It has begun. The tackling, the hustling, the injuries, the questions. NFL training camp is here. Training camp is many people’s least favorite part of the NFL season. Pundits like us talk about it non-stop but no real information comes out except veiled statements about who is doing well and when injured players are coming back. Each team loses some players to injuries, and few find a diamond in the rough who will be a fan favorite for the upcoming year. But training camp is extremely important for players to get back in shape and for teams to know what they are working with. At the end of the offseason, teams often have unanswered questions: Which rookies can start? Will their injured star be back soon? Who will be winning positional battles? In a few short weeks teams have to answer these kinds of questions, ready or not.
When training camp lets out, teams like to say that they answered all of the questions that they started with, but the truth is that it sometimes creates more. We’ll talk more on that when the season begins, but here is the biggest question for each NFL team now that training camps have begun.
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63 Arizona Cardinals – Can Palmer Keep It Up?
Let’s go back to 2011. Tim Tebow was making national headlines while Matt Prater was winning games in Denver, Cam Newton was breaking rookie records in Carolina, and something interesting was happening in New York as Eli Manning kept bringing his team back late in games. Amongst all of that, a pissed off Carson Palmer was on the Cincinnati Bengals watching as a second round rookie was leading his team to the playoff. Palmer had chosen to sit out the season and “retire” after the Bengals refused to trade their franchise QB. In October, the Raider’s QB Jason Campbell went down and with only Kyle Boller or Terelle Pryor as potential backups; they knew they needed to make a move. They sent 2 first round picks to the Bengals for the right to negotiate with Palmer, and he ended up signing a contract and playing immediately. With Oakland he went 8-16 with 35 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. Oakland was forced to unload Plamer onto Arizona and rebuild. Palmer’s career was called done, but then something happened. Carson has seen a-career resurgence with the Cardinals, leading them to the playoffs twice (despite having a torn ACL for the first one) and throwing for a career best 4671 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2015. However, we aren’t sold that Plamer can be any better. Despite coming off of a career year, Palmer is 36 years old and is currently behind only Tom Brady and Drew Brees as the oldest starting quarterback in the NFL. Including his 2 playoff games, Palmer attempted more passes and played in more games than in any year of his career. After a heightened workload and his age, it would come as no shock that the aging QB takes a step back, especially with top target Larry Fitzgerald also getting another year older. Was last year the best Cardinal fans will ever see of Palmer, or will he continue his rise and lead them back to the playoffs?
61 Atlanta Falcons – Devonta Freeman, Who Is He Really?
Last year one of the surprise stars in the NFL was Falcon’s running back Devonta Freeman. After a 2014 season where Freeman started no games and rushed for only 1 touchdown and 248 yards. The Falcons had no plans to utilize Freeman as their lead back, and drafted Tevin Coleman to be their back, but he got hurt early in the year leading to the explosion from Freeman. In his first game with 20 or more attempts, Freeman scored 3 touchdowns, and then did the same the next week. Following those weeks, Freeman solidified his spot as the lead back in Atlanta. However, he never really was able to play up to that production again. He never had another multiple touchdown game, only rushed for 100 yards in a game 3 times, but collected a couple touchdowns in the passing game making his fantasy value go up. When you look at his actual on field production as opposed to his production in Fantasy-land, it becomes apparent that the Falcons have a major question to answer. Freeman is a nice piece to have on a team, as a running back who can be effective in the passing game, and collect 100 yards on the ground sometimes, but is he a lead back? Well 6 other running backs ended up with more total rushing yards in 2015, and 8 were ahead of Freeman in yards per game. However, the most glaring issue was his yards per attempt, where he ranked 32nd in the NFL. Freeman was really noted for his 11 rushing touchdowns, but 6 of them came in 2 games and he went 6 weeks straight without a rushing touchdown at one point. So who do the Falcons really have in their lead back? The guy who rushed for 6 touchdowns in 2 weeks, or the guy who had 5 in the other 14?
59 Baltimore Ravens – Is Anyone Healthy?
It’s tough to project what the Ravens would have been able to do in 2015 if they had just had a healthy… anything. The Ravens had the most injuries in the NFL last year and saw most of their team leaders go down to various injuries. Joe Flacco tore his ACL and MCL, Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith Sr. both tore their Achilles, and Justin Forsett broke his arm. That was during the season. Dennis Pitta and first round picks Matt Elam and Breshad Perriman couldn’t play a single down in 2015. And those are just the big names. 2015 saw the Raven’s depth chart get decimated with more injuries and by the end of the year Ryan Mallet missing passes to Chris Givens was a constant occurrence. So when the Raven’s PUP list came out and Suggs, Smith, Perriman, and Elvis Dumerville were all named on it, there was a bit of panic amongst Ravens fans. Baltimore has an aging roster that is coming off a horrible season defined by a myriad of injuries, so fans have a reason to worry. Projecting the team’s upcoming season is impossible because so many of the players need to rebound off injuries, but Smith and Perriman are the two biggest questionmarks. Smith is an old and undersized receiver who has made a career out of being tougher than anyone else who shares his field. How will his age and hampered Achilles affect that? Perriman is a tall and lanky youngster who has never touched an NFL field and had major questions about if he would translate to the higher level in the first place. Will his medical redshirt end up helping or hurting his transition?
