Stock Up, Stock Down in the First Week of NFL Training Camps
Can you smell it? Can you feel it? Can you TASTE it?!?!?
Football! Football! FOOTBALL!!
Training camps are just about underway throughout the league, and with that, it's time to take stock of each NFL team.
Whether the stock is "up" or "down" is determined by the team's outlook heading into the season. Will it be better than last year? Is the team poised to break through? Or is it destined for the cellar?
It's time to find out whether each team's stock is up or down in the first week of training camp.
The Buffalo Bills own the dubious distinction of being the only team in the NFL to have not qualified for the playoffs this millennium, a stretch of 13-plus seasons. While they're unlikely to break through and make the postseason in 2013, the future is bright in western New York.
New head coach Doug Marrone was an inspired hire, and first-round quarterback EJ Manuel brings promise and hope to a severely jaded and beat-down fanbase.
There are talented players on both sides of the ball—most notably running back C.J. Spiller and defensive end Mario Williams—so the cupboard is not bare.
According to a tweet from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, star safety Jairus Byrd plans to skip at least the beginning of camp as he and the team are embroiled in a contract dispute. Still, he will most likely be on the field in Week 1 when the Bills host the Patriots.
While the Bills won't contend this season, their stock is most certainly up from where it ended at the conclusion of 2012.
Out of every team in the league, the Miami Dolphins had the splashiest offseason. General manager Jeff Ireland lavished free agents like wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe with oodles of money, luring them to South Beach in an effort to make the Dolphins a legitimate playoff contender.
Miami is most certainly a team on the rise, with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill leading the charge. The defense is solid, led by star defensive end Cameron Wake and safety Reshad Jones. Rookie defensive end Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft, has immense potential, and he and Wake could potentially form a devastating one-two pass rush.
Head coach Joe Philbin will be better in Year 2 than he was in Year 1, and so will his football team.
New England Patriots
Much has been written about the New England Patriots this offseason, and most of it has been negative.
Many, including yours truly, have noted that the offense will begin the year without its top five pass-catchers from 2012: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead.
And then, there's the matter of a guy named Timothy Richard Tebow.
But before you write off the Patriots, watch the above video. It features head coach Bill Belichick's press conference from earlier this week, where he addressed the Hernandez situation and the state of his team.
Belichick knocked that press conference out of the park. His tone was perfect, and he gets it. There is no way that the Patriots will stumble out of the gates.
Fear the Patriots. Fear quarterback Tom Brady. Fear Belichick.
The Pats might not be a Super Bowl-quality team, but compared to a few weeks ago, their stock is way up.
New York Jets
I've called the New York Jets a "veritable dumpster fire" several times this offseason. I'd like to apologize to all dumpster fires for the analogy, as the Jets have degenerated into something worse.
The quarterback situation inspires no one, as hapless Mark Sanchez competes with rookie Geno Smith for the job. If the Jets were smart, they'd turn the reins over to Smith, which probably means Sanchez will be butt-fumbling his way to a Week 1 loss against Tampa Bay.
With a major lack of talent on the roster, specifically on offense, the Jets are set up to fail. Expect head coach Rex Ryan to lose his job at the conclusion of the season.
Believe it or not, but the 2013 Baltimore Ravens could end up being better than the 2012 iteration that won Super Bowl XLVII.
Yes, the team lost a collection of stars (linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, receiver Anquan Boldin, to name a few), but general manager Ozzie Newsome and assistant general manager Eric DeCosta did a fantastic job of filling in the roster, adding players like defensive end Elvis Dumervil and safety Michael Huff.
And then, there's always head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco, the latter coming off one of the greatest postseason performances in the history of the game. As long as they're in Baltimore, the Ravens will compete for the postseason.
Expect Baltimore to return to the playoffs in 2013.
The Cincinnati Bengals, despite making the playoffs the past two seasons, desperately needed to inject some life and playmaking ability into the offense.
They did just that in the first two rounds of the draft.
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert (first round) and North Carolina running back Gio Bernard (second round) will add pop and sizzle to the offense, which already included all-world receiver A.J. Green.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins spearheads an underrated defense, and the coaching staff under head coach Marvin Lewis is excellent—offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
But the fate of the Bengals will rest on the right arm of quarterback Andy Dalton, who must improve in Year 3 if Cincinnati is to make "the leap" into the latter stages of the tournament. Count on that happening.
As the 2013 season draws closer, there is a renewed sense of optimism surrounding the Cleveland Browns.
New head coach Rob Chudzinski put together a terrific staff, with Norv Turner coordinating the offense and Ray Horton running the defense. There is also talent on both sides of the ball, most notably left tackle Joe Thomas, running back Trent Richardson and cornerback Joe Haden.
But as is the case with every team in the NFL, it comes down to quarterback play, and second-year signal-caller Brandon Weeden just isn't up to snuff.
Until the Browns find a competent quarterback, they won't contend in a very tough AFC North.
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a disappointing 2012 campaign that saw them on the outside of the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Unfortunately for the team, the issues that held them back in 2012—most notably the offensive line—are the same problems they possess heading into 2013.
Cincinnati and Baltimore will both be better than Pittsburgh in a very tough AFC North.
The Houston Texans are coming off back-to-back AFC South division titles, and there is reason to believe that the team is ready to take the next step and potentially reach the Super Bowl.
Defensive lineman J.J. Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is a big reason for that belief, and the roster surrounding him has many talented players, most notably wide receiver Andre Johnson.
But there are questions about coach and quarterback, as Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub have been unable to get the Texans over the hump.
