We are heading into fall! That means the grape harvest is beginning & football is back! The new seasons are full of opportunity. They are also full of questions. I have put together three questions about the wine industry going into the fall. I have also come up with 3 questions for each NFL team as we begin the season.
Three wine questions
- How long will the drought last in California & will it necessitate permanent changes?
The USDA now says that 60% of California is in “exceptional drought”, while the rest of the state is either classified as being in “drought” or “extreme drought.” Wines & Vines reported that the University of California at Davis found the current drought is “responsible for the greatest loss of water for agriculture in history.” They found that the total economic impact to the state was $2.2 billion so far. Nearly 430,000 acres of the state’s irrigated cropland is going out of production. If things don’t change, that will be disastrous for America’s food supply & for the wine industry.
Some people in the Central Valley are pulling out 50 year old avocado & citrus trees because of the drought & are planting grapes instead because they use less water. It is a weird story to watch unfold.
- What will China’s impact on the wine industry be over the next few years? The working theory for the last few years has been that the Chinese marketing is going to become a behemoth, especially for high end reds. More recently the Chinese government has cracked down on ostentatious displays of wealth, which has tamped down the sale of wine significantly. In the long term, there are plans to plant so many vineyards in China that they should pass the United States in vineyard acreage.
- Will the combination of big brands & big retailers doom the industry? Over the last decade the big wine companies have gotten much bigger. At the same time, the bigger retailer shave gotten much bigger & more influential. As a result, a very small number of people now determine an inordinate amount of the shelf space at retailers across the country. I can think of at least one example where someone who doesn’t drink wine at all buys wine for a chain of over 50 stores. Is that someone who will find you the next cool wine to try? There will always be innovative wineries making great wine. The question is how much of it will we see on the shelves & at restaurants? I sometimes get depressed when I go to a restaurant or a grocery store & see the available wines. Of course I get excited when I go to a winery I haven’t visited & discover an amazing new wine. I just hope that the guys making innovative wine will be able to get it in front of an audience.
3 General things I hope for this year in the NFL
- I would love to go a year without a key player being lost for the season because the opponent goes for his knees instead of a form tackle. It is a cheap shot & anyone who thinks that you can’t make legal tackles without going low is just wrong & probably a little scared of trying.
- It would be nice to go a year without hearing a commentator say a variation of the phrase “when you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.” It is a common saying. I did a Google search & got 62,000,000 matches for it. We will probably hear it a lot this year about teams like the Browns, Vikings, Jaguars, Raiders etc. The reality is that the Packers weren’t hampered by having Brett Favre & Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers were all right having Joe Montana & Steve Young. Danny White was no Roger Staubach, but it sure was good having him as the back-up & successor for Staubach. Having Tom Brady on the bench when Drew Bledsoe went down may have been the best thing to ever happen to the New England Patriots. Having 1 great quarterback & no one behind him leads to problems like Green Bay had last year without Aaron Rodgers, or the debacle in Indianapolis when Manning was hurt, or the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired. Smart teams need a really good back-up quarterback and a plan for the future.
- I would like to go through the rest of the year & have All of the news be football related & not have 1 player get arrested for drunken driving or spousal abuse or any of the myriad other crimes that have seemingly flooded the NFL this off season. Take out your aggressions on the field in a legal manner & use some of the millions of dollars you get paid to call for a limo service.
3 Questions for every NFL team this year
- Can they maintain their momentum from last year?
They won 7 of their last 9 games last year & just missed the playoffs. They have had a number of changes during the offseason & it will be interesting to see if they can pick up where they left off.
- Will the defense be as good as it has been the last two years?
Over the last two years the team has changed defensive coordinators and a number of key players, but has been consistently excellent. This year they are missing at least 3 key starters from last year’s team. Can they put together a third year of excellence?
- Will we see the Carson Palmer we saw last year?
Palmer’s career seemed to bottom out in 2012 in Oakland. When he was traded to the Cardinals, expectations were low. He confounded expectations with easily his best season since 2005. He passed for the most yards in his career & completed 63.3% of his passes. He still threw too many interceptions (22), but he gave the team the first hope they have had at quarterback since Kurt Warner retired. His performance this year will go a long way to determining the answer to the first Cardinals question.
- Who will run the football? Steven Jackson is having hamstring problems again.
