packers have a solid trio in the backfield in running backs Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery.
As Brian Jones of 247 Sports recently wrote, Jones could be a candidate to have a breakout campaign. Decreasing the amount of times Rodgers drops back on Sundays, even by a handful of times, could benefit the Packers in the long run.
20 Houston Texans: Playing J.J. Watt more than necessary
Injuries happen, and they aren’t always a sign of things to come. Houston Texans defensive star J.J. Watt has missed considerable time over the past two seasons, and a guy his size who has experienced back problems in the past is often sidelined because of similar issues in the future.
There is no reason for Watt to play a down of preseason football heading into September.
He knows the playbook. This isn’t his first rodeo. Ease him back into the lineup and then hope that he remains healthy. Maybe even think about limiting his action during September games. He’s too valuable to be lost during the opening half of a campaign.
19 Indianapolis Colts: Not sacrificing everything to protect Andrew Luck
The Indianapolis Colts must literally do whatever possible to keep quarterback Andrew Luck and his right shoulder healthy if the team wants to do more than trip and fall into a handful of victories. Use running backs as blockers. Utilize multiple tight ends. Sign different linemen the second any disappoint during the preseason. Pray to whatever deities are popular among those in the front office.
The Colts have no shot of winning without Luck on the field.
Quenton Nelson better be as good of a protector as believed by the Colts when the team drafted him. Otherwise, Luck’s future with the club could be in doubt.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars: Believing in Blake Bortles
It’s great that teammates such as Austin Seferian-Jenkins are sticking up for Blake Bortles when speaking with reporters. Bortles had some bright moments in the second half of the 2017 season, but the Jaguars need to see more before believing that he can be the team’s next franchise quarterback. Remembering all that we’ve seen from Bortles since he entered the league in 2014, this should still be a process.
The Jaguars cannot remove the figurative handcuffs from Bortles and expect that he will match the play of an Aaron Rodgers or a Tom Brady. Bortles can manage games just fine. Don’t ask him to do more yet.
17 Kansas City Chiefs: Handcuffing Patrick Mahomes
The Kansas City Chiefs, most notably head coach Andy Reid, deserve credit for sticking to the plan and keeping quarterback Patrick Mahomes benched behind Alex Smith. The hype coming from the Kansas City camp regarding Mahomes was real in the summer of 2017, and it has only grown since he became the No. 1 man on the depth chart.
Handcuffing Mahomes and not allowing him to fully use his physical gifts would be a waste of his talent.
He shouldn’t have a leash on him once the regular season begins, and he could quickly show why the Chiefs went and grabbed him when they did during the 2017 NFL Draft.
16 Los Angeles Chargers: Not replacing Hunter Henry
The season-ending torn ACL suffered by Hunter Henry in the spring was an unlucky break for the Los Angeles Chargers. Bringing Antonio Gates back into the locker room is the logical decision so long a Gates is physically and mentally ready for another season, but Gates is not, by himself, the single answer at the position.
Quarterback Philip Rivers has heavily relied on talented tight ends throughout his career, and Rivers will again look to do so without Henry in the lineup. There are a few intriguing options at tight end available to the Chargers. Bring the right one into camp, and let him and Rivers work on their chemistry.
15 Los Angeles Rams: Not utilizing Brandin Cooks
The relationship between Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff and wide receiver Sammy Watkins did not blossom as hoped. Watkins caught only 39 of the 70 passes thrown his way, and he and the club parted ways earlier this year. There are concerns that Goff and newly-acquired Brandin Cooks could experience some similar hiccups.
The connection between Goff and Cooks has excited fans watching it in training camp.
It’s on Goff to keep that momentum going during the regular season and make sure Cooks sees way more than 70 targets across 16 games. Yes, Goff needs to spread the love, but Cooks’ catch rate should improve in the high-powered offense.
14 Miami Dolphins: Not trusting Mike Gesicki
Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki had one rough outing at training camp, and people (critics) immediately began suggesting that he wasn’t worth the draft pick spent on his services. That’s ridiculous, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill cannot afford to not look for the Penn State product early and often.
Gesicki may not be the best blocker at the position. Who cares? He can make plays in the red zone and bail his QB out of jams when tasked. He has the talent to become the TE the Dolphins have needed throughout Tannehill’s tenure with the organization. Gesicki could even emerge as the best TE in the AFC East if you know who suffers a setback in 2018.
13 Minnesota Vikings: Limiting Dalvin Cook
The fate of the offense of the Minnesota Vikings will unquestionably be affected by the health of Dalvin Cook. Treating Cook, who is coming off a torn ACL, with kid gloves in August is the right call. Minnesota may even elect to not play Cook in the preseason. That’s fine, but those gloves need to be removed in September if the young man who has been running without a brace in training camp is ready to go.
A healthy Cook looked like a Rookie of the Year candidate. Minnesota’s offense needs him to be that same man to make life easier for new quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was guaranteed a boatload of cash by the Vikings earlier this year.
12 New England Patriots: Limiting Sony Michel
The sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Grass being green. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick rotating his running backs every Sunday seemingly to mess with the minds of fantasy football players. You can set your watch to all of these. Belichick and the Patriots should not take this route with Sony Michel in camp.
Michel is a three-down running back who has big-play capabilities and can be a useful weapon for quarterback Tom Brady starting in Week 1. Keep him in the backfield ahead all other options, Patriots, and let him show why you drafted him in the first place.
11 New Orleans Saints: Worrying about sophomore slumps
The New Orleans Saints have no choice but to give Alvin Kamara a bigger role in the offense with Mark Ingram suspended for the opening four games of the campaign. That trend should only continue after Ingram is available. Kamara is a unique weapon to have in the arsenal, and any existing concerns about him going through a sophomore slump should not prevent the Saints from getting the most out of him.
