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Each team’s biggest question mark heading into the 2013 season: NFC Edition

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nfl_a_texans_sy_576

It’s that time of year again in the NFL.

All 32 teams have now returned for training camp and with preseason games fast approaching, it won’t be long until the new season kicks off.

Let’s see how things are shaping up in 2013.

*NFC only

East

Dallas Cowboys

Is Tony Romo maturing as a leader in Dallas?

It seems like every summer is the same old story when it comes to Tony Romo and the Cowboys. Scratch golfer Romo spends his summer playing in Pro-am tournaments and attempting to qualify for PGA Tour events. In the words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend!”

It appears as though Romo has decided to focus on football this summer instead. All reports coming out of Dallas are that he has been busy preparing for the new season and showed up for training camp in great shape. Perhaps his new six-year contract extension worth over $100 million has something to do with it?

Whatever the reason for this new turnaround, it is time for the 33-year-old to become a leader in Dallas.

If Romo can continue his recent success with wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys will be a dangerous team in the NFC this season.

New York Giants

What are the Giants going to do at running back?

It looks as though the Giants are going to use a running back by committee strategy this season on offense. The last time they tried this was back in 2008 when the team had a highly productive trio of Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. They combined for almost 2,500 rushing yards that season and it seems like Tom Coughlin and co. are looking to reproduce that production this year.

The only problem is that the running backs on the Giants roster in 2013 are nowhere near as good as the ones they had five years ago. Their current depth chart sees David Wilson as their starter with Andre Brown and Ryan Torain providing backup.

None of those players have shown any signs that they are capable of being an every-down back in the NFL.

If their running game fails to impress in the preseason, don’t be surprised to see the Giants dive into the free agent market and add a veteran running back like Michael Turner or Willis McGahee.

Philadelphia Eagles

Can head coach Chip Kelly translate his collegiate success into the pros?

New Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has had an interesting few months. After drawing interest from numerous NFL teams this offseason, Kelly decided to decline all offers and return to Oregon. A week later, he changed his mind and signed a five-year $32.5 million contract with the Eagles.

Already one of the league’s highest paid coaches and with no experience of coaching in the NFL, the pressure is on the former head coach of the Oregon Ducks to produce in the pros. He was very successful during his four years at Oregon with a 46-7 record whilst running his infamous “blur offense.”

Kelly is now looking to implement this offense with the Eagles and although he has some terrific players at his disposal like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, he still needs to pick a quarterback to lead the team forward.

His former Pac 10 rival Pete Carroll has done a great job with the Seahawks, but question marks surrounding the Eagles quarterback situation may make it a tougher transition for Kelly in Philadelphia.

Washington Redskins

How healthy is RG3?

Robert Griffin III should never have continued to play in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Despite not being cleared to play by team doctors after sustaining an injury early on in the game, RG3 carried on playing and ended up re-injuring his right knee.

Seven months on from surgery on both his ACL and LCL, the Redskins quarterback is still recovering from injury and isn’t expected to play any part in the Redskins preseason games. He is back at practice but head coach Mike Shanahan is taking every precaution to ensure that he makes a full recovery.

This should serve as a warning to all NFL teams and in future when in a decision needs to be made regarding injury to your best player during a wildcard game, perhaps a different decision will be taken.

Despite the daily updates from Redskins training camp regarding the health of RG3, only time will tell if he will be ready for the season opener vs the Eagles on September 9th.

Tony Romo

Tony Romo

North

Chicago Bears

Can a former CFL head coach succeed in the NFL?

The Bears have moved on. After nine seasons and 150 games, Lovie Smith was fired and Marc Trestman was hired as the new head coach.

Trestman is a two-time championship winner and a former coach of the year so why was it a shock when he was hired by the Bears? Well that’s because those achievements didn’t come in the NFL or in college football and instead occurred when he was coaching the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League.

The CFL isn’t a common place to go when searching for a new coach but that’s exactly where the Bears went. How this experiment works out is anybody’s guess. It could go well (see Bud Grant) or else it could go horribly wrong (see almost every other coach hired from the CFL).

Change has been a common theme for the Bears this offseason and although the decision to hire Trestman came as a surprise, a head coaching change was definitely needed in Chicago.

Detroit Lions

Will Matthew Stafford put an end to his awful record against teams with a winning record?

The polite way of putting it is that Matthew Stafford does not have a good record against winning teams. In 25 games against teams with winning records, Stafford has won just once. That’s not exactly the type of record you want from your franchise quarterback.

It’s also not the type of return you would like to see from someone who was recently given a three-year $53 million contract extension. If Stafford doesn’t improve his record against winning teams, Donovan McNabb’s criticism could turn out to be correct.

The Lions are counting on Stafford to return to his 2011 form and lead them back to the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers

How will the Packers offense perform in 2013?

The offense is going to look a little different this year in Green Bay without wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Driver has now retired from the NFL after fourteen seasons with the Packers. Jennings on the other hand has decided to do his best Brett Favre impression and join up with the Minnesota Vikings.

There are more than capable replacements in place with wide receivers Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb all set to contribute along with tight end Jermichael Finley. It’s the running game that should worry Packers fans.

There are several candidates at running back with veterans James Starks and Alex Green likely to compete with rookies Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin for carries this season. Running the football has been a struggle in recent years at Lambeau Field and that looks likely to be the case again this season.

