The Biggest Concern for Every NFL Team Heading into the Regular Season

Dan Van WieContributor IIISeptember 3, 2012

The Biggest Concern for Every NFL Team Heading into the Regular Season

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    The majority of NFL teams thought they had addressed their major issues during the offseason, only to learn in the final preseason games that new problems have been created that will keep general managers, coaching staffs and coordinators pacing from now up to their opening kickoff.

    For some teams, it was some new injuries that popped up in the final preseason game. For other teams, a particular unit hasn't been performing very well in the preseason, a cause for major concerns.

    In other cases, rookies performed so well that teams are struggling to determine which players deserve to start.

    We will take a sweeping look around the league, highlighting some of the biggest concerns that every team still has to fix prior to the start of their opening game in the 2012 regular season. 

Arizona Cardinals

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    Arizona Cardinals' Biggest Concern: The Cardinals have been struggling in trying to make a final decision about who their starting quarterback will be for the 2012 season.

    According to a tweet by Adam Caplan, the Cardinals have finally reached a verdict.

    John Skelton will start at QB for the Cardinals at least in wk. 1, per source.

    — Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) August 31, 2012

    Now that the hard decision has been made, we can examine what the state of affairs is surrounding Skelton. The answer to that question is good in some parts and miserable in others. The best part is Larry Fitzgerald and the more that Skelton goes to him, the better that Fitzgerald will make him look.

    However, there is a big problem with the offensive line, when you consider that the Cardinals had to place their left tackle Levi Brown on Injured Reserve.

    So, Skelton has the job, but how long can he keep it if the line can't block for him? It would not be a surprise if the job is shared between Skelton and Kevin Kolb, just as it was last year.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Atlanta Falcons' Biggest Concern: The Falcons don't have a tremendous number of concerns right now, but one player that has been raising eyebrows this summer is Michael Turner. Raising eyebrows for the wrong reasons, that is.

    Atlanta has opted to utilize a fast-paced offensive attack this year, going up-tempo. While that seems to play well with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White, it seems like the strategy is leaving running back Michael Turner in the dust. Literally.

    Albert Breer of NFL Network wrote that the perceptions around the NFL are that Turner is losing it and losing it fast.

    What we do know is that whenever Jones-Drew does lose it, it could sure happen fast. There's a perception, league-wide, that it's about to happen to Michael Turner, who has carried a similar three-down load to his Jacksonville counterpart. And that's where the good news is for Jones-Drew. He doesn't seem to be nearing that point quite yet.

    He is looking slower and older, perhaps a sign that the years of being the workhorse running back are finally taking a toll on his body.

    This development may result in the Falcons phasing Turner out of the offense, and giving more touches to Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers is younger, more dynamic and faster. The new offense would lend itself to what Rodgers brings to the table, while the plodding Turner might be needed for shorter down and distance scenarios.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Baltimore Ravens' Biggest Concern: The Ravens have to be concerned about their linebackers.

    First, it was NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs going down with an Achilles tendon injury playing basketball in the offseason. The Ravens seemed to be delighted that Alabama star Courtney Upshaw fell to them in the second round, but Upshaw has not had the cleanest of training camps.

    According to a story by Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun, Upshaw re-injured his shoulder in the final preseason game, so his availability for Week 1 is up in the air. Baltimore is awaiting results from an MRI exam to be done on his sprained shoulder.

    So that leaves Albert McClellan to man Suggs' position. McClellan previously was a special teams guy and the only headlines he was known for involved a charge of domestic violence back in June.

    To go from the NFL Defensive Player of the Year to McClellan is a steep drop in talent, and it will have an impact on the Ravens defensive performance until either Upshaw is back to health or Suggs can return and be effective again.

Buffalo Bills

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    Buffalo Bills' Biggest Concern: I see three areas for concern right now. To me, the biggest one is the lack of continuity on the offensive line.

    Erik Pears was supposed to be the starting right tackle, but due to a groin injury, he needed to sit out the entire preseason. Not taking any snaps leaves me to wonder how effective and efficient the offensive line will be when he is inserted in the starting lineup for Week 1.