He has said he will be ready to start the first game, but hamstring injuries can hang on past expectations.
- Will the defense be able to stop anyone?
They were 29th in sacks last year & their main rushing threats are another year older.
- Is Julio Jones fully recovered?
He has looked great in limited action during pre-season, but pre-season isn’t the same as the real thing.
- Will the running game improve?
Last year Ray Rice had a 3.1 yard per carry average after never dropping below 4 yards per carry in his career. They have brought in more help this year, but probably the biggest addition is Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator. He has brought with him the zone blocking system that consistently produced great running attacks in Houston & Denver.
- Will Joe Flacco play up to his contract?
Flacco got paid like an elite quarterback after his Super Bowl MVP performance. Despite that, Flacco has never performed like an elite quarterback for an entire season. He hasn’t completed 60% of his passes in any of the last 3 seasons. He threw 19 touchdowns with 22 interceptions last year. If he were another quarterback he would be facing competition, but he isn’t…at least this year.
- Will Steve Smith help the offense enough to make a real difference?
At 35, & with a reputation as a bit of a jackass, the Carolina Panthers decided to cut Smith despite not having a solid replacement on board. The Ravens immediately picked him up. Can his intense work ethic enable him to perform at a high level with a new team at an age when most wide receivers are in decline?
- Will Kyle Orton start before week 9?
Normally you would think that a high draft pick like E.J. Manuel would get a couple of years to prove himself. With the pending sale of the team though, everyone is in win now or lose your job mode. Manuel hasn’t impressed yet & I can see them turning to Kyle Orton sooner rather than later. Week 9 is their bye week, but if things are going south, I could see a switch before then
- Is there any way that Sammy Watkins was worth it?
The Bills gave up two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to move up to draft Sammy Watkins. It may turn out to be a great deal, but even if he turns out to be a good to great receiver, the move reeks of desperation.
- Can the defense carry the team?
Last year the team was able to really pressure the quarterback, but had trouble against the run. Bringing in Brandon Spikes should help with run defense & they arguably have the best defense in the AFC East, but the Bills have been underachievers for years. Will this be the year they turn it around?
- Does Dave Gettleman really have a plan at wide receiver?
Very few G.M.s would be comfortable going into a season with no wide receiver on the roster who had caught a pass from the quarterback the previous year. If you knew the quarterback was going to miss most of training camp, you might be even more unlikely to do it wouldn’t you? Not Dave Gettleman. We’ll see what happens. They weren’t exactly the most impressive receiving corps in the world last year, so maybe it will work out.
- Will Cam Newton be 100% for most of the year?
Newton missed most of training camp & the he suffered a rib injury in the third preseason game. Will he be able to develop timing with his new receivers? Will he be able to run like he has in the past?
- Will the secondary hold up?
The secondary features a number of solid players, but many are either new to the team, or on the backside of their career, or both (Roman Harper). How will they look 10 or 12 games into the season?
- Does Chicago have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL?
It isn’t difficult to make a case that Brandon Marshall & Alshon Jeffery are the best pair of receivers on a team. They combined for over 2,700 yards & 189 catches last year. Individually they are difficult to defend & together, almost impossible. The question is whether the rest of the receiving crew can take advantage of single coverage to help the team win more games.
- Can the new defensive parts come together in time?
The biggest concern for the Bears in the off season was to fix a broken defense. They brought in high profile free agents like Jared Allen & Lamarr Houston. They also used their first round pick on a safety & drafted two defensive ends, Due to injury & personal issues, the entire projected starting defense has not taken a snap together during the preseason. Will they come together?
- Can Jay Cutler stay healthy all year?
It’s a perennial question with him & if he can’t, will Jimmy Clausen be able to fill in as well as Josh McCown did last year?
- How will the team respond to the loss of both coordinators? The good news is that the Bengals have been successful enough that both Mike Zimmer & Jay Gruden became head coaches this offseason. That is unprecedented for the Bengals! Now the question is how will they move on? It looks like they have capable replacements, but it can’t be seamless can it?
- Can Andy Dalton play in the playoffs as if it were a regular season game? I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but Dalton has obviously not been as good in the playoffs as he has in the regular season & that is a huge part of the reason why they have made the playoffs 3 years in a row, but lost in the 1st round each year.
