One Burning Question for Every NFL Team This Offseason
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Every NFL offseason brings about some change for every team. Even the best teams in the NFL must change in order to avoid growing stale and allowing the competition to catch up to them.
Whether a team chooses to embrace that change or cling to the past, they will face questions the following season.
So what are the questions at the front of everyone's mind for each NFL team this offseason?
Carson Palmer is with his third different team in four years.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Is Carson Palmer the answer at quarterback?
Carson Palmer could not possibly be worse than the mess of quarterbacks the Cardinals rolled with in 2012. Combined, Arizona's signal-callers put up a 63.1 passer rating last season, the worst in the NFL. As a team, they had the second-fewest passing touchdowns (11) and the fifth-fewest passing yards (3,005).
At the very least, the Cardinals are hoping Palmer can make better use of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had his lowest totals in receptions and yards since 2006 last season, and he also had the fewest touchdowns of his career.
Is that hope misplaced, though?
Palmer was one of the least accurate deep passers in the NFL last year, hitting his target on just 31.7 percent of throws that traveled 20 yards or more, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Luckily for the Cardinals, Palmer was one of the best under pressure, according to PFF, with 63.5 percent of his throws hitting their target when a defender was closing in on him.
Palmer has not been the same quarterback since a knee injury in the 2005 playoffs and an elbow injury in the 2007 season, but although he wasn't surrounded by much talent in 2012, it was the best season of his career since '07. If he can continue to build on that, the Cardinals offense should immediately be upgraded over its 2012 form.
Don't worry, Falcons, Matt Ryan will just sit here and wait.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Question: When will the Falcons sign Matt Ryan to a contract extension?
When you find a franchise quarterback, you don't let him go. Thus, it's not a question of whether the Falcons will re-sign quarterback Matt Ryan, but when it will happen and what the dollar figure will be. Spotrac predicts that Ryan could earn $145 million on an eight-year deal, but what's the precedent?
Several quarterbacks have already earned massive paydays this offseason. First came Joe Flacco's mega-deal with the Ravens, and then there was Tony Romo's big contract with the Cowboys. Although Matt Ryan only won his first playoff game this year, he might be just as qualified for such a contract as Romo (more on him later).
In fact, Ryan ranked fifth in passer rating (99.1) and touchdown passes (32) last season, and he also ranked first in completion percentage (68.62). Of course, throwing to wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones may be helping his cause, but the Falcons would be foolish to think they'd be better off with someone else under center.
Same ol' Ravens?
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Are the Ravens better off after all the changes?
As mentioned in the opening slide, every team encounters some change from year to year. Few teams encounter as much change coming off a Super Bowl win as the Ravens have this year, though. They lost linebackers Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed, and cornerback Cary Williams.
They made some healthy additions in linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff, and defensive tackles Marcus Spears and Chris Canty, but in losing Reed and Lewis, the Ravens lost 28 combined years of experience. They lost more than just players; they lost emotional and mental leaders of the defense.
Replacing those players won't be as easy as finding players with comparable skill sets. Perhaps, however, it was time for change. The 2012 season marked the first time since 2007 that the Ravens didn't rank within the top 10 in both total defense and scoring defense. A youth movement may be just what the Ravens needed.
For now, though, the questions will persist until we see the product on the field.
USA TODAY Sports
Question: Will C.J. Spiller emerge as an elite running back?
Thanks to an aloof coaching staff in 2013, C.J. Spiller didn't get as many touches as he deserved in 2012. But new head coach Doug Marrone has shown that he's not afraid to run the ball, as his Syracuse offense ranked first in the Big East in rush attempts per game in 2012.
Even a limited role didn't stop Spiller from breaking out as one of the league's most explosive backs last season, though. He ranked third in carries of over 12 yards, and second in carries of over 20 yards, according to Pro Football Reference.
Spiller proved he's ready for the spotlight, and if he continues to produce at that rate with a heavier workload—and he sounds convinced a heavier workload lies in his future—he could emerge as one of the best backs in the game, period. The true measure will be how he measures up when asked to carry the offense to victory.
