I know the real season doesn't start for another month. But, I'm fired up for football nonetheless! The preseason gets under way this week and I'm ready for some hard hits. Preseason story lines across the NFL are always more bark than bite. It just goes to show that the salacious thirst we have for football is hard to satisfy. Here are a few of the big questions on my mind as we get ready for the real deal.
Can QB Christian Ponder guide the Vikes to another playoff appearance?
Whether it's fair or not, the starting quarterback seems to always get the all of the accolades or all of the blame depending on how the final score shakes out. Ponder has shown flashes of brilliance at times, but has yet to breakthrough to become elite at his position. He has all the help in the world this year. The reigning MVP at running back in Adrian Peterson. New wide receivers, Greg Jennings and rookie, Cordarrelle Patterson. And, a returning offensive line that should be one of the best in the league. So, it's time to put up or get out for Ponder. He has backup QB, Matt Cassel breathing down his neck if he falters. The only piece he lost from last year was an explosive Percy Harvin at wide-out. Reports from Training Camp in Mankato, MN have second year WR, Jarius Wright picking up the offense quicker than expected. He should fill the Percy void. Defenses will be prepared for an onslaught of Adrian. If they pack the box up front, that should give Ponder opportunities to sling the ball deep. He had some of the lowest attempts and completions for long pass plays last year. If he's healthy, that should change. Ponder has the tools. Now he needs to utilize them for the Vikings to have success.
The NFL was inundated with flashy, young talent at the quarterback position last year. Guys like, Robert Griffin III in D.C, Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Andrew Luck of the Colts took the league by storm. History says not all of those guys will be as good again this year. Let's start with RGIII. He tore his knee up at the end of last year. Will he still be as explosive as he was? We'll have to wait to find out. As he continues his rehab, he will not make an appearance in any preseason games. I think Russell Wilson has what it takes to make it in this league. But, Seattle will depend a lot more on the running game this season. When you have a beast like Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, that makes sense. Wilson also lost a big acquisition when WR Percy Harvin went down with another injury. Percy was expected to play a big role in that offense and might not even see the field for a few months. Kaepernick took his team to the Super Bowl and almost won the whole thing. He has most of that same team back and the 49er's have added veteran WR Anquan Boldin into the mix. Boldin will be a big target that the QB should find often. Andrew Luck reminds me of Peyton Manning. Yes, they both got drafted and played for the Colts. But, it goes deeper than that. They both exhibit immense composure and make the plays that need to be made. Of those four guys, I expect Kaepernick to have the best winning record. Luck will come out on top in the statistical department.
What rookies will make an impact this year? Most of the early rounds of the draft were spent on trench guys. Players who work either the offensive or defensive lines. Those men are crucial to their team's success, but will be hard to know watching from the outside how good they really are. Some guys I'm excited to see on the field are, wide receivers Tavon Austin with the Rams and Cordarrelle Patterson of the Vikings. Both are dynamic receivers who will also see time returning kicks. The big question in the Big Apple is about the starting quarterback for the Jets. It's obvious the fans want rookie, Geno Smith. Smith slipped down into the second round to New York on draft day due to his off the field mentality. He has all the skills in the world, but it remains to be seen as to how will he handle success and/or failure. Same thing with rookie QB, EJ Manuel in Buffalo. The Bills have been bad for a long time. They took a gamble on drafting Manuel at 16th overall. For their sake, I hope it pans out. My dark-horse of the new crop of footballers is running back, Le'Veon Bell in Pittsburgh. The Steelers should have a solid team and Bell looks like he fits right in. Don't be surprised if he's starting when the season kicks off.
Who's on the Hot Seat?
With as much money that goes into and out of football teams, the executive brass want a winning product on the field. When that doesn't happen, heads will roll. Some head coaching skulls you could see this year include those of the Cowboys, Jets, Panthers and Lions. It's got to be a constant pressure-cooker in Big D coaching for the owner, Jerry Jones. Not only does Jones own the Cowboys and their 1-million dollar stadium, he's also the General Manager. Jerry's team hasn't won a Super Bowl since 1995 and he won't wait much longer for Jason Garrett to get him another ring. I imagine he's on one of the shortest leashes in the league. Detroit has a decent team, but can't ever seem to get over the hump. Jim Schwartz needs to win in a very competitive NFC North division. Just throw the damn ball to Calvin Johnson! Remember when we all thought Cam Newton would take over football like Jordan did for basketball? Yeah, that's kind of slowed down. After his rookie season, we haven't heard much from the Panthers. Ron Rivera's seat is definitely getting toasty. And, then there are the, J-E-T-S Jets, Jets Jets. Rex Ryan got stuck with a sub-par QB in Mark Sanchez. Now, Sanchez and rookie quarterback, Geno Smith are competing for the starting job in New York. The only chance Rex has to save his hide is to go with the rookie and hope he can win you a few games.
Needless to say, the season starts soon. There's nothing like a month of the preseason to whet your appetite for the main course.
*image courtesy of: Pixabay.com