Aaron Rodgers may be an elite quarterback but the Packers running game needs to start offering some assistance on offense.

Minnesota Vikings

Why can’t the Vikings ever be consistent?

It’s usually very tough to predict what’s going to happen in Minnesota. The Vikings typically tend to finish either in last place in the division or else in the playoffs.

After winning just three games in his first full season in charge of the team in 2011, Leslie Frazier led them to the playoffs last year where they were defeated in the wildcard round by the Green Bay Packers. Now entering his third season as head coach and with a new stadium on the way, making the postseason will be the aim again for Frazier and the Vikings.

With the league’s best running back in the backfield and one of the league’s worst starting quarterbacks passing the ball, anything can happen.

Minnesota fans won’t like this, but the Vikings are looking like hot favorites to finish in last place in the division once again.

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers

South

Atlanta Falcons

How competitive will the NFC South be for the Falcons this year?

Matt Ryan won his first playoff game last season and the Falcons are willing to bet $100 million he will do so again this year. After signing that huge contract extension last week,  the expectations are high in Atlanta for Ryan and the Falcons.

With Sean Payton back coaching in New Orleans, the NFC South should be a much tougher division this season and the Falcons will need to be at their best to defend their title. With Matt Ryan at quarterback, another playoff berth will the very least they will expect.

Much like Andy Dalton with the Bengals, Matt Ryan seems to struggle when it comes to postseason play and the Falcons will be hoping that doesn’t continue in 2013. 

Carolina Panthers

Can Cam Newton and the Panthers make the playoffs?

It’s a been a slow transition in Carolina with Cam Newton and head coach Ron Rivera. Now entering year three and still without a winning season to show for their progress, it would be difficult to blame Panthers fans for getting impatient.

The Panthers had the tenth best defense last year in the NFL and with the addition of rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, that defense will be even better this year. On offense, they have one of the best rushing attacks in the league with the likes of Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart all capable of carrying the football.

The Panthers are on the right path to becoming a successful team and after winning five of their final six games in 2012, they will be looking to carry that form into 2013.

Cam Newton is still developing and although he is showing signs of improvement, the Panthers may have to settle for one final season of progress before they can call themselves a playoff team.

New Orleans Saints

Is the magic going to return to New Orleans now that Sean Payton is back?

Now that the bounty scandal is behind them, the Saints are back to business with head coach Sean Payton. Without question one of the best coaches in the league, Payton returns after missing the entire 2012 season due to suspension.

There aren’t many quarterbacks out there who have been as productive as Drew Brees has been in the last few seasons. The record-setting Brees has thrown for over 10,000 yards in his last 32 regular season games along with 89 touchdowns.

With Brees and Payton back together, the Saints will be back to normal in 2013.

Sean Payton didn’t forget how to coach during his year off and the Saints offense looks set to benefit from a re-energized and fully motivated head coach.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What kind of season will the Bucs have with Josh Freeman at quarterback?

With 88 total turnovers in 57 career games, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman is a turnover machine. He is coming off career-highs in passing yards and touchdowns but that didn’t stop the Bucs bringing in quarterback NC State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round of this year’s draft.

Freeman is a former first-round pick but just like his fellow 2009 draftee Mark Sanchez, he is facing a make or break season this year. With back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC South, the Bucs may not be willing to wait much longer for the 25-year-old to produce.

Unless the Bucs want to finish in last place again, they need to seriously reconsider their quarterback situation.

If Josh Freeman lasts the entire year as the starter, it will be a football miracle in Tampa Bay.

Sean Payton

Sean Payton

West

Arizona Cardinals

Can a new head coach and a new quarterback work in Arizona?

With Ken Whisenhunt now gone, there’s a new era in Arizona with Bruce Arians taking over as head coach. Arians spend most of last season as the Indianapolis Colts interim head coach in the absence of Chuck Pagano due to his cancer treatment. The Colts had an impressive 9-3 record under Arians and he was even named Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.

Now starting his new job with the Cardinals, Arians takes over a team who have failed to make the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. His first major move came when he decided to release quarterback Kevin Kolb and bring in veteran Carson Palmer to replace him.

Palmer arrived in a trade with the Oakland Raiders for a sixth round draft pick this year and a conditional pick in the 2014 draft. It will be Arian’s job to help Palmer improve his consistency and become a leader for the Cardinals.

Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards last season but he is still a question mark moving forward for the franchise.

St. Louis Rams

Are the Rams about to be this year’s surprise team?

It seems to occur almost every year in the NFL with one team coming from nowhere to make the playoffs. The 2008 Arizona Cardinals even made it all the way to the super bowl despite having a 9-7 regular season record. Now if there is one team who can be a surprise in the league this year, it’s the St. Louis Rams.

The Rams have a healthy balance of youth and experience with veteran head coach Jeff Fisher and one of the youngest rosters football. With an impressive draft class this year including Tavon Austin and T.J. McDonald along with key free agent signings like Jake Long and Jared Cook, they are starting to look more and more like a potential playoff team.

If Sam Bradford can stay healthy and get some help from his teammates, the sky is the limit for this team.

You heard it here first, the Rams will make the playoffs this season.

San Francisco 49ers

Is wide receiver the only weakness in San Francisco?

The 49ers are the most talented team in football. Everywhere you look on this roster there are stars and with nine of their players voted to the All-Pro team last season, seven of those to the 1st team, another trip to the super bowl is what’s expected in San Francisco.