Cam Newton: No. 1 in your programs...No. 1 in your hearts?
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Is Cam Newton ready to be a team captain?
No one should hold Cam Newton at fault for wanting to be a team captain. The hunger for more is a necessary component of the competitive drive that separates the top quarterbacks from the rest of the league.
There's no reason Newton can't be a team captain. Last year, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was one of the very rare instances in which a rookie has earned the "C" patch. For Newton, though, it's about much more than the patch. Via the Charlotte Observer:
I recognize—and everyone knows around the league—when you're a team captain that's not just a patch on the jersey. You're holding yourself to a higher standard with being accountable. I'm going about it each and every day and trying to make that happen.
Will one offseason wipe away all the memories of Newton's sulking? Panthers head coach Ron Rivera referred to Newton as "Mr. Mopeyhead" during Newton's rookie year, and left tackle Jordan Gross doesn't sound optimistic that Newton is worthy of the distinction over himself and co-captain Steve Smith.
In a perfect world, Newton can put his head down, work hard and wow the coaching staff and teammates alike on his way to being voted a captain. For now, though, Newton's focus should be on being the best quarterback he can be. If he does that, the honors and distinctions will follow.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Is Jay Cutler who the Bears thought he was?
In 2009, the Bears gave up first-round picks in back-to-back years, an additional third-round pick and quarterback Kyle Orton in exchange for Jay Cutler. That's not the kind of price you pay for a quarterback you're hoping to just get by with; that's what you pay for a quarterback you hope to lead you to a Super Bowl.
Cutler nearly did that when he led the Bears to the NFC championship game in his second season with the team, but the Bears have now missed the playoffs in back-to-back years. Furthermore, Cutler's numbers have been closer to "game manager" status than "dominant quarterback" status, with a pedestrian 81.9 passer rating and 59.6 completion percentage since 2010.
There are also concerns that Cutler takes too many sacks, with a whopping 148 of them in the past four seasons (third-most in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger). Fortunately, the Bears took a few measures to improve their offensive line this offseason, and the coaching staff has worked to speed up Cutler's internal clock during practice.
Cutler will enter the final year of his contract in 2013, and with a brand new coaching staff at the helm, this could be a make-or-break season for Cutler in Chicago.
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Is Andy Dalton "the guy"?
From his rookie year to his second year, Andy Dalton improved in every efficiency indicator—completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating. He avoided the sophomore slump and took the step from being a "good" quarterback to a "very good" quarterback.
Can he make the next step to become "great," or even "elite?"
Surely, he'll have more weapons at his disposal than ever after the Bengals drafted tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round and running back Giovani Bernard in the second round of this year's draft. Now, with two legitimate receiving threats at tight end, one of the best young perimeter receivers in the game in A.J. Green and a backfield that also includes short-yardage beast BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Bengals offense could be one of the best in the game in 2013.
With Dalton under center, the Bengals have enjoyed their first back-to-back winning seasons of in the Marvin Lewis era (hard to believe, but true). Still, there will be questions about Dalton's ability and ranking among the top quarterbacks in the NFL until he proves it in the playoffs—just ask Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
On that note, the Bengals can only hope that analogy ends as well as it did for their division rivals.
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Question: Will the revolving door of quarterbacks and coaching staffs stop spinning?
You could set your watch by the regularity with which the Browns cycle through quarterbacks and coaching staffs. In 2013, the Browns will have their fourth different coaching staff in the past six years. And if Brandon Weeden isn't named the starter, the Browns will enter the season with their fifth different starting quarterback in the past six years.
Can we get a little stability, please?
New head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner could provide a lift for the fledgling offense, and the team is loaded with young talent on both sides of the ball. Of course, the success of the team will rest on much more than just the QB-HC combo, but with how long the Browns have been searching for the right mix at both spots, they will be the ones under the most scrutiny this season.
Too many Cowboys seasons have ended in disappointment.
USA TODAY Sports
Question: Can Tony Romo take it to the next level with his new contract?