57 Buffalo Bills – Is This Rex Ryan’s Last Year?
Rex Ryan is always a guy who talks a lot. He makes a lot of promises and incites fans to rally behind him, which was a ton of fun when he was on the Jets and getting hem close to the Super Bowl. Then the talent dispersed and Rex’s lack of offensive prowess was exposed, eventually leading to his firing in New York. Basically, if you’re gonna talk big game, you better put up on the field. He quickly found a job in Buffalo, and was even given one of the league’s top rushing attacks to play with. He was expected to give a rise to the team, who had eyes on the playoffs after missing the cut by one game in 2014. They added pieces from the Jets that Ryan asked for, and found a stud QB in Tyrod Taylor. Ryan talked a lot, calling out teams like the Jets, the Patriots, the Colts, and the Broncos, and then led the team to a pedestrian 8-8 record. Suddenly the talking got quieter and quieter. This season Ryan is coaching for his job. It turns out that you can call out the Pats all you want, but you should focus on how to beat them instead. Last season the Bills lost 3 games by a touchdown or less and had a slew of injuries to deal with (Taylor, LeSean McCoy) so there is a lot of room for improvement. However, the Bills don’t want to deal with Rex’s pompous comments and heavy media presence, only to be picking in the middle of the draft again. If Ryan doesn’t improve his 2015 record by at least 2 games, he will be looking for a new coaching spot early 2017.
55 Carolina Panthers – Who Is Playing Cornerback?
Robert McClain and Bene' Benwikere. Let that sink in for a minute Panthers fans. Those were the two starting corners penciled in to start week one for last year’s NFC champions. Together those two have started a collective 27 out of 89 games. Last year they combined for 1 interception and 1 sack, and they’re the team’s two safest options. Following Charles Tillman’s retirement and the Panther’s decision to let Josh Norman walk, their secondary was already in a questionable state. Benewikere was put on the PUP list heading into training camp. The rest of the depth chart is filled with rookies Daryl Worley, James Bradberry, and Zack Sanchez plus free agent Leonard Johnson who may have to miss training camp because of an Achilles injury. There’s hope that Bradberry could start immediately, but he came out of Samford so it may take some time for him to catch up to the speed of the NFL. The Panthers may be contacting someone like Leon Hall or Antonio Cromartie as soon as possible because they have no one who has proven to have the ability to cover receivers. The Panthers play in a division that arguably has the best group of starting quarterbacks, and they cannot risk Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, and Jameis Winston picking on their weak corners, if they hope to repeat as NFC South champions. Seriously, Julio Jones had 16 receptions against them last year; if Jones is up against Robert McClain twice he’ll have 32 receptions against them in 2016. Maybe the rookie corners will turn into studs, but the last time a team drafted 2 starting corners in the same draft was 2012 when the Rams got Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson (and it took Johnson a few years before he was really “startable.” So we repeat, who do the Panthers expect to start at corner in 2016?
53 Chicago Bears – Should They Try To Lose?
The Bears are an average team. As of now it’s expected they go 8-8 and get a middling draft pick which may not help in the long term. They should hope to lose 15 games and guarantee a shot at DeShaun Watson. It’s not that the Bears are a bad team; they actually have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Just, what’s the point of competing? They have a fantastic linebacking corp. led by Pernell McPhee and new additions Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White could be a dangerous receiving combo, and there are a lot of high hopes for Jeremy Langford at running back. The question sits with Jay Cutler, the punching bag of NFL fans. Jay Cutler isn’t bad, last year he only had 11 interceptions and threw for 3,659 yards, despite dealing with a bunch of injuries to almost everyone on his offense. However, Cutler is 33-years-old and injuries (concussions) have left him a shell of who he once was and his pass accuracy remains questionable at best. It may be time for the Bears to move on, especially when looking at the rest of their division. The Vikings are a hot young team on the rise, and the Packers have Aaron Rodgers. Both of those teams should be in contention for the division and a wild card spot, while the Lions are on par with the Bears as a mediocre team with some gaping holes. The Bears should really consider using this season to teach Kevin White and Jeremy Langford the offense, and let the rebuilt defense gel before making a run in 2017. If they can replace Cutler with who ever the next young QB will be in the next draft (be it Watson or Brad Kaaya or someone else), they will suddenly be way more competitive and have a real shot at future Super Bowls.