- If they don’t move beyond the first round in the playoffs, is Marvin Lewis in danger of being fired? Lewis is at an even 500 for his career at Cincinnati. He has had some success & an equal amount of failure. He is signed for one year after this. If things go wrong this year, will he be back?
- How short will the leash be on Brian Hoyer & how will that impact his performance?
Competition is a great thing, but when a quarterback feels like any bad play could get him benched, it can cause problems. Brian Hoyer looked pretty good last year and I think he deserved a shot at the starting job in Cleveland. The problem is that if he doesn’t look great, there will immediately be calls for him to be benched for Johnny Manziel. That can lead to trying to make every play perfect & every throw perfect & that usually leads something far from perfection.
- Do the Browns have a secret plan to replace Josh Gordon?
They knew during the draft that he would probably be suspended for most or all of the season. They didn’t make any major moves to replace him. Miles Austin has a lot of potential, but he also has a lot of hamstring issues. I truly don’t see what their plan is.
- Will Ben Tate succeed as a starting running back?
Tate put up great numbers in relief of Arian Foster in Houston. He also showed real toughness playing through injuries. The difference for him this year isn’t just that he is the starting running back; it is that he won’t be playing in a zone blocking system. There are probably some players who have been successful running behind zone blocking & then were successful with a team running more traditional blocking patterns, but I can’t think of any. That’s part of how the Denver Broncos used to be able to seemingly plug in anyone at running back & have them rush for 1,000 yards.
- Will Tony Romo be able to play at the top of his game?
Jerry Jones keeps saying that Romo is fully recovered from back surgery. I’m not sure that I trust him as a qualified doctor (or general manager really). As bad as the team’s defense was last year, they still finished 8-8 in large part because Romo figuratively carried the team on his back. His back may literally be too weak to do it again this year.
- The defense can’t be any worse can it?
Normally I would say that regression to the mean would get the Cowboys defense back to just bad, rather than historically bad. The signs are not good though. Salary cap problems led to the cowboys parting ways with DeMarcus Ware & Jason Hatcher. Then Sean Lee had his seemingly annual season ending injury. That is a lot to replace. The defense hasn’t impressed in the pre-season. If they can just be mediocre, the Cowboys could make the playoffs. I just don’t know if they can move up to mediocre.
- Is this Jason Garrett’s last year as coach?
Despite Jerry Jones giving him consistent support, it feels like Garrett has been on the hot seat for years. If he can’t hit 9-7 or better this year, I can’t see him coming back for another year.
- Should Wes Welker walk away?
Welker will miss the first 4 games of the year due to a suspension for taking MDMA that was spiked with amphetamines. This is of course why you should always buy name brand MDMA instead of the generic knockoffs. I’m hoping I can get my blog sponsored by Johnson & Johnson’s Ecstasy. “With a name like Ecstasy, it has to be good!”
Welker has had 3 concussions in his last 10 games. All professional football is dangerous & professional football players knowingly take those risks. On the other hand, when you are a receiver with a history of concussions and a job that depends on you catching passes across the middle in traffic, you might want to think about having a long happy life with your beautiful wife & being able to be coherent at your kid’s graduation (if he has kids down the line). Welker has made over 25 million dollars during his career & seems to have a flair for betting on horses. Maybe he should think about walking away relatively healthy.
- Can Peyton Manning equal last year?
The offense looks like it could potentially be better than last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Manning had another phenomenal year. The counterargument of course is that Father Time is undefeated & Manning will be no exception. In 2001 & 2002 Rich Gannon was the MVP of the Pro Bowl, something that had never been done in consecutive seasons. In 2002, he was the league MVP. Then he was injured in 2003 and was never the same. I don’t think Manning will go that route, but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise ever.
- Will the defense be dominant?
John Elway added big free agent pickups like Aquib Talib & DeMarcus Ware to the defense & Von Miller is healthy this year. On paper, they should be one of the best defenses in the league. Of course plenty of things look good on paper. As the philosopher Mike Tyson poetically put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
- Is Jim Caldwell a legitimate NFL head coach?
I think Caldwell will bring needed discipline to the Lions, but there is definitely some doubt about his credentials. In 8 years as a college coach, he compiled a record of 26-63. At the NFL level he & Peyton Manning led the Colts to the Super Bowl. Of course without Peyton Manning in 2011 the team went 2-14. I think that part of that was on the GM for not trying to bring in a better quarterback than Curtis Painter. The question remains, can he really win without a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback?
