One to watch
Michael Vick, Eagles
The fall from grace for Vick (from No. 1 overall pick in 2001 to 18 months in prison for his role in a dogfighting operation) has been well documented. The pressure will be on (none from the patient Eagles fans, of course) once he is reinstated by the NFL. Osi Umenyiora’s walkout
Storyline to watch
The Giants’ two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, says he skipped practice Aug. 31 after getting into a disagreement with defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. But there are rumors Umenyiora is unhappy with his contract, which played a part in his walkout. If true, that could have a destablilizing effect on the possible Super Bowl contenders.
Predicted order of finish
Donovan McNabb finally has some weapons.
Eli Manning might struggle with young receivers.
Dallas will miss T.O more than they know.
Jim Zorn on the way out with another bad season.
Brett Favre, Vikings
You may have heard the quarterback ended his retirement to join Minnesota, which is tantamount to treason for fans of division rival Green Bay. The twice-retired (so far) QB is expected to take pressure off running back Adrian Peterson, but at the cost of former starter Tarvaris Jackson, who wants out of Minnesota. A big price if Favre falters with the Vikings.
Jay Cutler in Chicago
Chicago welcomed the strong-armed quarterback after he demanded a trade from Denver. Broncos fans called Cutler, right, immature and selfish, but Bears fans don’t care – as long as he leads them to the Super Bowl and doesn’t throw any interceptions at wind-blown Soldier Field.
Aaron Rodgers is the real deal. Brett who?
Brett Favre makes them a Super Bowl contender.
Still a playmaker away offensively.
Should get a couple of wins this season.
Reggie Bush, Saints
Bush says he won’t juke and try to fake out defenders anymore, something that helped him win the 2005 Heisman Trophy while at Southern California. Juking hasn’t worked in the NFL, where Bush has averaged 3.7 yards per carry over three seasons, roughly half his college average of 7.3. In 418 career carries, he’s produced one run of more than 40 yards.
Matt Ryan’s improvement
Ryan, the No. 3 overall pick in 2008, threw a touchdown pass on his first NFL attempt and kept going from there, leading the Atlanta Falcons to their first playoff berth since 2004 and earning NFL offensive rookie of the year honors.
Ryan shouldn’t be a one-year fluke as the Falcons gave Ryan another weapon by trading for tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Drew Brees and Co., left, should light up the scoreboard.
Solid, young team on the rise.
Jake Delhomme at quarterback – scary.
Could be some growing pains for this young team.
Alex Smith, 49ers
Remember when some thought Cal’s Aaron Rodgers would be a bust after sliding to Green Bay as the No. 24 overall pick in 2005? Rodgers was rumored to be the No. 1 overall pick, but fell in the draft as Alex Smith’s stock went up. Now Smith, who was born in Bremerton, is struggling to keep a job with the 49ers, let alone start. Rodgers, meanwhile, is developing into a star for the Packers.
Flukes in 2008?
The long-dormant Arizona Cardinals went to the Super Bowl after the 2008 season. The Seattle Seahawks, winners of four consecutive NFC West titles, fell to 4-12, their worst record in 16 seasons. Was last season a fluke? Will the Seahawks compete for the West title again. Will the Cardinals be out of the running by November? Or was last season an indicator of things to come?
Will prove Super Bowl appearance was no fluke.
Healthy Matt Hasselbeck leads the way.
If they win, it’ll be with defense.
Tony Spagnuolo has them headed in right direction.
Mark Sanchez, Jets
The rookie from Southern California, the No. 6 overall pick, is scheduled to become the first Jets rookie quarterback to start a season opener (Joe Namath didn’t start until his third game in 1965, and don’t even ask about Richard Todd in 1976 and Ken O’Brien in 1983). There’ll be no pressure on Sanchez playing in a small market like New York.
The T.O. show in Buffalo
Terrell Owens surprised many by signing a one-year, $6.5 million contract with the Buffalo Bills as a free agent. Buffalo gets a talented receiver (nine seasons with 1,000 or more receiving yards) but a player who has a reputation for bizarre behavior (remember his crying about Tony Romo?) and trashing his quarterbacks (Jeff Garcia in San Francisco, Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia and Romo in Dallas). T.O., below, reportedly gets along with Bills QB Trent Edwards, but stay tuned.
Tom Brady’s healthy – watch out.
Rookie QB Mark Sanchez could surprise.
Will ride Wildcat offense again this season.
Even with T.O., still at least a year away.
Brady Quinn, Browns
Expectations have been high since Cleveland drafted the Notre Dame star quarterback in 2007, but in his first two seasons Quinn was unable to beat out former Oregon State Beaver Derek Anderson. Some think Quinn will be the Browns’ best QB since the glory days of Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe, and others think he will be the latest Browns bust (see: Couch, Tim) and the latest Notre Dame QB bust (see: Mirer, Rick).
Knocks on the Bengals
The HBO series decided to follow the Dallas Cowboys during the 2008 season. Makes sense. So this year HBO is following … the Bengals? The team with one winning season in 18 years? Yes, receiver Chad “Don’t call me Johnson” Ochocinco loves the attention. Maybe the constant glare of HBO’s cameras will help the Bengals climb above .500 and forget that T.J. Houshmandzadeh now plays with Seattle.
Hungry to overtake the Steelers.
Might experience Super Bowl slide.
Coach Marvin Lewis running out of lives.
We still don’t know who the starting QB is.
LenDale White, Titans
Remember when White’s draft prospects tumbled because of concerns about his weight, conditioning and dedication, and the former USC star fell to the No. 45 pick in 2006? After two mediocre seasons, White broke out last year, scoring an AFC-best 15 rushing touchdowns. He reported to training camp this year about 35 pounds lighter. White credits increased training and not drinking tequila. Oh, he’s in a contract year, too.
Manning without Harrison
For the first time in 12 seasons, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning will look over and not see Marvin Harrison. Receiver Harrison was released by the Colts after 2008. Harrison and Manning combined for two NFL records for quarterback and receiver: most completions (965), and most scoring passes (114). “It certainly is different, and it is certainly an adjustment,” Manning said.
Could be the surprise team in the AFC.
Offensive struggles likely to get exposed.
Could be better than expected.
Indianapolis will miss steady coach Tony Dungy.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
The running back, the NFL MVP in 2006, ran for a career-low 1,110 yards last season. Adding fuel to the speculation that Tomlinson’s best years are behind him, he turned 30 in June (some NFL people and lots of fans believe running backs aren’t as useful when they turn 30. Kind of like when people turn 21 in “Logan’s Run”).
Head coaches have been making the news in this division more than the players. First-year Kansas City coach Todd Haley fired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey less than two weeks before the season opener. First-year Denver coach Josh McDaniels, 33, clashed with quarterback Jay Cutler, forcing a trade to Chicago. Oakland coach Tom Cable, a Snohomish High graduate, reportedly broke the jaw of assistant coach Randy Hanson during an altercation last month. Cable denies it, saying the matter will be handled “internally.” There’s no word on any antics from San Diego coach Norv Turner, except that his first name is Norv.
Should be a cakewalk if they stay healthy.
The best of the rest in weak division.
The Al Davis soap opera continues.
Josh McDaniels soap opera just starting.