The standout question mark for this team is at the wide receiver position. With last year’s leading receiver Michael Crabtree expected to be on the sidelines for most of the season through injury, head coach Jim Harbaugh will be looking elsewhere for others to step up in Crabtree’s absence.

Looking at the current depth chart and with both Crabtree and Mario Manningham sidelined with injuries, the starting duo appears to be veteran Anquan Boldin and second-year player A.J. Jenkins. If former first-round pick Jenkins fails deliver or if free agent Boldin cannot adjust to a new system, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the offense could be in trouble.

There are plenty of options for the 49ers already but it couldn’t hurt them to add another piece to the puzzle with a free agent signing such as Brandon Llyod or Steve Breaston.

Seattle Seahawks

Will the Seahawks continue to dominate with their rushing attack?

The Seahawks rushing attack can take a lot of the credit for the team’s recent success. They were the 3rd best team in the NFL running the football last season and they have added some pieces this offseason to improve on that this year.

Despite already having an All-Pro running back in Marshawn Lynch along with a reliable backup with Robert Turbin, the Seahawks used their first pick in this year’s draft to select Texas A&M’s Christian Michael. With Lynch as the starter and Turbin filling in on 3rd downs and short yardage situations, Michael will serve as a change of pace back with his mix of speed and power.

With all these running backs plus a quarterback who isn’t afraid to run the football, the Seahawks rushing attack could rank even higher in 2013.

Quarterback Russell Wilson is certain to face the sophomore slump this season and so it’s a good thing he has a rushing attack like this one to help him out when it does.

Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford

So that was my breakdown of the NFC.

My AFC breakdown is available here http://mrnfl.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/each-teams-biggest-question-mark-heading-into-the-2013-season-afc-edition/

For more NFL updates, follow me on twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Each team’s biggest question mark heading into the 2013 season: AFC Edition

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nfl_a_texans_sy_576

It’s that time of year again in the NFL.

Almost all of the 32 teams have now returned for training camp and with preseason games right around the corner, it won’t be long until the new season kicks off.

Let’s see how the things are shaping up in 2013.

*AFC only

East

Buffalo Bills

Who will win the quarterback battle in Buffalo?

The Bills haven’t had the best of luck recently when it comes to quarterbacks. From the mediocre Trent Edwards to the just about average Ryan Fitzpatrick, there hasn’t been much to cheer for lately in upstate New York. After releasing Fitzpatrick in March, the team now are undergoing a fresh start at quarterback.

They signed Kevin Kolb this offseason to a two-year deal. Kolb was released after spending two years with the Arizona Cardinals and although he has the potential to be a starting quarterback, he has yet to stay healthy and complete a full season.

The other option is rookie E.J. Manuel. After impressing at Florida State, Manuel was picked with the sixteenth overall selection in this year’s draft and he is expected to compete with Kolb for the starting role.

Expect the Bills to give the starting job to Kevin Kolb over rookie Manuel.

Miami Dolphins

How will Mike Wallace perform in Miami?

Who are the fastest players in the NFL? Chances are Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace would see his name close to the top of that list.

The former Pittsburgh Steeler signed a $60 million deal with the Dolphins this offseason and he is expected to make a big impact in South Beach. Wallace is a former Pro Bowler who has averaged over 17 yards per reception in his career.

The 26-year-old should form a solid combination with quarterback Ryan Tannehill who will be looking to improve after an inconsistent rookie season. will prove to be a huge success for head coach Joe Philbin and the Dolphins.

Tannehill will certainly have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball downfield this season with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline on the outside.

New England Patriots

Can Tom Brady and the Pats solve their tight end issues?

Now this isn’t going to come as a surprise to NFL fans or anybody who has been watching the ongoing murder case involving Aaron Hernandez, but the Patriots have serious problems at tight end. With Aaron Hernandez gone and Rob Gronkowski still recovering from back surgery, the team is struggling at the position.

Former New York Giant Jake Ballard currently appears to be best option with veteran Daniel Fells providing backup. Although they aren’t admitting it to the media, the team must surely be concerned about Rob Gronkowski and his long-term health following yet another surgery.

Could all this uncertainty pave the way for a position switch from quarterback to tight end for Tim Tebow?

If there’s a coach out there that can make this work, it’s got to be Bill Belichick.

New York Jets

What kind of impact will new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have in the big apple?

January 11th, 2012. That’s the date when the Jets hired Tony Sparano as their new offensive coordinator. Safe to say, that experiment didn’t work out too well.

Now with Sparano gone on former Eagles coach Marty Mornhinwg installed as the new offensive coordinator, the team is entering another make or break season.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez now faces competition for the starting job from rookie Geno Smith. Regardless of who is chosen as the starter, Mornhinweg will need to do a better job than Sparano did if he is going to keep his job and improve the Jets offense.

If the Jets fail to make the Playoffs this season, it could force owner Woody Johnson to make a change with both quarterback Mark Sanchez and head coach Rex Ryan running out of chances.

Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez in court

North

Baltimore Ravens

What will the Ravens defense look like without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed?

Just think about this for a second, Ray Lewis was the first draft choice in the history of the Ravens back in 1996. Ed Reed was a first round draft pick in 2002. Both these players are now gone and the team must move on without them.

The defending Super Bowl champions will need to adapt quickly to the loss of these two leaders. It came as no surprise when the team used their first two draft picks to find their replacements.