    In addition to Pears, center Eric Wood has seen limited snaps as he makes his way back from his second serious leg injury. The Bills had hoped for rookie Cordy Glenn to battle it out with second-year tackle Chris Hairston for the left tackle job, but Hairston was inserted at right tackle to hold the fort down for Pears. So, Glenn claimed the starting job by default, and nobody is sure how much or where Hairston will play when Pears comes back.

    The entire line is impacted by all of this shuffling, which is not the way you want your season to start, especially when your opening opponent is one of your AFC East rivals, the New York Jets, which is the team the Bills have to beat to make a playoff run.

    The other concerns are valid but might be more of a temporary nature. The linebackers have been giving up some big yards on both run and pass plays. Why this might be temporary is that the Bills starting defense has been very vanilla so far in preseason, as Dave Wannstedt has not allowed them to do any stunting or blitzing yet. I suspect that the linebacker play will be much improved once Wannstedt takes off the handcuffs.

    There is also the issue of the final cuts, where Chan Gailey opted to keep only four wide receivers (plus Brad Smith) and four quarterbacks on the final roster. That is as screwy of a positional allotment for personnel as I can ever recall.

    The final concern deals with all of the youth in the secondary. Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, Ron Brooks and Justin Rogers are all either rookies or second-year men. They haven't seen enough or experienced enough yet to know how they will respond when the bullets start to fly in the regular season.

    The Bills are hoping for the best, but they truly need reps and direct game experience to grow and develop. A strong pass rush will certainly help them out as well.

Carolina Panthers

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    Carolina Panthers' Biggest Concern: The Panthers have to be holding their breath when they think about their starting linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason being able to stay healthy in 2012.

    Injuries to their key linebackers put a huge dent in the 2011 defense and if that were to occur again in 2012, at least the Panthers have Luke Kuechly to pick up the slack.

    Watching Kuechly in preseason, he seems to have a magnet built into his body that leads him directly to the ball carrier. When you hear about a player who has a nose for the ball, just watch how Kuechly plays and you will see for yourself.

    As for Davis and Beason, if they can make it through the 2012 season healthy, that bodes very well for the Panthers chances to make a serious run this year.

Chicago Bears

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    Chicago Bears' Biggest Concern: The Bears' biggest concern has to be the inability of the offensive line to protect Jay Cutler.

    The Bears offensive line has allowed 105 sacks over the past two years. If you are thinking that is an enormous amount, you are absolutely correct. Especially when you consider that the Buffalo Bills gave up the fewest sacks last year with only 23. In 2010, both of the Manning brothers were tied with the fewest sacks in the league with only 16. If only Jay Cutler could be so lucky.

    While there is plenty of optimism about the development of the Bears' new weapons on offense, there should still be a certain element of concern and worry about how often can Cutler be allowed to stand there in the pocket and be afforded reasonable time to pick out a target? The answer to that question could very well determine how far the Bears go this year.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Cincinnati Bengals' Biggest Concern: The Bengals have to pray that nothing will happen to A.J. Green this year, because if he gets hurt, the Bengals passing attack would be in real trouble.

    The No. 2 wide receiver last year, Jerome Simpson, signed with the Minnesota Vikings in free agency. The No. 3 receiver from 2011 was tight end Jermaine Gresham, and he sprained his knee in a preseason game. The No. 4 receiver was Andre Caldwell, and he signed with the Denver Broncos. After Caldwell, nobody else on the team caught enough passes to gain 300 yards last year.

    Like I said, if anything happens to Green, Andy Dalton will be absolutely miserable.

Cleveland Browns

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    Cleveland Browns' Biggest Concern: The Browns are relying heavily on rookie running back Trent Richardson this year. Richardson, however, is not close to being 100 percent ready to play due to having a procedure done on his knee.

    It would be appropriate to couch expectations for the beginning of the season until we see how well Richardson is running and how his knee responds to the grinding a day or two after he gets through his first few games in the NFL.

    With so many rookies dotting the Browns offense, they will need the running game to be a big part of the offense to keep defenses honest and lessen the amount of pressure on Brandon Weeden.