- Can the team play with discipline?
If this team could have avoided stupid penalties & Matt Stafford throwing stupid interceptions, they would have made the playoffs. An argument could be made that they have a Super Bowl quality team (except at cornerback), but I don’t think many people outside of Detroit expect much from this team because they have had so many self-inflicted wounds over the years.
- Can Joe Lombardi bring balance & creativity to the Lions offense?
It is hard to blame a team for building its offense around the best wide receiver in football. That being said, it hasn’t worked so far and the team has been incredibly predictable. Lombardi was previously the quarterbacks in New Orleans and has spent the last 4 years learning from Sean Payton, who is one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers
- Will the defense be improved?
The defense was the weak link for the Packers last year. In the offseason they added Julius Peppers, who might still be able to help, but they lost B.J. Raji for the year due to injury. If they can improve the defense, they could be Super Bowl contenders.
- Can the team achieve a balance between pass & run?
Eddie Lacy had a breakout year at running back for the Packers last year, but I don’t think he would have done it without the injury to Aaron Rodgers. Once Rodgers was out, the team turned to Lacy & he responded. Will they balance their run/pass distribution, or will they go back to their pass heavy offense of the last few years.
- Will Corey Linsley rise to the occasion?
Who is Corey Linsley? He’s the rookie starting center for the Packers. Last year’s starter is gone to Tampa Bay & the projected starter, JC Letter was injured in the 3rd pre-season game. That doesn’t give Linsley much time to work with the starters & learn the no-huddle signals.
- Do they really think that Ryan Fitzpatrick is their best choice at quarterback?
I was kind of excited about Fitzpatrick when he first started for the Bills. I thought he was a smart player with a good arm & mediocre receivers. After watching him over the years I saw a guy who could be good for a few quarters & absolutely horrible for a few more. I really don’t see how he is a better option than Matt Schaub…except that he isn’t Matt Schaub. Maybe Ryan Mallett will do something.
- Can Arian Foster return to his previous form or is he done?
Just a few years ago, you could make an argument that Arian Foster was the best complete running back in football. He was a threat to take it to the house any time he touched the ball. He picked up blocks in passing situations when he wasn’t slipping out of the back field to make spectacular catches. As a result, he carried the ball more than just about anyone else in the league. Over the last couple of years he has been constantly injured. Every so often though he flashes the kind of brilliance that shows what he is capable of when he is healthy. Will he stay healthy, & if he does, can he be the same player again?
- Will Jadeveon Clowney fulfill expectations?
He has looked good at moments this preseason & when he dropped back in coverage he has looked pretty bad. In theory, he should have huge numbers by virtue of playing with J.J. Watt. In his last collegiate year Clowney didn’t have impressive numbers. The reason given by many commentators was that he was double & triple teamed. This year he won’t see many double teams since Watt commands a lot of attention. If he is the real deal, Clowney should have double digit sacks. I don’t know how he will do in coverage.
- Will Reggie Wayne be as effective as 2 years ago?
Wayne makes a profound difference to this team. He is a leader & a playmaker. He is also a 35 year old coming back from an ACL injury.
- How well will Bjoern Werner play the first 4 weeks?
He didn’t look great as a rookie last year. This year he will start at least the first 4 games while Robert Mathis is suspended. If he can’t bring a solid pass rush, the secondary will have a hard time. Peyton Manning will be the opposing quarterback week one, so it could be a rough start.
- How strong will play be this year?
Speaking of playing against good quarterbacks, how much will they miss Antoine Bethea? Right now it looks like they will rotate players based on the situation, but no one really stood out in preseason.
- After this preseason, will they really sit Blake Bortles for his rookie season? Normally I think it is a good idea for rookie quarterbacks to redshirt a year if it won’t cost anyone their jobs. After seeing Bortles in preseason & then looking at their schedule, I think they might as well start him now. I don’t think they face an elite defense until week 7, & that’s the Browns, so it probably won’t be a high scoring game.
- Will Toby Gerhardt be effective as a lead back? He has looked great in relief of Adrian Peterson, but he never has had to carry a team. This will be a real test.
- Whoever plays quarterback, does he have weapons to throw to now?
Kansas City Chiefs
- Will Jamaal Charles ever get the credit her deserves?