Florida safety Matt Elam was selected in the first round with Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown taken in the second round. Both rookies will be expected to contribute early on and replace the gap left by the departed duo of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

General Manager Ozzie Newsome proved once again why he is one of the best in the business when it comes to picking talent and Ravens fans should be excited to see these rookies compete.

Cincinnati Bengals

Is Andy Dalton ever going to step up for the Bengals in the playoffs?

After two seasons in the league, Andy Dalton has an impressive quarterback rating of 83.9 in the regular season. His performances in the playoffs have not been so impressive.

In the postseason, Dalton’s quarterback rating is 48.6 and he has an equally unimpressive touchdown to interception ratio of 0-4. The former TCU star seems to shy away from the spotlight and that must now the biggest question mark for the team.

The Bengals are never going to reach their potential if things don’t change and it’s about time their quarterback started showing more composure in the playoffs.

This could be the year that head coach Marvin Lewis leads his team to a playoff victory for the first time but it will all come down to the performance of Dalton.

Cleveland Browns

Can rookie head coach Rob Chudzinski succeed in Cleveland?

Rob Chudzinski may not be as well-known to NFL fans as other rookie head coaches this year, but the 45-year-old has an impressive coaching background. Chudzinski played on a national championship winning Miami Hurricanes team in 1987 and he also won a national championship with the school as offensive coordinator in 2001.

As a coach in the NFL, he has worked with the Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers and most recently with the Carolina Panthers where he played a major role in improving their offense and developing quarterback Cam Newton. During his time as offensive coordinator with the Browns back in 2007, he helped them to win ten games and also sent four offensive players to the Pro Bowl including Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow II.

If there’s one thing he brings to the table, “Chud” will add some much needed explosiveness to the Browns offense which already has a future Pro Bowler at running back with Trent Richardson.

It doesn’t help Chudzinski that the Browns are playing in one of the toughest divisions in football but they have a roster capable of winning plenty of games this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

How will first-round rookie Jarvis Jones perform in Pittsburgh?

The Steelers are coming off worst ever season under head coach Mike Tomlin. After going 8-8 last year and with their usually dominant defense struggling, it was time to rebuild.

They have made many changes to personnel this offeseason with James Harrison, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy and Will Allen all gone. The team re-signed veterans Larry Foote and William Gay before the draft and then made an impressive first-round selection in April. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones was selected with the seventeenth overall pick and the rookie is expected to fill the starting role left by James Harrison.

The Steelers are looking to bounce back this season and they will be counting on Jones to help them do so on defense.

Expect the 23-year-old to make a big impact in his rookie year playing alongside LaMarr Woodley at outside linebacker.

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed

South

Houston Texans

Can J.J. Watt set a new record for single-season sacks in Houston?

Michael Strahan set the record for sacks in a season back in 2001 when he registered 22.5 sacks. Twelve years later and that record is under threat.

J.J. Watt is a special football player. At 6 foot 5 inches tall and weighing almost 290 pounds, he posses a unique mix of size, speed and strength that causes nightmares for anybody attempting to block him. If there was ever going to be a football player who could double act as a transformer, Watt is it.

The former Wisconsin standout is coming off a season in which he had 20.5 sacks, was named to the All-Pro team and also won the Defensive Player of the Year award. Even more frightening for opposing teams and quarterbacks is that at 24-years-old and entering his third season, he is going to get even better.

Watt is without doubt the most dominant defensive player in the league right now and look for him to break the NFL’s single-season sack record this year.

Indianapolis Colts

Is it going to be a sophomore slump for Andrew Luck and the Colts?

Andrew Luck was just a rookie last season and every year the NFL takes a poll of the top 100 players in the league, Luck was ranked 23rd in that poll. As in the 23rd best player in the NFL, after only one season in the league. That’s how good he is.

The 1st overall pick in the 2012 draft didn’t disappoint in his first year in the league and he set seven NFL records along the way. Putting all those credentials aside for now and it’s time to do it all over again. Unfortunately for Luck and the Colts, the sophomore slump is bound to kick in.

It will be interesting to see how #12 handles the pressure this time around.

The departure of offensive coordinator Bruce Arenas will likely cause a drop in Luck’s production this year and it will be hard for him to repeat the magic of his rookie season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

What will Denard Robinson really do for the Jags?

The Jaguars used their fifth round pick in April’s draft to select former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson set many records during his time at Ann Arbor and he was a terrific offensive player for the wolverines. Notice how I referred to him as an offensive player and not a quarterback in the last sentence and that’s because of the elephant in the room.

Denard Robinson cannot play quarterback in the NFL. He just doesn’t posses the type of arm strength, accuracy or overall awareness when it comes to passing the football that are all critical to playing the position in this league. However, that doesn’t mean he cannot succeed as an impact player on offense and that’s exactly what the Jags will use him as.

Robinson is listed as an offensive weapon on the depth chart and he is expected to play running back, wide receiver and return specialist for the team. Their plan is to give him 10-15 snaps per game but that is unlikely.

Whether they want to admit or not, there is no way that “Shoelace” will see that many touches for one simple reason and that is because this is no longer College football.

Newsflash in Jacksonville: This is the NFL and not the Big Ten.

Tennessee Titans

Will Jake Locker stay healthy and remain the starter in Tennessee?