Some thought Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo would be playing out the last year of his deal this year in a "prove-it" situation for a top-dollar contract next year—a la Joe Flacco in 2012. Well, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had different plans in mind and paid his star quarterback well before the expiration date on his old contract.
Now, Romo is perhaps under even more intense scrutiny than ever before. Since he is already paid as one of the best quarterbacks in the game, people will expect him to perform at that level.
From a statistical standpoint, he has proven himself to be amongst the top-10 quarterbacks in the NFL. Over the past three seasons, Romo has the ninth-highest passer rating, the eighth-most touchdowns and the fourth-highest completion percentage.
Those are great bullet points on the resumé, but playoff success is one bullet point that continues to elude Romo. As unfortunate a circumstance as it is for a quarterback, postseason wins have become a measuring stick for the position. Until Romo earns more than one, fans will wonder whether he truly deserves all that money.
Rookie running back Montee Ball could be asked to carry a heavy load for the Broncos.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Can the Broncos discover a legitimate ground attack?
In 2012, the Broncos offense was one of the league's most feared units, led by quarterback Peyton Manning. Continued dominance at the quarterback position should follow in 2013, as well.
Where they struggled, however, was running the ball. They averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 2012, the eighth-lowest average in the NFL, despite having the ninth-most rushing attempts.
So, clearly, they'd be very happy with more balance in their offense, but they can only attain that with more consistency in the ground game.
The Broncos released running back Willis McGahee earlier this offseason, thereby saying goodbye to their leading rusher over the past two seasons. Knowshon Moreno took McGahee's spot in the lineup after McGahee went down with an injury last season, but as Moreno battles back from a knee surgery of his own, there's no guarantee he will make the final roster.
It looks like the burden could fall on rookie Montee Ball, drafted by the Broncos in the second round with the 58th overall pick in this year's draft. Ball is no stranger to being a bell-cow, though, after totaling 924 carries in his college career at Wisconsin, including a whopping 356 as a senior.
On a team without very many question marks, the Broncos don't have much to be concerned about, but the running game presents the only potential weak link.
USA TODAY Sports
Question: Can the Lions be more balanced on offense?
Matthew Stafford set the NFL record for most pass attempts in a single season with 727 in 2012, and he also set the record for most pass attempts in a two-year span with 1,390.
The Lions spent much of the 2012 season playing from behind, so a decrease in Stafford's attempts in 2013 would likely be a good indication that their season is going a bit better.
They added running back Reggie Bush via free-agency this offseason, and although the elusive and explosive back was considered to be little more than a role-player in his first few seasons, he shattered that stigma with with two consecutive seasons of over 250 touches in Miami.
They have the personnel, but the Lions now have to prove they know how to use it.
Green Bay Packers
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Who will be the bell-cow in the running game?
The Packers have ranked within the top 10 in scoring offense in each of Aaron Rodgers' five years as starting quarterback. They ranked first and fifth in scoring the past two years, respectively, despite a running game that has ranked in the 20's in most major categories. Because of a revolving door of backs over the past two seasons, the team has averaged a mediocre 3.9 yards per carry, the seventh-lowest average in the NFL.
They are also the only team without a single back who had over 135 rushing attempts in the past two seasons.
In drafting Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in the second round and UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round this year, the Packers all but confessed they needed an upgrade at the position. That being said, it was running back Alex Green who got the first-team reps this spring, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Green was the Packers leading back with 135 carries in 2012, but he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and never reached the end zone. The Packers may be looking to get it done by committee in their backfield, but as I wrote last week, no team should ever complain about having a bell-cow in their backfield.
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Can Arian Foster return to "real" dominance?
Okay, so 1,641 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns is nothing to complain about.
If only volume was the real measure of dominant play in the NFL. On a per-carry basis, however, the 2012 season was the worst of Texans running back Arian Foster's four-year career.
He averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his first three seasons, which ranked ninth among starting backs during that time. In 2012, he averaged just 4.1 yards per carry, ranking him 22nd out of 44 qualifying running backs. He also ranked 53rd out of 83 qualifying running backs in success rate, according to Advanced NFL Stats.
