Washington Redskins vs New Orleans Saints
Trading the future – Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen put all their chips on the table to get Robert Griffin III. The cost was enormous, but in Washington the future is NOW, as an 11-21 record is all to show for their efforts. Will RG3 perform as advertised or is this just another “run around” QB? Will owner Daniel Snyder show the patience necessary if the season starts to slide, or could McNabb and Plummer be right?
Leadership? – The Saints face their season without a head coach and focal point leader. “Bountygate” and the ripple effects spread deeper than the flood waters of hurricane Isaac. New Orleans should be in the hunt for the NFC South, but how far will borrowed leadership take them? Tom Benson and Mickey Loomis will be watching closely.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Denver Broncos
Big gambles – John Elway landed the catch of Free Agency, but a 36 year old QB with a fused neck is a big gamble; $18M worth in 2012. The hard part is if Manning performs well (but not quite to Super Bowl standards) and the Broncos are faced with the decision of paying a 37 year old QB $40M guaranteed over the next two seasons. Do they throw him back? The exit of back-to-back popular QB’s could break the fan base.
Explaining upsets – The Steelers were embarrassed in the Wildcard and return to the scene. Pittsburgh is one the most stable franchises in the NFL, but has gone through some difficult injury situations through the preseason. Mike Tomlin can’t afford another (L) at Sports Authority Field. Last year it ended their season, this year it could put them behind in the toughest division in football. He’s fortunate to have the Rooney’s. Patience is a virtue.
San Francisco 49ers vs Green Bay Packers
Too one sided – Jim Harbaugh came into a situation ripe with opportunity. He quickly turned around the 49ers with the right mix of collegiate attitude, player friendly coaching style, and a dominant defense. His offense needs to catch up, and quickly to keep pace with an improving Seattle Seahawks. Did General Manager Trent Baalke add enough talent with WR A.J. Jenkins & RB LaMichael James, or is this a one year wonder?
Just a little D – Nobody could beat the Packers most of 2011. Aaron Rogers is arguably the best QB in the NFL. This is an explosive, big playmaking offense that puts up points & they have to. The defense gives them up almost as fast as their counterparts score them (14th points allowed, 5 games of 34+). Have the “Pack” improved enough to stop the bleeding? They made 6 straight defensive picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. Or will General Manager Ted Thompson be looking at “disappointing domination” again in 2012?
Cincinnati Bengals vs Baltimore Ravens
Building consistency – QB Andy Dalton surprised everyone with his rookie performance. The Bengals rode one of their better drafts straight to the playoffs for only the 3rd time in 21 years. But is this just another spike in Cincinnati’s performance graph that tends to trend down after success? Marvin Lewis has never had consecutive winning seasons in 9 years.
Learning how to finish – Baltimore reminds me of Green Bay, AFC style. A stable organization with a lot of talent and someone you never relish playing, but just can’t seem to ever quite finish (though GB did win Super Bowl XLV). John Harbaugh and General Manager Ozzie Newsome have a solid roster but need to get past that AFC Championship wall. 4 consecutive playoff appearances, none with a Super Bowl invitation, and it’s never good when your kicker misses the last second FG. Oh, and your head coach is the special teams guru.
Indianapolis Colts vs Chicago Bears
Rebuilding – The biggest reclamation project in years. Owner Jim Irsay has taken his team back and dismissed his future HOF QB. This team belongs to rookie Andrew Luck. His preseason performance shows why General Manager Ryan Grigson and Irsay chose Luck over RG3. The squad is young, the talent not overly deep, but there’s new energy and optimism. Question is how long will it take for Luck and company to become a legitimate threat? Who will step up as weapons and grow with the young QB like WR Marvin Harrison and RB Edgerrin James did with Manning?
Decisions, decisions – Instead of getting rid of Lovie Smith, Ted Phillips fired General Manager Jerry Angelo and replaced him with Phil Emery. Emery has been around the League a long time as a respected personnel man, but has he done enough to get Jay Cutler the weapons he needs? How will Matt Forte respond to his own offseason questions? Can Brandon Marshall keep his head on straight and give Culter a reliable target?