Jake Locker hasn’t yet managed to silence the critics who doubted his ability to take a hit in the NFL. Since being drafted with the eighth overall pick by the Titans in the 2011 draft, he has played in exactly half of the team’s 32 regular season games.

After beating out veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and winning the starting job last year, Locker’s 2012 season was cut short by shoulder problems and he still faces those same concerns heading into this season. With Hasselbeck now gone, Tennessee is counting on their former first round pick to step up and put his injury issues in the past.

All the comments thus far from Locker and Titans camp is that the shoulder injury is fully healed and he is back to 100%. How long that will last however is still a question mark.

If Locker does get hurt again this year it could force team owner Bud Adams to move on from the 25-year-old.

Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck

West

Denver Broncos

Are they heading towards a decline in Denver?

The short answer to this question is yes. If you are a Broncos fan, look away now.

Last year’s second ranked defense has gone through an awful offseason. With defensive leader Elvis Dumervil being cut by the team back in March, things got even worse for the team this week.

Linebacker Von Miller faces a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Miller has claimed innocence in the case and he is appealing the suspension. It would usually be around this time that the team’s front office would step in but after two Broncos executives got arrested for separate drink driving offences, they appear to be dealing with problems of their own.

With all this ongoing uncertainty, the Broncos look as though they are heading backwards in 2013.

Kansas City Chiefs

How will Andy Reid perform in Kansas City?

Well it didn’t take long for Andy Reid to find another job. After being fired by the Philadelphia Eagles immediately after last season, the 55-year-old head coach is back at work.

The Chiefs hired Reid as their new head coach less than a week after his firing and signed him to a five-year deal. Putting aside a disastrous final year in Philadelphia, Andy Reid is a great football coach. You don’t take your team to the Playoffs nine times in 14 years by accident.

Now in his new chapter in Kansas City, the Chiefs look likely to make progress under Reid and challenge for the AFC West title.

Obviously much will depend on the play of new quarterback Alex Smith but if he can deliver and Reid makes the right coaching decisions, the Chiefs can be a Playoff team for years to come.

Oakland Raiders

What has changed in Oakland?

Often considered to be the worst team in the division, that certainly won’t be the case this season. The Raiders look to be undergoing a turnaround under head coach Dennis Allen.

On offense, not much has changed with their annual quarterback turnover and the ongoing questions surrounding the health of running back Darren McFadden. But on the opposite side of the ball, the defense are making moves.

The Raiders have signed some impressive free agents at cornerback with Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins both joining the team. Add to that their first-round draft pick D.J. Hayden along with returning veteran Charles Woodson and the Raiders are looking strong in the secondary.

If they can find a decent quarterback from the four options that they currently have on the roster, the Raiders could content for a postseason spot this year.

San Diego Chargers

Is this the end for Philip Rivers in San Diego?

The Chargers have a new head coach with Mike McCoy taking over the hot seat. The first thing on his to do list should be to address the recent problems with quarterback Philip Rivers.

Statistics don’t lie and they do not read well for Rivers. In his last three seasons he has thrown 48 interceptions and has had 63 total turnovers.

However, many fans will argue that he isn’t to blame for this decline and it is instead down to poor play from the offensive line. The team hasn’t wasted time in fixing this issue. They drafted Alabama offesnive tackle D.J. Fluker with their first round pick and also added free agents Max Starks and King Dunlap. With no more excuses, it’s now up to Rivers to deliver.

If it turns out that Rivers struggles again, head coach Mike McCoy will have an important decision on his hands regarding the future of the franchise at quarterback.

Andy Reid

Andy Reid

That was my breakdown of the AFC and my NFC breakdown will be released next week.

For more NFL updates, follow me on twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Manti Te’o Scouting Report

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manti-teo

Manti Te’o

Position: Linebacker

Draft Pick: Round 2 Pick 38

manti-teo-chargers-elite-daily1-800x400

San Diego Chargers

Strengths- Football I.Q.

In terms of overall awareness and football intelligence, Te’o is one of the most NFL ready players of the entire Rookie class this year. A star player during his final year at Notre Dame, he ranks third all-time in the schools illustrious history with 437 total tackles.

Te’o is an instinctive player and a solid tackler. He also has all the tools necessary to become a leader on the Chargers defense given his experience of being a team captain in college.

If I had to pick a comparison for Te’o, his game reminds me very much of Luke Kuechly who was a top-ten pick in last year’s Draft and is now a standout player for the Carolina Panthers. He may not have the same amount of athleticism as Kueckly has though and that is a concern.

Weaknesses- Speed

Te’o ran a 4.82 40 time at the NFL Combine which left many scouts and coaches disappointed. Although he did improve on that time slightly by running a 4.78 at his Notre Dame pro day, neither 40 time signifies a great amount of speed.

That lack of quickness shows on tape for Te’o and it appears to be the standout question mark surrounding his talents on the field. There’s no doubting his tackling ability, but he needs to improve his burst if he is going to get in a position to make plays in the NFL.

There is one other obvious weakness for Te’o and that is the elephant in the room.

Why should we watch out for him?

manti-teo-katie-couric-interview

It should be clear to NFL fans and anyone who has ever visited http://deadspin.com/ why we should watch out for Te’o. This 22-year-old isn’t your typical second round draft pick and that’s because the former Notre Dame star received worldwide attention earlier this year. Unfortunately for Te’o, this wasn’t the attention he would have been looking for.