Poor offensive line play may have been part of the reason for his struggles, but it's fair to wonder if touching the ball 1,115 times in the past three seasons has caught up with Foster.
One down season is not enough to write Foster off, but if his production doesn't bounce back this year, questions will begin to mount in regards to his long-term future.
Andrew Luck was under constant pressure last year, and not from the media.
USA TODAY Sports
Question: Can the Colts reduce the pressure on Andrew Luck?
In football, the word "pressure" can be used to reflect one of two things: figurative pressure from the media or literal pressure from defenders.
Andrew Luck was under a great deal of media pressure as a rookie, following in the footsteps of Peyton Manning who was drafted in the same slot by the same team as Luck 14 years prior. Luck didn't put up the eye-popping stats of his rookie compatriots, but with an 11-5 record, it's safe to say the Colts got more than they expected out of Year 1 of the Luck era.
He did it all while putting up with literal pressure from defenders, too, as his offensive line allowed him to be pressured on 38.1 percent of his drop-backs, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the fourth-highest percentage for any starting quarterback in the NFL.
The Colts took great measures to improve their offensive line this offseason, adding tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas via free agency. Regardless, it would be hard for the unit to be much worse than it was in pass protection last year.
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Is this Blaine Gabbert's last chance to prove himself?
With a career stat line of a 53.8 completion percentage, 5.6 yards per attempt, a 70.2 passer rating and 62 sacks in 25 career games, Blaine Gabbert hasn't earned the starting spot through his play.
Thus, it's no surprise that Chad Henne is said to be getting a legitimate shot at the starting quarterback job, according to John Oesher of the team's official website. Henne's numbers were comparable to Gabbert's in 2012, and with a new coaching staff, the Jaguars are making the right call by allowing for an open competition. If Henne were to win the job, it would be a huge fall from grace for Gabbert, who was considered by many to be the best quarterback in the 2011 draft class.
It's more likely that, with Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell reportedly scouting the top quarterbacks in the 2014 draft, Gabbert will likely have one more chance to prove he's the guy.
Kansas City Chiefs
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Will this trade acquisition at quarterback work out better than the last one?
Trading for Matt Cassel in 2009 didn't work out in the long run, so the Chiefs opted to trade for another veteran quarterback this offseason. This time, though, they chose one with a little more experience than the last one they traded for.
Alex Smith had the third-highest passer rating in the league along with the third-highest YPA through nine games in 2013, just before he went down with a concussion. Unfortunately, this subsequently opened the door for Colin Kaepernick to take his spot.
Now, under the tutelage of new head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs are hopeful to have a legitimate passing game for the first time in a very long time, having ranked in the bottom half of the league in total passing yards in every year since 2005.
The Chiefs will likely run a West Coast offense under Reid, but the coaching staff is keeping its options open and has even been incorporating some Pistol Spread formations at OTAs, according to Adam Teicher the Kansas City Star.
That could bode well for Smith, who has some wheels. The chiefs coaching staff is also pleased with what they've seen so far from Smith overall.
"He's comfortable with what we're doing," offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said, via The Wichita Eagle. "He's understanding the terminology, and he's orchestrating that at the line of scrimmage. We're really pleased with where he's at right now."
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Will Ryan Tannehill continue to grow?
With all the high-priced free agents the Dolphins have added this offseason, perhaps the worst thing that could happen now would be for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to fall into the dreaded sophomore slump.
Tannehill showed some signs of growth last year; he twice went four-straight games without throwing an interception, and was the second-most accurate quarterback in the NFL under pressure. That's plenty for him to build upon next year.
From 2008-2011, 10 quarterbacks who were drafted played more than eight games during their rookie season. Four of them saw their numbers increase in completion percentage, yards per pass attempt and passer rating the next season, and four more had their numbers increase in at least two of those three categories.
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Can Adrian Peterson become the first back in NFL history with back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons?