51 Cincinnati Bengals – Where’s Marvin Lewis’ Discipline?
Much of the Bengals’ offseason stories revolve around the suspensions of the players who cost them their first playoff win in 25 years. The Bengals M.O. over that time is signing players with “character concerns” and taking the bad with the good. They currently have 2 defensive players that clearly embody this ideal in Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict. Adam Jones, aka Pacman, has been a problem in the NFL since he was drafted by the Titans in 2005. He was suspended for the entire 2007 season and part of 2008 following his attack on exotic dancers for taking the money he threw at them without asking. The issue became even more violent and three people were shot. Jones played a few years in Dallas, until he was cut following another shooting investigation. After the Bengals signed Jones he vowed to get his life back on track, and for the most part he did. However, his personal foul in the Bengals Playoff game was the first nail in the Bengals’ coffin, and his subsequent mean spirited comments (like saying Antonio Brown was faking the concussion) brought his maturity back under the microscope. The Bengals rewarded Jones with a 3-year contract. Vontaze Burfict may not have been involved with any high profile off-field incidents, but his on-field antics would lead to a number of arrests if it weren’t during the game. He has been fined multiple times for attacking players on the field, famously when he tried to snap Greg Olsen’s and Cam Newton’s ankles by grabbing and twisting their feet after the play was blown dead. He also has been fined for punched Ryan Taylor in his “man parts,” and hitting a number of defenseless receivers (at times leading with his helmet). Cincinnati gave Burfict a 4-year deal following those fines. He has been suspended for hitting Antonio Brown in the head after the ball soared well passed the receiver in the playoffs, a penalty that literally ended the Bengals season. Jones’ and Burfict’s antics are only talked about when they do something that affects a playoff game, but neither man should be rewarded for their dirty plays and horrifying sportsmanship. Marvin Lewis says he instills discipline in the locker room, but we can’t see it. Burfict and Jones lost a playoff game for their team, and there’s almost no punishment handed down from the team. Is there actual discipline in Cincinnati? Or will there be none until someone gets killed on the field?
49 Cleveland Browns – What’s Josh Gordon Going To Do?
There are a ton of questions that the Browns have to answer this training camp. Is RG3 able to start in the NFL anymore? How is the offensive line going to fare without Alex Mack? Who’s going to anchor the pass rush? Is Gary Barnidge going to replicate what he did last year? We feel like the answers are no, not well, no one, and no. But there’s a new question that is at the forefront of NFL fan’s minds; what’s Josh Gordon going to do? Back in 2013, Josh Gordon looked like he was going to be the best receiver in the NFL. He was in his second year and despite being suspended 2 games he still led the NFL with 1646 yards while hauling in 9 touchdowns. Then came 2014 when Gordon was suspended all but 5 games for substance abuse issues and for breaking team rules. Then he missed all of 2015 due to another substance abuse suspension. His substance problems did not start in the NFL, he was dismissed from Baylor (and by head coach Art Briles) for failing too many drug tests. Gordon’s reinstatement means that he is clean, or at least able to pass many drug tests, and many are curious as to what this means for the ex-superstar. Will he be the player we saw 2 seasons ago? Or has he been out of the game and out of shape too long? We won’t know until, at earliest, week 5 when his suspension will officially end, but we speak for many when we say all eyes will be on the Browns when that day comes.
47 Dallas Cowboys – What's Happening With The Defense?
There’s not really one question for the Cowboys. There’s a ton of questions revolving around the offense: What’s the situation with Ezekiel Elliott? Is Tony Romo healthy? Is Dez? But the defense is easily the side of the ball that the front office needs to worry about. Each position has major questions that were not answered during the offseason. They didn’t replace Greg Hardy in the pass rush (not that he made a huge difference) and now they have no one who consistently can attack the quarterback. Do they seriously think Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are going to be good enough to handle receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and DeSean Jackson? Or are they assuming Orlando Scandrick will bounce back following his torn ACL and MCL? Defensive captain Rolando McClain is suspended at least 10 games (maybe all season), starter Demarcus Lawrence is suspended for four games, and second round pick Randy Gregory is also already suspended and is also facing a potentially year-long ban. Who is going to replace those guys? As of now they are going to start their 2016 third and fourth round picks (Charles Tapper and Maliek Collins) on the defensive line and their sixth rounder (Anthony Brown) is the second string corner. There is no depth on the defense, and the ‘Boys have lost a good amount of starters. If anyone gets injured, there is no “next man up.” The team seems to be focusing on the injuries on offense, but they need to remember they need to add some depth on defense, or there may be no defense to play.
45 Denver Broncos – When Will Paxton Lynch Play?
A lot of talk is floating around about who the Broncos’ quarterback will be, but to us it seems like they found him in Paxton Lynch. We aren’t saying that Paxton will be starting week 1, but no one is ruling it out. Paxton will eventually start either this year or next, but there is no rush. Do you know what Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees have in common? Well besides having a Super Bowl ring… Answer is that none of them started a game in their rookie season. Neither did Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, or Carson Palmer. They have been some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but teams don’t want to follow that model any more. John Elway seems to be a smart GM, won a Super Bowl last year (with a broken statue of Peyton Manning as his QB), and is looking towards the future for his next Super Bowl. The question is not who is the Broncos’ quarterback, but it’s when do they want to start him? Paxton Lynch will have a red shirt year to learn the offense and adjust to the speed of the game, and he will be the better for it. They won’t win a Super Bowl this year and it’s ok that they aren’t trying to, after all there hasn’t been back-to-back champs since 2004. They can win again in 2017 using this strategy. Look to the Jim Harbaugh 49ers team in 2011. They knew they had a great but unpolished QB in Colin Kaepernick, so they let him sit, and it eventually led to a Super Bowl run in 2012. Let Mark Sanchez be the Alex Smith to Paxton Lynch, the Drew Bledsoe to Tom Brady, or the Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. It should work out for the best.