The story has been widely reported over the past few months and is something that most fans are probably tired of discussing. Whilst some analysts may consider this issue irrelevant to his professional career, I think it is something he will have to deal with during his Rookie season.

The San Diego Chargers have done a fantastic job in protecting Te’o from any further embarrassment since he was drafted by the team in the second round back in April. The media haven’t been given excessive access to Te’o during recent minicamps which has left him to concentrate on matters on the field rather than on answering questions off it.

All reports coming out of Chargers camp this summer are that Te’o has looked great in practice and he will start alongside Donald Butler at middle linebacker this year. The problem for Te’o begins once the summer ends and the regular season begins.

So far, there have been no incidents of rookie hazings or any animosity towards Te’o from inside the Chargers locker room but the same cannot be said for opposing players and especially rival fans. I’m sure opposing teams will use his off-field controversy to target Te’o during games.

He isn’t likely to get the warmest reception from fans either. I can’t imagine that Raiders fans in the “Black Hole” will be to kind to him when the Chargers travel to Oakland on December 22nd.

Only time will tell if Te’o is mentally strong enough to deal with the inevitable question marks that are to come.

There is my scouting report on Manti Te’o.

Thanks for reading and follow me on twitter for further updates.

Follow @PodgeOH

Written by podgeoh92

June 27, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Eric Fisher Scouting Report

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nfl_g_ef01_400

Eric Fisher

Position: Offensive Tackle

Draft Pick: First Overall

nfl_u_efish88_cr_600

Kansas City Chiefs

Strengths- Pass blocking

Fisher is a dominant pass blocker.

Throughout his four years playing for Central Michigan, he consistently showed off his tremendous blocking ability. He was also named as a First-Team All-American in his senior season.

At 6 ft 7 inches tall and 306 lbs, he has the ideal frame for a starting tackle in the NFL. The Chiefs will be looking to Fisher to contribute early in his career and he is likely to start straight away.

He will be protecting their new quarterback Alex Smith in the passing game along with blocking for one of the most explosive running backs in the league in Jamal Charles.

Weaknesses- Experience

Experience going up against effective pass rushers is my biggest issue with Fisher.

This may come as a surprise to some. The level of talent he faced in the MAC simply couldn’t have prepared him very well for the talent level he is going to face in the NFL.

Going up against players like J.J. Watt and Von Miller isn’t going to be an easy transition for the former Central Michigan star. This is why he will likely start out playing as a right tackle with Brandon Albert starting on the left side given his veteran experience.

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Why should we watch out for him?

I want to see how good Eric Fisher really is.

The 22-year-old was the first offensive lineman taken with the first overall pick since the Miami Dolphins selected Jake Long back in 2008. He was also the first non-quarterback selected first overall since then.

The intriguing part of all this is that Fisher does not even come close to the type of prospect that the Dolphins selected in Long.

Long went to Michigan and played against elite competition which prepared him well for life in the NFL. He was named as an All-American twice and he also won the Jim Parker Trophy in 2007.

Fisher went to Central Michigan and certainly did not play against elite competition. This was something I addressed earlier and is one of the few question marks I have with Fisher.

Was he picked this high because of his talent or because of the less than stellar quarterback class which had no standout stars? In reality, it is likely a mixture of both.

With the only other competition for the number one overall pick coming from a fellow offensive lineman in Luke Joeckel, Fisher turned out to be the preferred pick for Andy Reid and the Chiefs.

The pressure is now on him to succeed in the NFL and show why he was picked first overall.

So that’s my scouting report on Eric Fisher.

Thanks for reading and follow me on twitter for further updates.

Follow @PodgeOH

Written by podgeoh92

June 19, 2013 at 11:11 am

Super Bowl XLVII-13 Biggest Storylines to Watch in the Big Game

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This is for all the marbles!

Two teams, two brothers and four quarters of football to decide who will be crowned Super Bowl Champions.

In the blue corner representing the AFC are the Baltimore Ravens led by their star quarterback Joe Flacco and defensive leader Ray Lewis.

The Ravens have had to overcome plenty of adversity on their way too New Orleans and eliminated two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks from the Playoffs along the way.

With the passing of their former owner Art Modell at the beginning of the season and with Ray Lewis playing in his final game as a Raven, Baltimore won’t be short of motivation for this one as the go in search of their second Super Bowl win.

In the red corner representing the NFC are the San Francisco 49ers who are back after the golden years of stars like Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice to try and win their first Super Bowl since 1994.

The 49ers have had a truly incredible season and after making a quarterback switch in Week 11 from Alex Smith to Colin Kapernick and they now find themselves just one win away from being crowned Super Bowl champions for a sixth time.

So with the world watching and the Mercedez-Benz Superdome in New Orleans awaiting, it all comes down to Super Bowl XLVII next Sunday night.

With one week to go, here are my 13 biggest storylines to watch in the big game.

Harbaugh vs Harbaugh

Judging by recent season storylines, one would be forgiven for thinking that Hollywood writers have been hired by the NFL to write scripts for the blockbuster movie that is: an NFL season.

After last year’s dramatics involving quarterback Tim Tebow and the cultural phenomenon that was ‘Tebowing,’ we now have an even more Hollywoodesque storyline involving two brothers.

Older brother John Harbaugh (Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens) will go head to head with his younger brother Jim (Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers) on the biggest stage of all, the Super Bowl.