Keeping him in a complementary role just so that he remains fresh for December games is foolish. He should average more than 12.5 touches per game in 2018. Only compare him to Todd Gurley if he stumbles during his second season.
10 New York Giants: Not enough Saquon
Maybe the biggest concern regarding the offense of the New York Giants, outside of the rebuilt offensive line, could be the team’s handling of rookie running back Saquon Barkley. The Giants used the second overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft on the Penn State back rather than on a quarterback who could, one day, replace Eli Manning.
Head coach Pat Shurmur needs to use Barkley all over the field and as much as possible.
Barkley can do it all out of the backfield and in the passing attack. He should finish his rookie season with no fewer than 350 touches. The Giants drafted him to run him into the ground.
9 New York Jets: Keeping Teddy Bridgewater sidelined
It’s possible the most important player on the New York Jets as of the start of preseason is not even first on the depth chart at his position. We know what veteran Josh McCown is and isn’t. He likely won’t be on the roster next year. Rookie Sam Darnold arrived to camp a bit late because of a ridiculous situation that Jets should have taken care of some time before.
Teddy Bridgewater, who looked like a future All-Pro while with the Minnesota Vikings until a horrific knee injury eliminated his momentum and, ultimately, cost him his job with that team, may be the best QB in camp. If Bridgewater can turn the clock back, he could give the Jets interesting options moving forward.
8 Oakland Raiders: The Khalil Mack situation
The situation between the Oakland Raiders and defensive end Khalil Mack gets weirder the more we learn about it. Mack holding out for more money is all well and good. Quite frankly, he deserves it. Even the idea that new head coach Jon Gruden has not been in constant contact with the defensive star is puzzling, to say the least.
The Raiders need to figure this out, as in the team needs to pay the man.
This franchise is expected to compete for a playoff spot. It does not need this type of off-the-field issue affecting the club at any point. This won’t get any better the longer that it plays out.
7 Philadelphia Eagles: Rushing Carson Wentz
It is understandable and logical that fans of the Philadelphia Eagles want to see quarterback Carson Wentz back in the lineup as soon as he is able to complete the full return from the torn ACL he suffered late last season. Pump the brakes, everybody.
It’s not a mistake or an accident that the Eagles kept Nick Foles up through and past the 2018 NFL Draft. Wentz doesn’t need to play much, if at all, in August, and there isn’t even a reason to rush him back for Week 1. Foles can do the job. Let Wentz sit on the sideline until the team knows he is back to 100 percent.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers: Feuding with Le'Veon Bell
Those in the “pay the man” camp should realize that the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t the only team out there that would hesitate to give running back Le'Veon Bell a historic contract because of the position that he plays and also because of his age. 26 may not seem all that old, but it is much closer to 30 than what clubs want from a running back.
With that said, Ben Roethlisberger is not getting any younger. This could be his final season depending on how serious he is about considering retirement. Having Bell on the field would obviously be a plus for the veteran. Bell being a distraction does nobody any favors. Sign him or try to move on from him, Pittsburgh.
5 San Francisco 49ers: Limiting the Jimmy G hype
Don’t silence the Jimmy Garoppolo hype, San Francisco 49ers. Welcome it. Celebrate it. Have fun with it. So what if Garoppolo has only played in a handful of games after being traded out west from the New England Patriots?
Garoppolo looked like a franchise QB in those outings, and it would be a shame if anybody associated with the club did anything to restrict his play on the field or his personal life (who cares who the guy dates?). So long as Garoppolo is smart and has good people in his camp, the sky could be the limit for Tom Brady’s former backup. Maybe he’ll go on to be better than Brady; eh, probably not.
4 Seattle Seahawks: The Earl Thomas situation
Simply stated, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas picked a great time for a holdout, as the Seahawks need him on the field. Richard Sherman is a member of the San Francisco 49ers. Kam Chancellor may never be cleared to play in the NFL again because of the neck injury that he suffered in 2017.
Thomas and the Seahawks may not be reunited, but the club should work things out one way or another. Trading Thomas to a team such as the Dallas Cowboys is an option that needs to be on the table, especially if the Cowboys or some other franchise makes the transaction worth it for the Seahawks.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Embracing Winston
Jameis Winston is scheduled to resume his role as the starting quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after he returns from his suspension. Maybe the Bucs shouldn’t be married to that idea. There are more than a few whispers coming out of Tampa Bay that the club could be convinced to move on from the 24-year-old after the 2018 season.
Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the long-term answer at the position for any club at this point of his career, but he could end up being a bridge QB if he plays well enough that the Bucs can consider going in a different direction, one way or another, in 2019.
2 Tennessee Titans: Worrying about Corey Davis
Fans of the Tennessee Titans probably rolled their eyes upon reading that wide receiver Corey Davis may have suffered a physical setback in an early practice after his injury-plagued rookie year.
By all accounts, Davis is healthy and ready to put a disappointing 2017 campaign out of the way, and the Titans cannot be afraid of throwing him into the deep water and letting him sink or swim. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is learning a new offense ahead of the campaign, needs a No. 1 target at WR. Davis can be that man so long as he can stay healthy for longer than a couple of weeks.
1 Washington Redskins: Duel backfield II
We can only guess what Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson will look like coming off the fractured fibula he suffered last season. The Redskins took steps to find a new No. 1 back earlier this year when the franchise drafted Derrius Guice, but unfortunately his season came to an end after a serious injury in the preseason.
Along with Thompson, who primarily serves as a pass-catching back, the Redskins have Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley. Perine, drafted last year to serve as the lead back, underwhelmed in his first season with only one rushing touchdown, but look for him to rebound and more than likely take the lead running back role.