The Vikings are clearly hopeful that quarterback Christian Ponder can make a big leap in his third year, and adding Greg Jennings may provide a solid option in the passing game (if he can stay healthy). But unless Ponder suddenly evolves from a game manager into a dominant quarterback, running back Adrian Peterson will still be the barometer for the offense.
Only seven running backs in NFL history have rushed for over 2,000 yards in a season. None of them have done it twice. Peterson wants to become the first ever to do it twice, and in unprecedented fashion, doing it twice in a row.
"Obviously, the first goal is to win a championship,'' Peterson said, via USA Today. "I would sacrifice 1,000 yards rushing to win a Super Bowl. But I want to be the first back to have back to back 2,000-yard seasons."
He can put talk of sacrifice aside, though, because he would likely need to reach 2,000 yards again for the Vikings to be a legitimate contender for the playoffs.
New England Patriots
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Question: What will the pass-catching corps look like?
Wes Welker's departure in free-agency, Brandon Lloyd's release, Rob Gronkowski's back and forearm, and Aaron Hernandez's investigation on murder charges; these are the factors surrounding the Patriots' top four pass-catchers in terms of receptions from last year.
Tom Brady is no stranger to changes in the offense, but this may be the most change he has ever endured in one offseason. In fact, running back Stevan Ridley's nine career receptions from Brady are more than any other player on the roster has caught from the Patriots quarterback.
The wide receiver spot is shaky, at best, with a nearly complete turnover at the position. The Patriots will bring back just two receivers from last year's line-up in Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater (more of a special teams ace), and they are also breaking in two rookies in Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce along with several free-agent signings.
But with an offense that's been built around its two tight ends—and not just any two tight ends, but two of the best in the game, who have combined for 362 receptions, 4,619 yards and 56 touchdowns over the past three seasons—there's plenty of room for concern.
New Orleans Saints
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Question: How many wins is head coach Sean Payton really worth?
If you hadn't noticed, had been living under a rock or some combination of the two, the New Orleans Saints were without head coach Sean Payton last season as the team was punished for the bounty scandal widely referred to as "Bountygate."
The ensuing season went about as well as one would expect when a team loses its head coach for the season. An 0-4 skid marked the beginning of their season, and in failing to get over .500 at any point in the season, the Saints had their first losing mark since 2007.
Things were successful before Bountygate, and now that normalcy has been restored, the expectation is a return to prominence for the Saints. They are fighting for a playoff spot in what should be a highly competitive NFC South, and they can't afford a slow start such as the one they suffered in 2013.
Payton is a great coach, and he should get the team back on track, but a lot has changed since he left. The team is going on its second new defensive coordinator in two seasons and has turned over quite a bit of its personnel. His true impact as a coach will be measured this season.
New York Giants
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Can the depleted Giants defense survive?
Big Blue's defense is looking littler as we approach the 2013 season.
Defensive tackle Chris Canty, safety Kenny Phillips, defensive end Osi Umenyiora and linebacker Chase Blackburn have all left New York's defense this offseason. On top of that, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul's status for Week 1 remains unclear as he recovers from back surgery.
All this comes in the wake of a season in which the Giants defense underperformed across the board, ranking 28th in passing yards and 25th in rushing yards, including 29th in passing yards per attempt and 28th in rushing yards per attempt.
Change can be a good thing, but the Giants may have a tough task on their hands if they wish to keep their defense together with so much talent on its way out the door.
New York Jets
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Who will be the starting quarterback?
After turning the ball over 52 times from 2011-2012, quarterback Mark Sanchez seemed to have done all he could to give away the starting job. Wisely, however, the Jets are allowing for a competition between Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith this season.
The West Virginia product slipped all the way into the second round after many scouts considered him the best quarterback in this year's draft, and that was his first lesson in learning that nothing will be handed to him in his NFL career.
"We will continue to look at both of them, split reps, and as soon as we know ‘Hey, he’s the guy’ we’ll let you know," said quarterback coach David Lee. "But right now we don’t know."
Matt Flynn is the guy, ready or not.