    If Richardson's knee doesn't cooperate, then you can just figure opponents will dial up the pressure on Weeden and make life very difficult for the young Browns this year.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Dallas Cowboys' Biggest Concern: The Cowboys have to be concerned about the health of their star tight end Jason Witten (lacerated spleen), who won't play in the season opener.

    But, the biggest concern has to be over how little time the first-team offense has spent together playing as a unit.

    There were injuries on the offensive line, Witten had the spleen injury and Miles Austin had hamstring issues. The offensive line has been juggling people in and out, so the linemen might need to put on name tags when they take their first huddle together on Wednesday night against the New York Giants.

    As for team chemistry and building that offensive line continuity and communication that is so vitally important, well I guess that is hard to do if you aren't really practicing together. The Cowboys offense might need a few weeks to work out the bugs and get into a rhythm.

Denver Broncos

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    Denver Broncos' Biggest Concern: Outside of Von Miller, it appears that the Denver Broncos don't have a very strong linebacking unit.

    Starter D.J. Williams is dealing with a six-game suspension for PEDs, and also will likely face more discipline for driving while impaired. That wipes out half of his season, which means the Broncos will have to rely on Wesley Woodyard to step up.

    Denver was hoping that Nate Irving would become a starting linebacker, but he hasn't panned out so far and is now backing up Miller on the outside. Joe Mays is the starter in the middle. 

    For depth, the Broncos have Keith Brooking, who was a great football player in his prime, but this version is 36 years old, going on 37 soon.

    I suspect that offenses will be attacking the Broncos linebackers all season long.

Detroit Lions

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    Detroit Lions' Biggest Concern: The Lions' biggest concern has to be their secondary.

    The problems began when the Lions made an example out of starting corner Aaron Berry, releasing him from the team following his second arrest in the offseason.

    The Lions were fortunate to pick up an experienced starter in Drayton Florence, who will be paired with Chris Houston. While Florence is probably an upgrade, he hasn't practiced with the team in training camp, so there could be some communication issues and mistakes made in the first few weeks.

    Florence tends to be a gambler, but he can also lose sight of the ball. If that happens against Green Bay and Chicago, he could be targeted early and often.

    Safety Louis Delmas had knee surgery, so he isn't guaranteed to be ready for the opening game against the St. Louis Rams.  The Lions will have to work quickly to get Florence up to speed and see what the status with Delmas is for the Rams game.

Green Bay Packers

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    Green Bay Packers' Biggest Concern: The Packers' biggest concern has to be how to fix the NFL's worst overall defense from the 2011 season.

    The Packers released S Charlie Peprah and DT Anthony Hargrove. Then injuries started popping up that placed the overall depth of the defensive unit in jeopardy. LB Desmond Bishop had surgery on his hamstring and was placed on Injured Reserve. CB Davon House has a dislocated shoulder and Nick Collins still hasn't received medical clearance to return to football. 

    Mike Neal was suspended for four games and second-round pick Jerel Worthy wasn't able to win a starting job on the defensive line at training camp. 

    While the Packers have no qualms with their offense, the jury will be out on the defense until they squash the doubts of their detractors. 

Houston Texans

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    Houston Texans' Biggest Concern: The Texans aren't a team with glaring concerns as they come into the start of the regular season. So, this might be nitpicking, but I see the biggest concern to be keeping starting quarterback Matt Schaub healthy all season long. 

    Yes, the Texans went on to the playoffs without Schaub, who had that painful Lisfranc injury last season, but they didn't advance very far in the playoffs without him. I believe that Schaub is the key factor in how far Houston goes this year in the playoffs. 

    Since this is the last year that Schaub will be under his current contract, you know that he will be motivated to have a banner season to set up a big payday. Houston needs him to play to that level if it wants to go all the way to the Super Bowl this year.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Indianapolis Colts' Biggest Concern: The Colts are busy this year in bringing in bodies, lots of bodies to try to figure out who they wanted to work with in 2012 to start rebuilding the team. At one point in this training camp, the Colts had 55 rookies out of their 90-man squad. 

    As the final days of preseason wind down, in anticipation of Week 1 of the regular season, the Colts are still busy making deals and bringing in more personnel.