43 Detroit Lions – Who Replaces Calvin Johnson?
We’ve talked quite a bit about this on the site already, but we have to stress that the Lions have no one to replace Calvin Johnson. They finally tried by signing veteran Anquan Boldin, who has the surest hands in the game, but he’s far from the player he used to be in Arizona and Baltimore. Back when Johnson was on the team, people rarely pointed to the lack of depth at the receiver position in Detroit as an issue, but now it’s a big issue. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones are decent #2 options, but neither can carry a team. Anquan Boldin, Andre Caldwell, and Andre Roberts are all passed their prime. They don’t have an every down back to hold the offense together (like Adrian Peterson does in Minnesota), and their defense is good but not great. Who’s gonna step up and do it? Maybe Ziggy Ansah or Matt Stafford evolve their game, make a huge impact on the team, and help lead them to a winning record, but we just don’t see that happening. The team they put together is good enough to go 8-8, but they lack a true game changer. So who’s going to replace Calvin Johnson? No one, because no one can.
41 Green Bay Packers – Will The Front 7 Be Good Enough?
Defensive line has been a questionable position for the Pack, before BJ Raji unexpectedly retired this off-season. Three of their last five first round picks have been defensive linemen, and 2 have been disappointing (the other hasn’t played yet). Mike Daniels is a stud, and quietly is one of the best defensive ends in the league, but unfortunately he doesn’t have much help, especially when he’s not playing at the nose tackle position. The rest of the team looks like it’s got top talent to push out, especially on offense, but there are a lot of questions about the entire Green Bay front seven. Don’t get it wrong, there is a lot of talent at the linebacker postion with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers preying on the fears of opposing QBs, but the depth is atrocious. The Packers may have gone deeper in the playoffs, but don’t forget it was the Vikings that won the division in 2015. If the Packers don’t want a repeat then guys like Datone Jones, Nick Perry, and Letroy Guion will really need to step up in a big way. We just aren’t sure if they even can.
39 Houston Texans – When Will JJ Watt Be Back?
JJ Watt is the best player in the NFL, despite not playing the quarterback position. No one in the league draws as much attention and few have ever been as dominating. Even though he’s only 5 seasons into his career, he has 3 defensive player of the year awards under his belt, has been the sack leader twice, holds the Texan’s record for sacks and forced fumbles, and seems to have already cut a path to the Hall of Fame. The man seems to be invincible and has played through some pretty major injuries, but now (for the first time) Watt is out. The question around the city of Houston is “when will he come back?” However, Watt has expressly said that there is no timetable for his return and he (smartly) doesn’t want to rush it. Back injuries are not something you should mess with, and they take some time to heal, but Texans fans can’t comprehend what the team will look like without their superstar defensive end. Many are calling on former #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to step up, but he has some injury concerns of his own and doesn’t really seem to like playing football all that much. The offense is brand new so it may take a few weeks until they really start to connect, so it may be a rough first few weeks while Houston twiddles their thumbs waiting for the return of JJ.
37 Indianapolis Colts – Can The Offensive Line Keep Andrew Luck Standing?
The Colts have had a horrible offensive line since Peyton Manning was their QB. Outside of the 2012 draft, when the Colts took both Andrew Luck and TY Hilton, the team has done a remarkably poor job. If you take out Luck and Hilton, they haven’t drafted a Pro-Bowler since 2009 (and that was punter Pat McAfee). They have been downright awful when drafting offensive linemen. Anthony Castonzo hasn’t lived up to his potential and his play has significantly tailed off following getting a new contract in 2015. The rest of the line seems to be made up of patchwork players who are just big enough to hold their own on the football field. Luck suffered some pretty grotesque injuries last season, and many people fairly pointed to the line as the reason he got so beat up. The team had to scramble for QBs all season because the interior line consistently crumbled under pressure and whoever was behind center often ended up on their backs. The Colts attempted to fix their line issues by drafting Ryan Kelly in the first round, but it’s always risky to think that a rookie will be a fix-all. The line got a lot younger after the most recent draft, which is a step in the right direction. Luck will come into the season healthy, and if it stays that way he will take the Colts to the playoff. Despite taking 4 linemen in the 2016 draft, that is a huge if.
35 Jacksonville Jaguars – Are These The Jaguars Of Old?
Last year was one of the best years in Jaguars’ history. The team found out that they have one of the best young QB-receiver tandems in the game with Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson. The offense was clicking on many levels, and the defense wasn’t terrible despite losing first round pick Dante Fowler in the pre-season. The team had some holes, but they stayed competitive and were even in the playoff picture as late as November for the first time since 2010. It was a great year in Jacksonville, oh and they finished 5-11. For most other teams that record and the top 5 pick would be a bad season, but Jacksonville can call it a step forward. They also had one of the strongest drafts (on paper) in recent memory. They grabbed 2 potential stars in corner Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack to lead their defense plus they are getting Fowler back. They are adding 3 first round talents to the team day 1. They also had two huge signings on the defensive side with Tashaun Gipson and Malik Jackson. The team looks better than it has since David Garrard was taking snaps at QB, but it’s Jacksonville so it’s hard to believe it. The Jaguars have a chance to be competitive. Bortles is expecting to take a step up this season, and the defense is too. Is this the same Jacksonville squad that has only won 19 games in the past 5 seasons, or are we seeing a blossoming team of stars? We hope to know soon.