USA TODAY Sports
Question: Is Matt Flynn the quarterback the Raiders have been looking for?
The revolving door of Raiders starting quarterbacks continues, and regardless of who wins the job, they will be using their sixth different Week 1 starting quarterback in the past eight years.
Right now, though, it's Matt Flynn's job to lose.
"Matt's our starting quarterback as we go forward right now," Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said following OTAs, via the Contra Costa Times, "and until the competition dictates otherwise, that's where we're going."
The Raiders gave up just a fifth-round pick and a conditional late-round pick in 2015 for the journeyman quarterback, and Flynn restructured his deal so that while his 2013 salary is fully guaranteed, not one penny of his $5 million salary in 2014 is guaranteed.
Thus, if he's not the answer, the ramifications will be much smaller than they were when the Raiders had to find out the same thing about Carson Palmer the hard way. Whether the commitment is big or small, the Raiders and their fans would probably like to bring closure to their long-standing search for a franchise quarterback.
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Question: What will the offense look like?
Eagles fans grew accustomed to certain things from their offense. The West Coast brand of offense under former head coach Andy Reid was ingrained in the Eagles' offense for over a decade.
All that is being thrown through a loop with the arrival of new head coach Chip Kelly, though, whose Oregon Ducks out-paced their opponents in the NCAA by running a high-tempo read-option style offense throughout the last half-decade.
Will the Eagles use a similar offense this year? Nobody knows at this point, but it may depend on the quarterback, which has also yet to be determined.
With so much left undecided at this point, the offense remains ambiguous and surrounded with questions.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport
Question: Can the Steelers rediscover their running game?
The Steelers running game has lost its smash-mouth ways. The franchise itself has often become synonymous with a road-grading rushing attack, but their 3.7 YPA average was 28th in the NFL in 2012.
But who will get the bulk of the carries this year?
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, running back coach Kirby Wilson confirmed that there's no official pecking order yet. Jonathan Dwyer was on the trade block during the draft, but, according to Jim Wexell of SteelCityInsider.net, Dwyer was getting first-team reps during mini-camp.
The team did draft Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell in the second round of this year's draft, though. He averaged 4.99 YPA in college, and became renowned by scouts for his toughness between the tackles. Baron Batch and Isaac Redman are returning role-players in the backfield, while LaRod Stephens-Howling is there as well.
Thus, the options are on the table for the Steelers. The question now is: will those options provide the answer?
San Diego Chargers
USA TODAY Sports
Question: Can head coach Mike McCoy salvage quarterback Philip Rivers?
For awhile, Philip Rivers was on his way to being one of the most prolific passers of all-time. In fact, his 8.6 YPA from 2008-2010 was the highest of any quarterback by a landslide, with Aaron Rodgers' 7.99 mark ranking second. His 103.8 passer rating was also the highest in that time span.
Since then, he has put up 7.42 YPA (13th out of 29 qualifying QBs) and an 88.7 passer rating (12th). Those numbers aren't awful, in their own right, but his 35 interceptions are the fourth-most and his 47 turnovers are the second-most in the NFL in that same span.
The Chargers will likely run a much more up-tempo offense with shorter drops and more rhythm passing, as both new head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt having implemented such offenses in their previous stops. Rivers has never played in such an offense, having worked with Cam Cameron and Norv Turner in vertical style passing games throughout his career.
With the way the past two seasons have gone for Rivers, change could be a good thing.
San Francisco 49ers
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Who will man the No. 2 WR spot?
Losing wide receiver Michael Crabtree for an extended period of time to an Achilles tear was not how the 49ers envisioned beginning their quest to get back to the Super Bowl this season. The same could be said of ACL/PCL surgery for wide receiver Mario Manningham, although that took place way back in December.
That means both of the 49ers' leading pass-catchers from 2012 are in jeopardy for Week 1.
The 49ers traded for wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who, according to Grant Cohn of the team's official wesbite, has been lining up primarily in the slot during minicamp.