Last week I was reading an article about breakout rookies & the writer mentioned that one new Chief could be the most dynamic play-maker for the Chiefs since Dante Hall. That’s about par for the course for the coverage that Jamaal Charles gets these days. Today’s season preview on NFL Network had pundits talking about how Marshawn Lynch was the only challenger to Adrian Peterson & LeSean McCoy for best running back in the NFL. Here are the average all-purpose yards per season for the running backs: Peterson 1,748, McCoy 1,520, Charles 1,507, Lynch1,274. Of course that is based on dividing annually & including the year where Charles only played 2 games. Taking that out, his average yardage per year is 1,790 yards per year. In his first year he was a backup & only rushed 67 times. There are only 8 running backs in the history of the NFL to average 5 yards or more per carry for their career (minimum of 750 attempts). Adrian Peterson is #8 with a 5.0 average. Charles is #1, with 5.79 yards per carry, ahead of Hall of Famers Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Gayle Sayers, & Barry Sanders. He personally generated 35% of the Chief’s offense last year. What does he need to do…besides play in a bigger market?
- Can the Chiefs play up to the competition?
Last year the team made it to the playoffs by beating up on losing teams. This year they will have a much harder schedule.
- Can the offensive line perform?
The line was a strength last year. Now their previous left tackle has left in free agency. They are hoping that Eric Fisher, who was underwhelming at right tackle last year will be able to slide to left tackle. They are playing a guard (Jeff Allen) at right tackle to start the season. That doesn’t sound like a formula for success.
- Will Mike Wallace become a real #1 receiver?
When Wallace was signed as a free agent after his years in Pittsburgh, he was expected to become the #1 receiver & the team’s deep threat. Instead, he had an average year. Technically he had his most receptions, but only by 1 catch. He also posted his lowest average yards per catch. This may have been a chicken & egg thing where the quality of the quarterback made the difference & Ryan Tannehill just wasn’t able to get the ball to him the way Ben Roethlisberger did even though Wallace wasn’t his #1 receiver or maybe Wallace just tops out around 73 catches per year.
- Is Ryan Tannehill the franchise quarterback the Dolphins have wanted since Dan Marino?
His numbers so far have been just on the edge of what you expect for a franchise quarterback. He is just under 60% in completions (59.4%). His passer rating is 79.1 & that is too low to succeed long term. I think he has the tools, but if he doesn’t perform this year, he may be looking for a job next year.
- The offensive line has to be better right?
Just bringing in Brandon Albert at left tackle should make a huge difference & the team was historically bad last year. On the other hand, their starting center will miss half of the season & that hurts. It is hard for Tannehill to be the best that he can be & Wallace to be the best he can be, if the offensive line doesn’t improve dramatically.
- Is there any chance Matt Cassel can play during the regular season the way that he did in the preseason?
A recent Onion article claimed that his real skill was his “growing ability to get the F*ck out of running back Adrian Peterson’s way.” There is something to that for any Viking quarterback, but it isn’t enough. After decent play last year, Cassel has looked sharp in the preseason. He completed 26 of 39 passes (66.6 percent) for 367 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. If he can play like that, he might keep Teddy Bridgewater on the bench & they might surprise some people this year.
- Can Peterson continue to carry the load?
Peterson will turn 29 this year & he has a ton of carries. The Vikings let his back-up walk in free agency this year. Will he be able to carry the team again?
- Will the change to an outdoor stadium help them or hurt them?
The Vikings will play home games at least the next 2 years at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium I think that the outdoor setting could really benefit the team. Teams with a great running game can be dangerous in snowy weather. The Vikings haven’t really been a team that has taken advantage of the fast turf of an indoor stadium the way the Saints have, so I on’t think they will lose much there.
New England Patriots
- Can Gronkowski stay healthy?
With Rob Gronkowsky healthy at tight end, the Patriots are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl. Without him, they have questions in the red zone & at the tight end position. You don’t want to make one player more important than the rest, but his various health issues over the last few years have made a huge difference. I think that if he had been 100% healthy during Super Bowl XLVI that the Patriots would have won. Basically, he was worth more than the 4 point difference in that game.
- Can most of the other key players stay healthy?
Injuries are always a worry for every team. The Patriots this year are counting on a number of recently injured people to be key contributors. Vince Wilfork, Danny Amendola, Sebastian Vollmer, Aaron Dobson, Alfonzo Dennard, Dominique Easley and others are all expected to play an important roll this year & I don’t know if any of them will be able to perform as advertised this year.