The Harbaugh Bowl features two of the best coaches in football right now and is almost worthy of its own film.

The Harbaugh Bowl: Two Brothers Collide

Tom Cruise uses his football knowledge gained from Jerry Maguire to take on the role of older brother John and Brad Pitt trades baseball strategy from Moneyball for blitz packages to play as Jim.

Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis summed up the moment perfectly after the AFC Championship Game and said “this is our time.”

#52 is looking for one final victory before he leaves the game for good and retires.

Can Lewis complete his Hall of Fame career by bowing out on top and winning the Super Bowl?

Randy Moss

Lining up on offense across from Ray Lewis will be another one of the game’s all-time greats in Randy Moss.

Unlike Lewis, Moss is playing for his fifth NFL team and is looking to pick up his first Super Bowl ring.

Will the veteran who began playing all the way back in 1998 step up and be the x-factor for the 49ers offense?

Michael Oher

Michael Oher’s story really is a Hollywood one after the successful book and film The Blind Side.

The once homeless teenager makes his way to the Super Bowl as “Big Mike” gets ready to protect Joe Flacco.

Is there a Hollywood ending in store for Oher?

Patrick Willis

Just like Michael Oher, Patrick Willis is a fellow Ole Miss Rebel with another heartwarming story to tell.

He had personal troubles of his own and was adopted at the age of 17 after difficulties with his father.

Will Willis lead the 49ers to a victory over Michael Oher and the Ravens?

Quarterback Battle

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been brilliant in the Playoffs and is playing the best football of his career.

49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick faces the toughest test of his career in just his 11th NFL start.

Who will come out on top in this crucial battle for quarterback supremacy?

Ravens Wide Receivers vs 49ers Secondary

Ravens wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are one of the best duos in the NFL.

The 49ers secondary is struggling and they face a tough test to contain these two.

Can Torrey Smith put on a Julio Jones like performance vs the 49ers secondary?

49ers Running Game vs Ravens Run Defense

The 49ers running game will be crucial for their offense as they look to exploit their clear speed advantage.

Starter Frank Gore is helped out by backup LaMichael James along with the running threat of Kaepernick.

How will Haloti Ngata and co. deal with the 49ers rushing ability?

Kickers

The battle of the kickers has the potential to be the biggest storyline of them all.

Ravens rookie Justin Tucker is in terrific form whilst 49ers veteran David Akers looks highly inconsistent.

Does experience or youth prevail if the game comes down to a last second field goal?

National Anthem

So now we get to the Super Bowl traditions with the National Anthem first on the list.

Alicia Keys will be performing this year’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Will her performance bring Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis to tears?

TV Ads

Super Bowl ads are a pretty big deal which is why companies pay up to $3 million for a 30 second commercial.

Popular commercials to watch out for include Coca-Cola and Doritos.

Will any of this year’s crop join this illustrious list of greatest commercials in Super Bowl history?

Halftime Show

After a mixed performance from Madonna last year, this year’s Halftime show looks a lot more promising.

Beyonce is set to perform fresh off her performance at President Barack Obama’s Inauguration.

Will Destiny’s Child re-unite on stage or will husband Jay-Z join her for an encore?

Verdict

Sorry 49ers fans but when it comes down to the final outcome of the Harbaugh Bowl, I’m picking the Ravens to get the win with an MVP performance from Joe Flacco to give Ray Lewis the perfect ending to his legendary career.

49ers 19 Ravens 30

So there is my preview and prediction for Super Bowl XLVII.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the game!

Follow @PodgeOH

Playoffs Preview- AFC Championship Game

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Bill Belichick

After one of the most exciting divisional round weekends in NFL history, the Playoffs continue this week with the conference Championship games.

The AFC Championship Game is a repeat of last year’s matchup as Ray Lewis the Baltimore Ravens travel to New England to tackle Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Now without further ado, here is my breakdown of the game with profiles of the key players for both teams.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

Key Players

Ravens

Joe Flacco

  • As the old cliché goes, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and quarterback Joe Flacco is the first key player to watch for the Ravens. After claiming to be an ‘Elite quarterback’ for many seasons now, he is finally turning his off-field confidence into success on the field.
  • With five touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the Ravens last two games, Flacco is playing arguably the best football of his career as he goes in search of his first AFC Championship victory at the third attempt.
  • Key Question: Can Flacco take advantage of the weapons at his disposal and continue his impressive play against a less than perfect Patriots secondary?

Ray Rice

  • When the Ravens beat the Patriots back in the Divisional Round of the 2010 Playoffs, running back Ray Rice had over 150 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. In fact, he has rushed for 292 yards in three meetings against the Patriots and has been a constant threat to Bill Belichick and the Pats defense.
  • Despite a down year statistically compared to his 2011 campaign, Rice has seen his production increase in the Playoffs and is coming off an impressive performance in the Ravens win vs the the Denver Broncos last week. He ran the ball 30 times in that game and will likely see another large number of carries again this week.
  • Key Question: Can the Ravens running back carry the load again and have success vs a Patriots run defense that ranked ninth in the NFL in the regular season?