33 Kansas City Chiefs – Eric Berry’s Contract
This season will be the Chiefs’ best chance at making it to the Super Bowl. The Broncos are starting a manikin at QB, the Colts have injury concerns, the AFC North are going to beat each other up a ton, and Tom Brady is missing 4 games. The Chiefs have been one of the best team in the AFC since getting Andy Reid, but keep getting overshadowed by other teams. This could be the Super Bowl run that Kansas City has been waiting for, but they won’t be able to do it with a pissed off Eric Berry. Berry has been the heart and soul of the Chiefs, especially after the season he had in 2015 coming back from lymphoma. The problem is that he is constantly an injury risk and his tackle totals have dipped every season. He understandably wants a secure long-term deal, but his production dip has many people worried. His rookie year he had 92 tackles, then he had 88, then 74, and then 61; these stats reflect only his full seasons. He missed the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL and most of 2014 because of his illness. The Chiefs want to keep Berry on the team and happy, but cannot afford to overpay him. He’s a player that people want to root for and deserves a big payday, but he’s already going to be one of the highest paid safety in the league in 2016. What more does he want? His contract situation is the biggest question in Kansas City right now as he chose not to sign the franchise tender without a long-term contract.
31 Los Angeles Rams – How Good Is The Defense?
The story of the Rams’ offseason was the trade to get the number one overall pick to get Jared Goff, a QB that many weren’t sold on being true star. They gave up a slew of picks to grab Goff who is expected to be the new face of the franchise in LA. The argument for this trade (which is scarily similar to the RG3 trade that they victimized the Redskins with) was because the Rams’ defense is good enough to make the playoffs and they just need a competent quarterback. Well, Goff may be a competent QB and Todd Gurley will be able to hold down the offense on his own, but is the defense really Super Bowl level? The defensive line is great with Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn anchoring it, but there are big holes. Following the cutting of Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, the team lost two of their veterans and locker room leaders. They also lost their best corner when Janoris Jenkins went to the Giants and their best special teams player and safety when Rodney McLeod went to the Eagles. The defense is good, but has a lot to rebuild before they are competent enough to lead a team to the playoffs. Aaron Donald is one of the best defensive players in the game, but Robert Quinn seems to have regressed since his 19 sack season in 2013 and we aren’t sold that EJ Gaines is a shut down corner or that Mark Barron will continue to play hard. The Rams don’t have the game’s best defense, so fans should be nervous that the front office is in “win now” mode.
29 Miami Dolphins – What Is Management Thinking?
The hiring of Adam Gase was a nice move, and the team got extremely luck when Laremy Tunsil tumbled to their pick in the draft. The rest of the offseason was absolutely baffling. They did nothing to get Tannehill any additional weapons on offense after letting Lamar Miller walk, and made some terrible moves to “bolster” their defense. They picked up two failed experiments from the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia. While Kiko Alsonso is young enough to deserve a shot, he has a ton of injury concerns and hasn’t played a full season since 2013 (and missed all of 2014). Byron Maxwell was horrible in Philly and has one of the worst contracts in professional sports. The Dolphins will be starting both of them this season. They also signed Mario Williams who has been a shell of who he was in Houston and was a huge problem in the Bill’s locker room during 2015. The offensive line got better, but the rest of the offense got worse and the defense got older and overpaid. It’s hard to tell if they are going for the division title, or trying to rebuild. They tied up a lot of money in aging and injury prone defensive players and lost their best offensive player. They have no one to catch passes and no one to run the ball. Ndamukong Suh had a down season and may be regressing, and Cameron Wake is not getting any younger. They are in arguably the worst position of any team, but still are throwing money at injured veterans to “stay competitive.”
27 Minnesota Vikings – Who’s The #2 Option On Offense?
Here’s a question for Vikings fans; what happens if Adrian Peterson gets hurt again? It’s not like he’s never had injury problems and that running backs over 30 have a good track record in the NFL. So if Peterson goes down, then what? Can anyone answer that? The Vikings’ offense is laughably weak without Peterson. Teddy Bridgewater still looks scared in the face of any decent pass rush and his 14 touchdowns last season ranked last amongst QBs who started 16 games (and many who started fewer). Stefon Diggs had a hot start to 2015, but tailed off drastically at the end of the season and is primed as a sophomore slump candidate for 2016. Laquon Treadwell had reliable hands in college, but will have to adjust to the speed of the NFL while being viewed as the #1 receiver on the team. Kyle Rudolph has fallen off the map, and Cordarrelle Patterson has been a huge bust. So the question is fair; if Peterson twists a knee, takes a cleat to the ankle, gets hit in the head too hard, or just crashes into the running back wall, what’s the Viking’s plan of attack? The defense is good, but without Peterson they’ll be on the field for about 50 minutes a game, even the Broncos couldn’t do that. The Vikings don’t want to address this problem and seem like they are living in a fantasyland where injuries don’t happen. Maybe Treadwell will show himself as a dominant receiver, but the fact that 3 receivers were thought of as better options and taken before him in the draft we don’t see it. If Peterson goes down, the Vikings will find themselves in the cellar of the NFC North.