- Will the offensive line hold up? This year marks the first time since 1999 that there will be a new offensive line coach. Dante Scarnecchia retired at the end of the season last year after working for the Patriots for 30 years (with a 2 year hiatus). Tom Brady has benefited from a comfort level with the offensive line for his entire career. Dave DeGuglielmo replaces him. There is a camp battle to determine the starting center & Sebastian Vollmer hasn’t been able to practice. That being said, the starting offensive line has looked good in pre-season. The backup quarterbacks have been running for their lives though! The line still needs work.
I originally wrote this before they traded Logan Mankins to the Bucs. Now it is a huge question.
New Orleans Saints
- Will they miss Darren Sproles?
Sproles was especially good at the screen game. Will Pierre Thomas make up the difference?
- Will the defense be better than last year?
Rob Ryan worked miracles with the defense last year & they added Jairus Byrd at safety & should be better. Of course now the other teams in the division will have a year of tape & may make adjustments.
- Can they win on the road?
The Saints have been almost unbeatable over the last few years at home. On the road they have been very beatable. If they can win a couple of extra road games during the regular season, they might be able to play at home in the playoffs.
New York Giants
- Will fans be nostalgic for Kevin Gilbride?
I know the fan base loved to hate former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. When things went well, Eli Manning got the credit. When they didn’t Gilbride got the blame. This year Manning may have to stand on his own. He hasn’t looked good. Even after 4 preseason games, Manning has only looked good in 1 2 minute drill.
- Will the offensive line be better?
Last year’s line didn’t do a good job of protecting Manning. Because of that, 2 free agents were brought in to be starters. Now one of them, Geoff Schwartz, is already injured.
- Will Jason Pierre-Paul play to his potential?
A few years back, he was considered a breakout star & one of the best defensive players in the game. Recently, he really looks like just another guy. If he can get close to his old form, the defense will be improved.
New York Jets
- Will Chris Johnson have a great season?
Chris Johnson was deemed expendable by the Titans mainly because of his huge contract, but also because of his declining yards per carry (3.9 last year). One thing I think people forget is that Johnson’s best years came when he had a mobile quarterback. The defense had to account for Vince Young on every play. That tiny bit of extra time helped Johnson break some extraordinarily long runs. I don’t think he would have hit 2,000 yards without Young & his yards per carry have dropped without a running quarterback threat. That could change this year with either Geno Smith or Michael Vick at quarterback.
- Will it be Smith or Vick handing off to Johnson by midseason?
Rex Ryan may be coaching for his job this year and he may not be able to give Geno Smith as much time to develop as he gave Mark Sanchez. The Jets don’t have their bye week until the 11th week, which may help Geno. If they had a 4th or 5th week bye, I think there would be pressure to make a change if things weren’t going well. Either way, Smith has to throw fewer interceptions to keep his starting position.
- Rex Ryan always manages to field a tough defense. He will do it again this year right?
He has done some amazing jobs in the past, but if he can turn his current defensive backfield into some semblance of NFL quality, I will be impressed. I think he is going to rely on pressuring the quarterback & hoping that they don’t have time to find the open man. That will be tough with the Murderers Row of quarterbacks they will face this year including Brady (twice), Rivers, Rodgers, Cutler, Stafford, & Peyton Manning. That would be a tough assignment for any defensive backfield, much less what the Jets will field this year.
- Can Matt Schaub get his mojo back? (The Raiders don’t think so. They are going with Carr)
I was expecting Matt Schaub to bounce back to something like his previous years’ performance. That isn’t what we have seen so far this preseason. He hasn’t looked good & the Raider’s receiving corps has looked worse. I’m still holding out hope though.
- Will all of the new parts jell in time to save jobs in the front office?
On paper, this year’s team is much improved from last year’s. The combination of veteran players & highly touted rookies is actually pretty impressive (even if some of the players are on the back slope of their careers). The biggest problem to me though is that it is hard to get that many new players to work together quickly. It may take a half dozen games to get everyone on the same page & by that point, Schaub may be benched & the coach could be on even more of a hot seat.
- Where will the team play next year?