    The latest example was acquiring CB Vontae Davis from the Miami Dolphins. The Colts are claiming players off of the waiver wire left and right, as the team made six moves the day after final roster cuts were made.

    What does all of this activity suggest for the team coming together in 2012 for the start of the regular season? All of the personnel coming and going has to be somewhat disconcerting to the remaining members of the team. How do you go to war with somebody on your right side that you don't even know? What if you don't know the guy on your left side, either? 

    As a result, it could be a solid month, maybe longer, before the Colts can even begin to start settling down and attempting to gel as a team. With all of the youth, all of the bodies shuffling in and out, there are going to be plenty of missed assignments, not to mention the rash of typical rookie mistakes. 

    The Colts could very well be drafting in the bottom five again in 2013. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jacksonville Jaguars' Biggest Concern: Coming into the 2012 preseason, I was of the belief that the Jaguars' biggest concern was how Blaine Gabbert would react to his second year starting in the NFL. But after watching some preseason work of Gabbert, I am not as worried about him as I was before.

    I realize it is still preseason, but I am willing to give him a few games in the regular season to see if the growth is for real or not.

    The Jaguars now need to figure out how to work Maurice Jones-Drew back into the offense and eventually to the starting running-back position. 

    Jones-Drew finally decided to report to the Jaguars on Sunday, giving him one week to try to begin to learn the new offense for 2012 under head coach Mike Mularkey.

    Mularkey has already announced that Rashad Jennings will be the Week 1 starter, and that is the correct call, since Jennings has been there in camp working hard all summer and he earned the starting gig for the season opener. Anything less than that would be sending the wrong message to the rest of the team. 

    So, how many weeks will it take Jones-Drew to be back in football shape? He hasn't been involved in any physical contact that we know of, so it might take a while for his body to make the necessary adjustments to the pounding of the NFL again. 

    Gabbert has to be happy to have Jones-Drew back, as his performance is the biggest reason that defenses won't be teeing off on Gabbert on every play. I will be curious to see if Jones-Drew goes through some of the same problems that Chris Johnson encountered when he ended his holdout last year. 

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Kansas City Chiefs' Biggest Concern: The Chiefs have to find a way to get their two big star wide receivers involved in the offense and clicking with Matt Cassel

    I researched the production of Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin over the preseason, and it wasn't very encouraging.  If you combine the efforts of Bowe and Baldwin for the entire preseason, we are talking about 10 receptions for a total of 80 yards.

    While Bowe works his way back into the offense after his holdout, the Chiefs will probably find defenses that are keying on Jamaal Charles, forcing the Chiefs to beat them by passing the ball. 

    The fate of the Chiefs in 2012 probably rests on how well their wide receivers perform. If the answer to that is not very good, then that might also be the Chiefs' last straw with regard to their hopes that Cassel is the franchise's best option at quarterback. 

Miami Dolphins

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    Miami Dolphins' Biggest Concern: The Dolphins will be evaluating the myriad of wide receivers that hit the streets when the final round of cuts were made all around the NFL.

    With the current state of talent they have at wide receiver, or better yet, the lack of talent they have at wide receiver, the Dolphins should be doing everything they can do to give Ryan Tannehill some support on offense. 

    As things stand now, I suspect that every team that is facing Miami early this season will be looking to force Tannehill to throw the football to beat them. Taking away the running game and making him pass the ball would seem to make tremendous sense. 

    We have seen how bad the receivers are via the Hard Knocks episodes on HBO. The Dolphins haven't shown very well in the preseason, and it looks like that could continue on into the regular season as well. 

Minnesota Vikings

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    Minnesota Vikings' Biggest Concern: The Vikings have to be concerned that they don't rush Adrian Peterson back into games in the regular season before he is truly ready to play. 

    The temptation will be very strong for Minnesota to want to play Peterson, and he will probably be doing as best a sales job as he can to the trainers and coaching staff in convincing them that he is ready, but can you imagine the fallout if Peterson reinjures that knee in his first game back? 

    Since this is a franchise player we are talking about, Peterson's short-term and long-term health are primary concerns for the Vikings. He is your bread-and-butter player and they need to make sure he can walk, before he can run.