25 New England Patriots – Can The Offense Work Without Brady?
If the team goes 4-0 behind Jimmy Garoppolo they will still start Tom Brady. The question isn’t if the Patriots will start Brady after his 4 game suspension, it’s what happens if they give him an 0-4 hole to climb out of. We like to belive that he would be able to go 12-0 or 11-1 and get his team back into the playoffs as a top seed, but it may not be that easy. The offense in New England is often questioned because of it’s lack of talent. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola both are often said to be products of Brady’s greatness (as was said about Wes Welker). The running game, on paper, is wildly ineffective without Brady’s presence under center. Rob Gronkowski is great, but it’s very well known that he has a ton of injury concerns. He could easily get hurt early on in the season because he is trying to do too much for the team. In the AFC a team will have to win at least 10 games to make the playoffs, which leave Brady no room for error. That’s really tough for a 38-year-old (39 by the end of his suspension) who will not have been allowed to practice with his team for a month. The entire AFC East will be doing everything they can to beat the Pats this year and it’s not as if the first 4 games are against easy opponents (Cardinals, division rival Dolphins, Texans, division rival Bills). It’s Tom Brady so we aren’t that concerned for the team, but because of the suspension this may be the first year that the Pats aren’t in the playoffs since 2008.
23 New Orleans Saints – Who Can Step Up At Running Back?
Week one we know who the Saints will be lining up behind Drew Brees. Mark Ingram has really come into his own since he took over the lead back role in 2014. Last season he was doing great, through 12 weeks he was averaging over 60 yards rushing and 30 yards receiving per game. He had collected 1174 yards from scrimmage before a shoulder injury would sideline him for the rest of the year. Ingram has not been active a full 16 games since 2012, and that was the only time he was able to in his 5 NFL seasons. Reports have surfaced that Ingram has been dealing with some nagging injuries in training camp, and while he should be ready for the season it forces the Saints to take a look at their running corp. and figure out what they need to do. They have a lot of name recognition behind Ingram with both Tim Hightower and CJ Spiller on the team, but Spiller was horrible in 2015 (his longest run was 11 yards) and Hightower is 30 years old and was out of football for 3 years before making the team last season. Travis Cadet is an option to take some snaps, and Marcus Murphy has some dangerous breakaway speed, but hasn’t been used in the run game yet. Mark Ingram needs to limit his carries this season, and the Saints really need to determine who will be number 2 when the season starts. We feel like Spiller will win the job because, even though he didn’t do much last year, he is the prototypical pass catching running back that Brees has loved in the past.
21 New York Giants – Did They Do Enough?
The Giants spent more on defensive players this offseason than they spent in free agency over the past 5 years, but will that fix what happened in 2015? They lost 8 games by less than a touchdown. Worst part of the season was that the team regularly had the lead in the 4th quarter but the defense could not hold it. To fix the issue they opened their checkbook and signed Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, and Damon “Snack” Harrison to big deals, as well as drafting Eli Apple. The seem to be retooling their entire defense, but there are big questions about each player. Vernon’s numbers aren’t great and he hasn’t notched double digit sacks since 2013. Jenkins has had some questionable off-field antics in the past, though he has been an upstanding citizen for the most part since being drafted. The biggest question about Jenkins is about how he will preform without having the benefit of playing with the Rams’ stellar pass rush. Snacks is a good run stopper, but moving from the Jet’s D-Line to the Giants is not exactly a step up. All these guys are going to have to gel together, and Jason Pierre-Paul needs to revert to the player he was 3 years ago, otherwise they may find themselves on the losing side of a lot of games. They did everything they could to fix their defense, unfortunately there are just more questions than answers with their pick-ups.
19 New York Jets – Is Ryan Fitzpatrick A Good QB?
Jets fans have been so concerned that they were going to start Geno Smith instead of signing Ryan Fitzpatrick that no one seemed to be asking the incredibly relevant question, is Ryan Fitzpatrick good? We know he’s good, way better than any of us, but is he really they guy that will take you deep in the playoffs? Or even to the playoffs? After all, he’s never done that before. We aren’t going to knock Fitzpatrick’s talent too much, he seems to be a competent QB with a good arm and a Harvard education, so we understand why he belongs in the NFL. But they guy has 0 playoff experience and is expected to lead a team to the Super Bowl? That’s just a recipe for disaster. Geno Smith isn’t going to be the savior of the Jet’s franchise, but they should have looked harder at the QB market and tried to make a move. They drafted no one and are trying to release statements about the upside of Bryce Petty (no one is believing that…). Ryan was good last year, but we don’t trust QBs who have a career resurgence after the age of 30, they rarely are good the next season.