Ray Lewis

  • On NFL Total Access after the Ravens wildcard win over Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, former General Manager and NFL Network anaylst Charlie Casserley claimed Ray Lewis was too old and looked too slow on the field. There’s no denying his age, but his performance on the field has been spectacular for the Ravens defense if you ask me.
  • Leading your team in tackles two weeks in a row and providing the type of leadership that only he can bring is exactly why sugar Ray will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer after he retires this season. After defeating a legendary qiuarterback last week, Lewis goes up against another one of the game’s best this week vs Tom Brady.
  • Key Question: Will the greatest middle linebacker of all-time add to his legacy by reaching another Super Bowl or is this the last stand for #52?

Patriots

Tom Brady

  • As long as Tom Brady is in New England, he will always be the first key player to bring up for the Patriots. The three-time Super Bowl champion is looking to bounce back from last year’s defeat at the hands of the New York Giants and return to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season.
  • Last week’s victory vs the Houston Texans now means that Brady has the most Playoff wins for a quarterback in NFL history with 17. He will be out to prove that he is still the best quarterback in the business despite missing one of his favorite targets in tight end Rob Gronkowksi.
  • Key Question: Can Brady turn around his recent struggles vs the Ravens defense and lead his team to yet another Super Bowl?

Wes Welker

  • Wes Welker is perhaps the most underrated player in the NFL and he has been for quite some time. Standing  just 5 foot 9 inches and weighing in at just over 185 pounds, the 31-year-old veteran is after completing yet another season of over 1,000 yards and 100 catches.
  • He now holds the Patriots franchise record for receptions and also holds the NFL record for most seasons with over 100 catches after a 118 catch performance this campaign. With tighe end Rob Gronkowski now out indefinitely with a broken forearm, Welker will continue to be Tom Brady’s go to target in this game.
  • Key Question: How much of an impact will Welker have in the Patriots passing game with the Ravens pass defense fixed on stopping him?

Vince Wilfork

  • The veteran leader of the defense, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has been spectacular for the Patriots again this season and was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. Wilfork is a standout star on the Pats defensive line with his 325 pound frame providing for a consistent road block for opposing running backs.
  • He will provide a big test for the Ravens offensive line protecting quarterback Joe Flacco from pressure in the pocket. Luckily for the Ravens, Wilfork will face much of the game going up against two of the very best interior linemen in the league in Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda.
  • Key Question: Will Wilfork be a disruptive pass rushing force for the Pats defense and also stop Ray Rice in the run game?

Prediction

John Harbaugh

So just as I had predicted before the season started back in August, it’s the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots who meet in the AFC Championship Game.

This is a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game which finished with a Patriots 23-20 victory after Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a crucial field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
With rookie Justin Tucker as their kicker this time around and with veteran Ray Lewis sure to put on another inspired performance on defense, I think the Ravens will find a way to win in Foxborough.
Patriots 20 Ravens 23

So that’s my breakdown of the game. Feel free to have your say in the comment section below and for more Playoff updates, follow me on Twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Written by podgeoh92

January 19, 2013 at 10:00 am

Playoffs Preview- NFC Championship Game

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Mike Smith

After one of the most exciting divisional round weekends NFL history, the Playoffs continue this week with the conference Championship games.

The NFC Championship Game sees the top two seeds go head-to-head in Atlanta as the number 2 seed San Francisco 49ers take on the number 1 seed Falcons.

So without further ado, here are is my preview and prediction for the big game.

San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons

Keys to the Game

Offense

49ers Passing Game

Colin Kapernick

  • The 49ers running game is a constant threat for their opponents with a rushing attack that was the fifth best in the league this season. Led by veteran running back Frank Gore and behind a solid offensive line, the 49ers can depend on Gore and co. in the run game to be successful but it’s their passing game which is the key issue tomorrow night.
  • 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was fantastic last week in their win over the Green Bay Packers with four total touchdowns and over 400 total yards. Now the pressure is on Kapernick to reproduce this week against a struggling Falcons pass defense who will certainly provide plenty of opportunities for targets like Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.

Falcons Running Game

Michael Turner

  • Looking at the Falcons offense now and its the running game that needs to step up and produce. The Falcons were the fourth worst team running the football this year after veteran starter Michael Turner failed to pass the 1,000 barrier for the first time since the 2009 season.
  • The Falcons face another difficult rush defense this week against a 49ers defense led by by their Pro Bowl pair of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman at middle linebacker. If the rushing attack fails to get going for Atlanta, this piles the pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan in the passing game and Ryan is coming off his first ever 200 yard passing performance in the Playoffs.

Defense

49ers Pass Rush

Aldon Smith

  • With Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan putting on poor performances in Playoff football throughout his career (six interceptions in four fames) the last thing he needs is to be facing this ferocious 49ers pass rush. Led by All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith, the Niners pass rush will look to put pressure on Ryan early and often in this one.

Falcons Linebackers

Sean Weatherspoon

  • If the Falcons are going to have any chance of stopping the 49ers running game, they will need the help of their linebackers to combat the Niners running duo of Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore. Look for linebacker Sean Waetherspoon to be given the role of playing quarterback spy on obvious passing downs to prevent Kaepernick from taking off and running.

Prediction

Jim Harbaugh

It all comes down to the number 1 and number 2 seeds for the NFC Championship Game tomorrow night.
After knocking off my preseason pick for the Super Bowl title last week, I think the 49ers will win this one and advance to a Super Bowl of their own.
49ers 26 Falcons 17

So that’s my breakdown of the game.

Feel free to have your say in the comment section below and for more Playoff updates, follow me on Twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

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