New England Patriots

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    New England Patriots' Biggest Concern: The Patriots' biggest concern has to be the state of their offensive line. 

    New England has been making a number of moves all over their football team, making adjustments on both the offensive and defensive lines. But since the offensive line is charged with protecting Tom Brady, that is the unit we will focus on right here. 

    During the past offseason, Matt Light retired, and since Brian Waters hasn't reported to the Patriots yet, it sure looks like he is following Light's lead. Free agent Robert Gallery also decided to retire. The team released center Dan Koppen and Logan Mankins had knee surgery.

    What this implies is that there is quite a lot of uncertainty with the line, as the unit that has been in place for years is a thing of the past. 

    While the Patriots work the kinks out, it will be interesting to see how many more hits Brady takes, or how many times he is pressured during the first few regular-season games. Teams will have studied the New York Giants' blueprint for success on how to attack the Patriots' offense, and that will probably be copied throughout the league. 

New Orleans Saints

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    New Orleans Saints' Biggest Concern: Who is the "one voice" that the Saints will be listening to and following during the first six weeks? Will it be interim head coach Aaron Kromer's, or will it be Drew Brees'? What happens when Kromer and Brees reach a situation where they don't see eye to eye on something? Will that create a split in the locker room?

    There are so many questions surrounding the 2012 New Orleans Saints team. The Saints did a nice job in the offseason of adding some talent on defense to help alleviate all of the suspensions that they were hit with as a result of the "Bountygate" penalties. 

    But, playing the whole year without Sean Payton is going to test the resolve of the players, front office, coaching staff and the fans, who can hopefully show some patience with the unique situation and just let this year play out. 

    Joe Vitt will be ready to take the ball from coach Kromer when it is his turn, and they will continue to put their best foot forward, counting down the weeks. 

New York Giants

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    New York Giants' Biggest Concern: The Giants thought they were over all of their injury issues in the secondary after what they experienced in 2011. But, the 2012 version is starting off with injury concerns again, and it has to be worrying the Giants brass.

    Terrell Thomas once again is hurt and will be out of commission, as New York has placed him on injured reserve.  Prince Amukamara will miss the season opener due to his high-ankle sprain.

    Opening up the season against Tony Romo and NFC East foe Dallas Cowboys, you would like to have your full complement of defensive backs to contain Romo's wide receivers, but that simply won't be the case on Wednesday night when the teams square off.

    In addition to the injuries, the Giants will have to guard against becoming complacent coming off the big win in Super Bowl XLVI. It is difficult to stay hungry after you win it all, and the Giants learned their lesson when they beat the Patriots the first time, but failed to repeat. We will see if this year is any different. 

New York Jets

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    New York Jets' Biggest Concern: The Jets' lack of offensive production in the preseason has to be a concern to everybody connected with the organization.

    Based on everything that they have demonstrated so far, there isn't much to go on from a confidence standpoint for anybody that starts on offense. They have to be wondering behind the scenes what is going on, and does anybody have a clue how to turn this thing around?

    The Jets only have themselves to blame for this predicament. They took on Tim Tebow without fully recognizing all of the ramifications and potential downside he creates. They let Plaxico Burress go without securing an adequate replacement for him. They brought in Tony Sparano to run the offense, but he had trouble running the offense in Miami.

    For the entire preseason, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow failed to lead the team to a single touchdown on offense. The lone touchdown generated in the preseason was orchestrated by Greg McElroy.

    Another major concern is what is going on at right tackle for the Jets. It was no secret that the Jets were very concerned about Wayne Hunter's play, until he was traded away for Jason Smith.

    But Smith and the other candidate that will draw the assignment to try to slow down Mario Williams of the Buffalo Bills is Austin Howard. Neither player is thought to be in Williams' class, and you know he will want to put on a show in his first game after signing the big free-agency contract.

    It could be a long home opener for the Jets on Sunday.

Oakland Raiders

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    Oakland Raiders' Biggest Concern: The Raiders are probably wondering what is going on with Carson Palmer. During the 2012 preseason, Palmer finally had the benefit of a full training camp and OTA's to work with his wide receivers and the rest of the offense to establish better chemistry than they had in 2011. 