17 Oakland Raiders – Is This The Year?
The Raiders are an incredibly young team; third-year quarterback Derek Carr, third-year linebacker Khalil Mack, and second-year wideout Amari Cooper are the team leaders. Along with 3 of the game’s brightest young stars, they also had an extremely strong draft grabbing Karl Joseph and Shilique Calhoun, and had arguably the best free agency by picking up Kelechi Osemele, Bruce Irvin, and Reggie Nelson to fill big holes left on the team from last season. In 2015 Oakland put itself into the playoff picture for much of the season, not getting bounced until December. The Raiders are looking to do better this year, and there is an opening for them. The Broncos’ QB question could go deep into the season, and without a real QB the playoffs are probably not likely. Kansas City is good, but they aren’t dominant. San Diego looks like a bottom dweller on paper who may compete for the number 1 pick. The team they have put together is the best that Oakland has had since the Super Bowl run in 2002. We don’t think the Raiders are a true Super Bowl candidate right now, but they have a window this season to be the best team in the division. They’re young, so we hope that they will be a factor in the league for the next few years, but they have to get over that hump and get to the playoffs soon, before other teams start poaching the young talent as they hit contract years.
15 Philadelphia Eagles – What Do You Do With The QB?
We assume that Sam Bradford will be the day one starter, unless he gets hurt… again. The question comes after that. If the Eagles have a mediocre record to start the season behind Sam Bradford, who they gave $26 million in guaranteed money to despite the fact that he has never won more than 7 games in a year, what comes next? They traded a lot to get the #2 pick, Carson Wentz, and they also gave Chase Daniel a big contract to hold a clipboard, so both of those guys may be expected to start at some point this year. We assume that they want to eventually give the ball to Carson Wentz this year to see what the North Dakota State product is capable of, but what do they do with Sam Bradford in that situation? The guy publicly demanded a trade when he thought there was a chance that he might not start the season. This is a player who has been gifted a starting role every year because of his potential and the one year he was asked to compete, he openly broke down. He tried to throw the team under the bus claiming they “never spoke to him about this” and gave up on his teammates. Do they think he’ll be happy if he’s actually benched? Carson Wentz is the Eagles’ future (for better or worse), but they tied themselves to a player who turned into a locker room nightmare. If week 10 rolls by and the Eagles are not doing great, then what happens? Playing Wentz may be doing the best thing for the franchise’s future, but it could divide the team and the coaching staff while giving the media a brighter light to shine on a young man trying to transition from a D-II school to the NFL. A worse scenario is if they’re 4-6, but not completely out of the playoff picture, after all the NFC East is weak this year. Can they go to Wentz without Bradford turning on the team and going to the media? Will they have to keep starting Bradford even if he’s playing mediocre at best? Yes, if the team is playing well this whole conundrum is moot, but Bradford has never played above average so we can’t expect him to now.
13 Pittsburgh Steelers – Is There Reason To Be Concerned?
Pittsburgh fans never really need to worry. Over the past few decades, the Steelers at worst are a playoff caliber team that just misses the cut. The team is amongst the best drafters, gets key free agents to come play with them, and has better depth than anyone else. That being said, should Steelers fans have a reason to worry this year? Following the suspensions of Le'Veon Bell and Martavius Bryant, a lot of questions have been raised about the discipline in the Steelers’ locker room. Bell is a huge loss, even if it’s just a few games, and Bryant being out for a year is nothing to shrug at. For years it’s been “next man up” in Pittsburgh, they always have someone to handle the load. Is that still true? The depth at running back starts and ends with DeAngelo Willaims, who at 33 years old may collapse at any second, and the receiver depth is very thin after Antonio Brown. Ladarius Green was a nice addition, but he and Ben Roethlisberger will not have the connection that Heath Miller had with his quarterback. The team looks solid on paper, but the cracks are starting to show based off these two very major suspensions. If Big Ben has a knee issue (again) it won’t be as easy to plug in a new QB. If the defense again doesn’t play at its full potential (again), and the rest of the division doesn’t crumble under the injury bug, there may be something to worry about in Pittsburgh.
11 San Diego Chargers – Philip Rivers’ Future?
Philip Rivers is one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the league. Despite the fact that he hasn’t taken his team to the playoffs as often as the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but he always has less to work with. He rarely has reliable receivers, his offensive line is mostly patchwork, and his defense is atrocious. The front office double-downed on Rivers this season by giving him James Jones and Travis Benjamin to throw to, but what do they expect to do moving forward. Year after year Rivers is rumored to be on the trade block. He was rumored to be gone when Mike McCoy took over the team in 2013, but ended up winning comeback player of the year. In the 2015 offseason many believed he would be traded to Tennessee to get Marcus Mariota in the draft, but instead he got a contract extension. No one is questioning River’s ability to play the quarterback position, but we are questioning San Diego’s front office. Let’s just say that San Diego goes through 4-12 again this season, or even 6-10. Let’s say that it gets them a top 10 draft pick. What do you do with Rivers then? He’s good, but back-to-back losing seasons isn’t great for a guy who’s going to be 35 in December. The Chargers may be wise to rebuild while the Raiders, Broncos, and Chiefs all vie for one playoff spot. The Chargers should explore trade options with Rivers and let him know that now. It has nothing to do with Phillip’s talent, and everything to do with the direction of the team.