It is amazing that with the lease expiring this year, so little is getting done on the stadium front for the Raiders. I generally am annoyed when NFL clubs want to upgrade or replace their stadium every few years in a constant pursuit of more money. It is certainly frustrating to see public money used to support billionaire owners. On the other hand, I don’t think it is too much to ask the toilets to work. Last year during baseball season it rained & the sewers backed up. In fact it happened at least 3 times. Ryan Cook, the Oakland A’s reliever, described the scene to reporters as “a sewage volcano.” Additionally, because the A’s & Raiders share a stadium with a grass field, there is a baseball diamond shaped patch of dirt in the field for much of the season. It really is a mess. Mark Davis has visited San Antonio as a possible spot to move the team. I don’t believe that this will happen, but a move back to Los Angeles might make sense. I think the only thing standing in the way might be that the NFL owners like using the threat of moving a team to L.A. more than they actually like the idea of having a team there. For some reason they also keep talking about putting two teams there instead of one, which seems like a stupid idea.
- Will the team miss DeSean Jackson this year or will Darren Sproles make Eagles fans forget him?
DeSean Jackson caught 82 passes last year for 1,332 yards but the Eagles let him go apparently due to a personality conflict. They didn’t add a dynamic wide receiver to replace him, but they did add a running back who caught 71 pases for 604 yards last year from Drew Brees. Darren Sproles rushed for 220 yards last year, but he was most dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. He didn’t average as much per catch, but he was a nice change of pace. How coach Chip Kelly will use him with LeSean McCoy also in the backfield is a question, but Kelly is nothing if not inventive.
- Can the secondary keep up?
One advantage of the Eagles offense is that it can wear out a defense. One disadvantage is that when things don’t work, it can put the Eagles defense back on the field quickly. Their secondary doesn’t scare anyone. I’m not sure if division quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III, & Eli Manning will be at their best, but each of them has shown they can terrorize a good secondary & I don’t know if the Eagles have even that.
- Nick Foles can’t be that consistent again can he?
Last year he had an insane 27/2 touchdown to interception ratio. I don’t think anyone expects him to duplicate that this year. In pre-season, for what that’s worth (not much), he has 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Now that opposing defenses have a season of film watching him in Kelly’s offense, will he be able to adjust?
- Have the Steelers fixed their depth problem?
Last year Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola wrote that Pittsburgh’s depth was so thin that the team was doing the NFL equivalent of walking a tightrope with no net. That blew up on them. They have made moves this off season, but sometimes it is hard to tell if depth has improved until we get a few games into the season.
- Mike Tomlin’s job is safe right?
The Steelers do not change coaches like the Browns. Heck, they don’t change coaches as often as the rest of the division put together. Of course they also don’t go 3 years without a winning record. If things don’t improve this year, will they make a change?
- Is this Troy Polamalu’s last year?
There were a lot of people who thought that maybe last year would be his last in Pittsburgh because of age & salary issues. Instead he is back, & is a team captain for the first time in his career. He has definitely lost some speed, but he has a great feel for the game in crucial situations & that is hard to teach.
Saint Louis Rams
- Can they win with Shaun Hill? He is a 12 year veteran & that is a good thing in a backup. I don’t know how well he will perform as a starter. He has never started more than 11 games. In 2010 when he started 11 games filling in for Matthew Stafford, the team went 6-10.
- Will the receiving corps be strength? The Rams have been drafting receivers for years. They have 5 receivers on the roster that have been drafted in the first 4 rounds since 2011. They also picked up Kenny Britt this off season. Shouldn’t the receiving corps be pretty good this year?
- Are the Rams just doomed because of the strength of their division? That might be too on the nose, but I think it is really the biggest worry. The Rams should have a strong defense. They will probably have a competent offense. There are divisions where that would make you a contender. Unfortunately for the Rams, the NFC West is not one of those divisions.
San Diego Chargers
- Can Dwight Freeney help the defense? After spending his entire career with the Colts, they decided that he was done in 2013. He signed with the Chargers, but was hurt early in the season. If he can be 80% of what he was, he should help the defense. You know he would love to sack Peyton Manning a time or two.
- Can the defense stop the run? In 2012, the Chargers defense was ranked #13 in run defense. That isn’t great, but it is much better than their 31st place ranking last year. They have three rookies & a couple of second year players that will need to step up.