    So with all of this extra work in place, how did Palmer perform in the preseason? Well, he saw action in the first three preseason games. In total, Palmer completed 33 passes out of 56 attempts for 321 yards, zero touchdown passes and four interceptions. His highest passer rating in any of the three games was 53.5. 

    It is not like Palmer is some green-behind-the-ears rookie that is overwhelmed by playing in the NFL. This is a grizzled veteran that is supposed to be able to step out on the field and pick apart NFL defenses. The Raiders paid dearly to acquire Palmer, but so far, he is not giving back very much on their investment. 

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Philadelphia Eagles' Biggest Concern: The Eagles have to be concerned whether they can protect Michael Vick enough to keep him healthy for the 2012 season. 

    While the left tackle is the key tackle spot on most NFL teams, it is actually the right tackle on the Eagles that protects Vick's blind side, since he is left-handed.

    Therefore, while it would be nice for Jason Peters to be back in the fold, the Eagles are hopeful that the combination of King Dunlap and Demetress Bell will be adequate to plug in and cause minimal damage. 

    Vick simply has to learn how to avoid putting himself in so many potentially hazardous situations. Like waiting until the last second to throw a pass and then promptly banging his thumb or throwing hand off the helmet of his own lineman. Or, when getting a first down on a scramble, instead of sliding, deciding to run for another 10 yards, taking a big hit and winding up hurt in the process. 

    As we get older, we are supposed to get wiser, but somehow that whole concept has managed to elude Vick. He promises that he will make better choices with the ball this year, but that is another thing that we will just have to sit back and observe to see if he has truly learned his lesson. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Pittsburgh Steelers' Biggest Concern: Ask any Steelers fan what their biggest issues are for 2012, and they will quickly tell you that they have no issues at all. Steelers fans crack me up. 

    In prior seasons, I have traditionally been higher on Pittsburgh coming into a new year, but this year just doesn't give me a very positive vibe about the team. 

    We can start with the devastating injuries to rookies David DeCastro and Sean Spence. We can talk about the uninspired play of rookie tackle Mike Adams, who doesn't appear ready to play in prime time. 

    What about the knees of James Harrison or the health of Rashard Mendenhall? How many weeks before Mike Wallace is on the same page with the rest of the offense under new coordinator Todd Haley? 

    Will the Steelers miss the veteran leadership that left the team due to a number of longtime players walking away from the game? 

    Pittsburgh will still find a way to be competitive, but I don't see the Steelers winning the AFC North again this year. Will they make the playoffs? That seems like a valid question to ask right now. 

San Diego Chargers

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    San Diego Chargers' Biggest Concern: Are left tackle Jared Gaither's back issues bad enough that he won't be able to open up the season with San Diego? As important as the left-tackle position is for any NFL team, how about starting a left tackle that is a rookie undrafted free agent? Well, that is exactly what the Chargers are going to do in Week 1, and the UDFA in question is Mike Harris.

    Not only are the Chargers concerned about this development, but so is Philip Rivers, since Harris will be protecting his blind side. Rivers is looking to have a bounce-back year but this has to be disconcerting to the veteran quarterback, not knowing how much time he will be afforded to throw the ball on every play.

    Besides all of that, the Chargers also will be worried about the health of Ryan Mathews, who suffered a broken collarbone and will need to be monitored as the team goes into the start of the regular season. 

San Francisco 49ers

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    San Francisco 49ers' Biggest Concern: The 49ers are another team like the Houston Texans that doesn't appear to have very many concerns coming into the 2012 season.

    While this might be deemed as a pleasant problem to have for other teams, I ask that you indulge me for a second. Here are the potential high-impact skill players that are expecting to be gaining some touches from Alex Smith in 2012: Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James, Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn, A.J. Jenkins, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. 

    I counted 11 skill players on offense, which means that on every single play, Alex Smith can make one of the 11 players happy, while the other 10 are asked to block or to watch from the sidelines. Now, how many of this group of 11 have an ego that will keep them from being content to either block or watch the majority of the time?