As of right now, it looks like second-year receiver A.J. Jenkins could be the starting receiver opposite Boldin at training camp, as Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area believes Jenkins has a "slight lead" over rookie wide-out Quinton Patton for that spot.
USA TODAY Sports
Question: Can Russell Wilson avoid a sophomore slump?
Really, this isn't an indictment on anyone. In fact, it's an homage to how well the Seahawks front office has done at addressing their biggest offseason needs.
At this point, a disappointing sophomore season from Russell Wilson is just about the only thing that could go wrong for the Seahawks, short of everything completely falling apart.
Robert Griffin III was the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He also had the better stats and led his team to a division title. Wilson, on the other hand, led his team to a better record and led them to a playoff victory over Griffin's Redskins.
As mentioned with Tannehill and the Dolphins, rookie quarterbacks have rather consistently improved in their second year over the past several seasons. If Wilson plays at the same level as last year and gets similar support from the running game and the defense, the Seahawks will be top contenders for the Super Bowl this season.
St. Louis Rams
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Are the Rams ready to contend for the playoffs?
The NFC West was once known as the "NFC Worst." That was "way back" in 2010 when the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks became the first losing team in NFL history to win a division title.
Things have come a long way since then, as the NFC West sent two teams to the playoffs in 2012.
The Rams have dramatically overhauled their offense this offseason, drafting West virginia wide receivers Tavon Austin (first round) and Stedman Bailey (third round) and signing tight end Jared Cook via free agency. Still, much of the burden will fall on quarterback Sam Bradford to finally live up to the hype of being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft.
It took head coach Jeff Fisher five years to finally get the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans over .500 and into the playoffs, and the Rams should be reasonably hopeful that it won't take quite so long this time around.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Is Josh Freeman the answer at quarterback?
If your team doesn't have one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, chances are pretty strong you're wondering whether the quarterback on your team is the right one.
Josh Freeman has been up-and-down in his pro careersince being drafted with the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Last year's struggles have been attributed to learning a brand-new offense under coordinator Mike Sullivan. Wide receiver Mike Williams said, via the Tampa Tribune:
The big problem last year was we couldn’t get on the same page, knowing when to break our routes off. ...[Freeman is] way more comfortable this year with the language.
If that's true, Freeman should have no problem earning the respect of his coaching staff, even if it's a new group than the one that drafted him in the first round four years ago.
Just in case, though, the Buccaneers provided some insurance for themselves by drafting North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round this year. Indeed, with Freeman in his contract year, this could be his last shot to prove himself as the starting quarterback of the Buccaneers.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Question: Can Jake Locker handle the burden?
Head coach Mike Munchak said "there is a lot on" quarterback Jake Locker in 2013, via The Tennesseean.
Not only are the coaches expecting him to no longer rely on the wristband to call plays, but they're also asking him to take over as the team leader.
The team revamped the interior of the offensive line with the additions of guards Andy LeVitre and Chance Warmack, and they also added a new toy on the outside in wide receiver Justin Hunter to go along with Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright. Also, with one of the most explosive running backs in the game in Chris Johnson, the Titans have put the pieces in place for Locker to succeed.
There are questions around his accuracy, and several analysts believe it's beyond repair. Now, it's up to Locker to prove them wrong and to prove his coaching staff right.
"Two years ago," Munchak said, "we made the decision on a quarterback that we felt was going to lead this team to the Super Bowl. Now, it's up to us to surround him with people that can help him do that. I think we are doing that."
Question: Will Robert Griffin III's knee hold up?
"All in for Week 1."
It's become the slogan for RGIII's return from ACL surgery. It's also become the standard by which expectations may be set for the Redskins 2013 season.
Sure, Kirk Cousins helped the Redskins to victory when RGIII missed time, completing 70.3 percent of his passes and earning a 104.4 passer rating against the Browns, but if you don't think RGIII gives the Redskins the best chance to win, there's no hope for you.
As of right now, it looks like Griffin will be ready for Week 1, which is as good as the Redskins and their fans could possibly hope for. That being said, his knee will be a lingering storyline throughout the season.