- How critical will the loss of Jeromey Clarey be for the offensive line? Clarey had hip surgery last week and could miss the entire season. Right guard may not be the crucial line spot, but Clarey is the longest tenured player on the line & his leadership will be missed.
San Francisco 49ers
- Can they team get its players to act like responsible citizens?
I know that the vast majority of their players are probably good guys, but they do seem to have a problem. There have been 10 arrests of 49er players since 2012, which means they lead the league in something, but not something that you want to brag about.
- Is this Jim Harbaugh’s last year as coach?
I expect that they will reach an agreement on a new contract for the head coach, but there have been growing signs of tension between the G.M. & the coach. It is unusual for a coach who has won as often as Harbaugh to go into a lame duck year without an extension. If he were to become a free agent next year, I have to feel that someone (Jerry Jones/whoever buys the Bills) would throw crazy money at him to bring him to town.
- Will Colin Kaepernick play better than he has in the preseason?
On paper, this is the best receiving corps for San Francisco since Jerry Rice & Terrell Owens were on the team. In three preseason games, he completed 12 of 22 passes (54.5%) for 115 yards & no touchdowns. He looked like the 1 read & tuck the ball guy that we saw at times last year when the receiving corps was depleted by injury. I expect he will get better, but it will need to be a lot better & it will need to happen quickly if they want to keep pace in their division.
- Can they repeat?
Seattle is in an enviable position compared to other teams. Their biggest question is whether they can be the first team to win back to back Super Bowls since New England in 2003/2004. It is hard to repeat.
- Will the offensive line be a weakness?
They don’t have many areas of concern, but offensive line could be one early. Their left tackle missed most of the pre-season & their right tackle is a rookie.
- Will Marshawn Lynch wear down?
Lynch is 28 & the wheels tend to come off for running backs at 30 or so. That should mean he has a couple more good years left at least. On the other hand, he has averaged over 325 touches over the last three years & that is a lot for anyone.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- How much improvement can fans expect this year? There is real hope in Tampa Bay this year after several years of constantly lowering expectations. Over the last few years a team has managed to move from worst to first in their division. That would be extremely difficult in the NFC South. I expect the team to be much better this year.
- Can Josh McCown excel as a starter? He was very good last year subbing for Jay Cutler in Chicago, but can he really make it as a full time starter? There is a reason that his career has included stops at Arizona, Detroit, Oakland, Miami, Charlotte, Hartford (The Colonials in the UFL), San Francisco, & finally Chicago.
- How much will the defense improve? Lovie Smith has been known as a defensive guru & the Bears leaned on defense (sometimes to the detriment of the offense). The talent seems to be there & you know the coaching will be there. The question is how much improvement we can expect in one year.
- Will Bishop Sankey or Shonn Greene be an improvement on Chris Johnson at running back?
Sankey looks like he may develop into a feature back. Greene has had success in the past. They are definitely cheaper than Johnson, but will they deliver as many yards?
- Is Jake Locker the quarterback of the future?
Locker has shown some real ability…when he has been on the field. The problem has been that he has been injured frequently. If he can’t put it tgether this year, the Titans may have to move on.
- Ken Whisenhunt was terrible at evaluating quarterbacks in Arizona. Will he do a better job in Tennessee?
Whisenhunt resisted staring Kurt Warner in Arizona, but eventually benefitted from the decision. Other than that, the Cardinals quarterback position was a hot mess during his tenure. Will he do better this time?
- How good will Robert Griffin III be this year?
If he can perform closer to his rookie season than to last year, Washington has an outside shot at the playoffs. If he plays closer to his level last year at least next year they will get to actually use the high draft pick they earn.
- Will DeSean Jackson ignite the Washington offense?
Jackson managed to work himself out of a job in Philadelphia apparently more because of his attitude than his ball skills. If he can mesh with his new team, he should be a huge addition to the team.
- How will Jay Gruden handle the transition as a first time head coach in the NFL?
I think that he is better prepared to be an NFL coach than most. His time in the Arena League gave him experience as a head coach, general manager, & general promoter for the game. He won more than one Arena League Championship during those years. Working as an assistant coach for his brother Jon, he won a Super Bowl. As offensive coordinator he was part of the team getting the Bengals to the playoffs three straight years for the first time in franchise history. He should be prepared. Of course he has never worked for someone like Dan Snyder, but I think he is ready for the football aspects of the job.