    This might be much ado about nothing, but then again, we could be on to something. I will be looking to see if there are any traces or signs of discontent as the season rolls along and we see which players are getting steady touches and which ones aren't. 

Seattle Seahawks

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    Seattle Seahawks' Biggest Concern: The Seahawks are putting their trust and faith in Russell Wilson to begin the 2012 season, so it would make sense that they are concerned about how he will perform as a rookie right out of the gate. 

    If Seattle is to contend this year, it can't afford a slow start to the campaign. The 49ers figure to be the class of the division, so if Seattle has designs on a wild-card slot, it will have to be approaching the 10-win mark if it wants a realistic shot. That doesn't leave much room for error. 

    Wilson already will have the pressure of Matt Flynn standing there on the sidelines, waiting for his chance. So, there will be some internal pressure that Wilson will contend with, until enough games have come and gone that he can begin to relax more on the field.

    The Seahawks' offensive line will also play a very key role in how much he will be allowed to flourish in that offense, or if he will be running around to save his life. 

    A bad start for the rookie this year will obviously hurt his self-confidence, but that is something that Pete Carroll has probably considered and doesn't seem overly worried about it. 

St. Louis Rams

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    St. Louis Rams' Biggest Concern: The Rams have allowed starting quarterback Sam Bradford to be sacked a mind-boggling 70 times in his last 26 games. Taking a quarterback that was injury-prone in college and allowing him to take that kind of a beating in the pros is a surefire recipe for disaster. 

    Bradford missed six games last year, and the number of games missed this year could increase if the Rams' offensive-line protection hasn't significantly improved under new head coach Jeff Fisher. 

    I am confident that Fisher has studied the Rams enough on tape to see what kind of plays were resulting in the most sacks, and eliminated them from the playbook.

    What Fisher has created for 2012 that will allow Bradford to absorb less punishment can only help prolong his career and allow the Rams to stay more competitive on a weekly basis. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Biggest Concern: The Buccaneers' defense allowed more points to be scored on them in 2011 than any other team in the NFL. The Bucs gave up an average of 30.9 points per game, which is the kind of scoring that isn't a good fit with the current Tampa Bay offense. 

    So, finding players that will allow them to initiate some more stops on defense, create some turnovers and not give up as many big plays is all part of the agenda for new head coach Greg Schiano. 

    Drafting Alabama safety Mark Barron to prevent the big plays was a good start. Since the Bucs announced their final cuts, they went out and claimed three players off of waivers, as there were a number of holes on the roster that still required fixing. 

    The Bucs won't make it all the way back this year, but they are definitely headed in the right direction. 

Tennessee Titans

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    Tennessee Titans' Biggest Concern: The Titans are basically feeding Jake Locker to the wolves to begin the 2012 season. The wolves, in this case, are actually disguised as Patriots, Chargers, Lions and Texans, as those are the first four teams that Locker will be asked to face. 

    The Titans view their team as a playoff contender, so it is highly doubtful that they will be willing to put up with either a 1-3 or 0-4 start.

    Looking at that opening-month schedule, it is very possible that could easily be the Titans' record, which then puts Mike Munchak in the awkward position to either bail on Locker, or bail on the season. 

    My guess is that he would bail on Locker and turn the offense over to Matt Hasselbeck by the first game of October. Now if Locker is able to go 2-2 in the first four games, then it is full steam ahead for him to run the table. 

Washington Redskins

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    Washington Redskins' Biggest Concern: The Redskins are excited about their new-look offense in 2012, but can their defense raise the bar as well? More specifically, how will the Redskins' secondary fare in the NFC East going up against Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Michael Vick? 

    Leading up to the start of the 2012 season, the Redskins learned that safety Tanard Jackson will be suspended indefinitely by the NFL for an infraction of the NFL substance-abuse policy.

    Another development has to do with DeAngelo Hall moving over from corner to play a nickel-safety role, which would then bump Cedric Griffin and Josh Wilson to play CB. 

    Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams will be starting at safety, so they will be asked to protect the Redskins from getting burned deep. With the talent they face in the NFC East, that is no small task. Are they up to the challenge? Guess we will find out soon enough. 

     

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