9 San Francisco 49ers – Colin Kaepernick’s Future?
Colin Kaepernick at one point was the brightest young QB in the NFL. Now he’s a benched headcase who is fighting to get snaps over Blaine Gabbert. The team needs to figure out what the plan for Colin Kapernick is going to be. They tried everything they could to ship him to another team this offseason, but he’s earning so much money that no team felt like he was worth giving up a draft pick for. In 2015 Kaepernick had what can only be described as a very rough season. He only started 8 games going 2-6 with 1,615 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. The running speed that made him so dominant early in his career has faded and Kaep was only able to gain 256 yards on the ground. However, some of his poor play was due to a shoulder injury and the uncertain coaching situation. Now the 49ers really need to determine what they plan to do with Colin. He is getting paid $13.9 million this year and has $73.3 million left on his contract that ends in 2021. The team won’t be paying that much money for him to sit on a bench and watch a journeyman lose games. So the 49ers and new head coach Chip Kelly need to figure out their plan of attack. We think that Kaep will start and have a good year in Kelly’s insane system. The pairing makes a ton of sense, but the whole team is in shambles. We think they will go 6-10 and Kaep will solidify his spot as the team’s starter moving forward.
7 Seattle Seahawks – Will Russell Wilson Still Play Like A Star?
Kaepernick was the brightest young star in the NFL, Russell Wilson is the brightest young star in the NFL. The Super Bowl winner has overcome every odd, starting his first year as a 3rd round pick, winning a Super Bowl in his second season, and gaining the highest QBR last season when many projected a fall off. Now he is going to have to take another step up if he wants to try and make another run to a Super Bowl. The Cardinals took over Seattle’s reign as kings of the NFC West in 2015, and the Seahawks have an uphill battle to reclaim the throne. While a lot of other teams got better during this past offseason, Seattle took a real step down. The Legion of Boom is mostly in tact, but they lost some key players in Bruce Irvin, Russel Okung, and most notably Marshawn Lynch. Lynch retiring is a huge blow to the team and Wilson specifically. Wilson has played his whole career with Beast Mode in the backfield. The best way to make a quarterback good is to give him a great running game. They often struggle when that’s taken away. Wilson also has the worst offensive line he has had in his career blocking for him, so a lot is changing. This is the year we will see what Wilson is really made of. Is he going to rise up to the task without Lynch and his old line? Or will he stumble? Only time will tell.
5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Who’s The Pass Rush?
Last season Gerald McCoy (8.5 sacks) and Jacquies Smith (7 sacks) led the Buccaneer’s pass rush, even though neither man had double digit sacks. McCoy is one of the best defensive tackles in the league and will consistently get his team 8-9 sacks a season. Smith on the other hand is a huge question mark as last season was a career year for him, despite only playing in 12 games and only getting 15 total tackles. Over the offseason the Buccaneers picked up Robert Ayers and Daryl Smith to bolster their defense, but both of them are aging and have never been noted as great at getting to a quarterback. They drafted Noah Spence, but he has some character concerns and may have issues catching up to the speed of the NFL following being drafted out of Eastern Kentucky. Spence is the Buc’s best shot at having a real pass rusher on the team, but he is a rookie and a second round pick at that. If Spence or Ayers steps up, the Bucs will have one of the more dangerous defenses in the league since they already have Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander running the linbacking corp. and got Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes to build up the secondary. The team still has no one that they can rely on to hit a QB and are in a division with Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees, so they need to figure this question out soon or it will be another last place finish in Tampa.
3 Tennessee Titans – Was Mike Mularkey The Right Choice?
The Titans made interm head coach Mike Mularkey their full time head coach this off-season. Many people were caught off guard by this move as Mularkey has had a terrible track record as a head coach and the team didn’t really go through an intense interviewing process with other candidates. Statements were released saying that Mularkey and Marcus Mariota have a great relationship and that they always felt Mularkey was a great option. However, the Titans are a young team with a whole bunch of rookies joining the team, they really could have used a guy with real pedigree to lead the team into a new regime. Mularkey has no experience building teams and was fired from his last 2 head coaching jobs. Training camp is an imprortant time for Mularkey as this is when he’s going to have to show what he’s made of as he coaches one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. The team has position battles at seemingly every position but QB, and it’s up to the coach to build this team from the ground up. It would have been a better job for someone like Jim Schwartz, Bill Cowher, or maybe Gus Malzahn. They went with Mularkey, but it could have been worse, Chip Kelly was interested in the position.
1 Washington Redskins – What Do They Have In Kirk Cousins?
Kirk Cousins has one season to answer one of the biggest questions in the NFL; can he replicate 2015? In his first 3 NFL seasons, Cousins was a destined career backup. First he was stuck behind RG3, who was going to change the NFL. When that experiment ended in disaster, Cousins was the go-to replacement. However, in all his starts from 2013 through 2014 he went 1-7 with more interceptions than touchdowns. He lost the starting spot to Colt McCoy and it looked like the Redskins were digging itself into a deep hole. 2015 rolled around and Cousins was given the starting job back due to McCoy’s injury problems. Then Cousins blew up. In 2015 he went 9-7 throwing for more than 4000 yards, 29 touchdowns, and posted a QB rating over 100. He led his team to the playoffs and earned a franchise tag when he became a free agent in the offseason. The problem is we have no idea who the real Kirk Cousins is. Was last year a fluke? Did he just need some time to get used to the NFL? Will he stay healthy all year again? The more we ponder on the subject, the more we feel that Cousins might just be the real deal. He has great mechanics and a powerful arm, he just needed a real shot. The biggest question is if he can stay healthy another year.
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