Texans fans, don't get it twisted: Your team is going to the postseason and will win the AFC South for the third year in a row—just don't expect them to sniff the Super Bowl.
Given their expectations, it means their stock can only go in one direction.
The Indianapolis Colts had one of the great turnaround seasons in NFL history, improving their 2011 record by a staggering nine games, finishing 11-5 and qualifying for the postseason as a wild-card team.
Much of that success was due to the stellar play of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who should be even better in Year 2.
While the Colts have the pieces in place to contend once again, a regression is extremely likely. So, while Indianapolis might find itself in the race for a wild-card spot, there is no way it will win 11 games again. That means the stock is down.
First, the positive: The Jacksonville Jaguars are headed in the right direction.
New head coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell are the right men for the job, and they will turn the team's fortunes around.
It just won't happen in 2013.
While there are some positives—like the clean bill of health given to workhorse running back Maurice Jones-Drew—just take a look at the picture above, and you'll understand why their stock is down.
Simply put, the quarterback pu-pu platter of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne isn't good enough to win in the NFL. Until Jacksonville finds a competent quarterback, it has no chance.
The Tennessee Titans are one of the NFL's most interesting teams heading into 2013, as there is significant combustion potential brewing in the Music City.
Third-year quarterback Jake Locker has been handed the reins, and while he's been unimpressive thus far in his NFL career, the team has surrounded him with playmakers, like receivers Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright.
Plus, the team upgraded the offensive line this offseason with the signing of guard Andy Levitre and the drafting of guard Chance Warmack (who is still unsigned), which should make running back Chris Johnson a happy man.
But the defense has major question marks, and it's apparent that head coach Mike Munchak's job is on the line.
Can Locker produce? Can the defense hold up? Will owner Bud Adams flip anyone the bird?
The stock is down for the Titans.
It hasn't been a pretty couple of weeks for the Denver Broncos.
After the much publicized DUI arrests and subsequent suspensions of executives Matt Russell and Tom Heckert, the franchise was dealt a staggering blow with the announcement that All-Pro linebacker Von Miller is facing a four-game suspension for violating NFL policy.
While the Broncos are likely good enough to weather the storm and win their third straight AFC West title, there are questions surrounding the running game (can rookie back Montee Ball carry the load?) and the defense, specifically in regards to the pass rush and secondary.
Denver will make the playoffs. But, given where its expectations are, its stock is down.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs bottomed out in 2012, finishing 2-14 and "earning" the No. 1 pick in April's draft.
Since then, the franchise has undergone a stunning transformation, keyed by the hiring of head coach Andy Reid and the trade for quarterback Alex Smith.
Despite winning only two games last year, the team managed to send six players to the Pro Bowl, so there is talent on the roster. For instance, running back Jamaal Charles is a superstar.
With Reid, Smith and No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher (who remains unsigned) in the fold, it shouldn't surprise anyone if the team finishes 8-8 or better.
Despite the efforts of general manager Reggie McKenzie, who is doing his best to navigate the team out of the salary cap hell he inherited, the Oakland Raiders remain a rudderless ship as the 2013 season draws near.
Quarterback Matt Flynn, acquired in a trade with Seattle, doesn't exactly dazzle. Running back Darren McFadden is a star when healthy. The problem is that he's usually not healthy and has never played a full 16-game season.
Not helping matters is the placement of the team's top two draft picks, cornerback D.J. Hayden and tackle Menelik Watson, on the non-football injury list, meaning they won't be participating in the opening days of camp.
With head coach Dennis Allen potentially on the hot seat, the Raiders will need a decent effort in 2013 to ensure his security for a third season. Don't count on it.
San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers stumbled to a 7-9 record in 2012, costing head coach Norv Turner his job.
Mike McCoy is the new coach, and his primary objective will be to fix quarterback Philip Rivers, who has regressed over the past two seasons. Unfortunately for McCoy and Rivers, the offensive line is, well, offensive, and won't do the team any favors.
While new general manager Tom Telesco had an excellent draft and netted starting-quality talent (notably tackle D.J. Fluker, linebacker Manti Te'o and receiver Keenan Allen), there isn't a lot of depth on the roster.
The Dallas Cowboys have had an offseason that would make Amanda Bynes blush.
The play-calling debacle was embarrassing for the organization, as head coach Jason Garrett and owner Jerry Jones couldn't get on the same page. Replacing Garrett in the play-calling role is offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, who hasn't called plays in a decade. Good luck with that.
While quarterback Tony Romo remains criminally underrated (without him, Dallas wouldn't have come close to 8-8 last year), the offensive line is awful, and questions abound on defense. Can the personnel adjust to new coordinator Monte Kiffin's 4-3? That remains to be seen.
There are too many issues on this team for the stock to be anything but down.
New York Giants
The New York Giants are coming off a disappointing season that saw them miss the playoffs a year after winning Super Bowl XLVI, but there is reason for optimism on Broadway.
The offensive line was stabilized with the drafting of Syracuse tackle Justin Pugh, and running back David Wilson appears ready to carry the load. Receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are stars, and quarterback Eli Manning is elite.
While the health of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is a significant concern, the Giants should be better in 2013 than they were in 2012.
The Philadelphia Eagles crashed and burned in 2012, finishing with a 4-12 record. That poor mark was enough to cost head coach Andy Reid his job.
Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly was hired to revitalize the organization, and while it remains to be seen if his methods will translate well to the NFL level, there is much reason for optimism in Philly.
All eyes are on the battle of starting quarterback, as incumbent signal-caller Michael Vick will compete with Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley. Expect Vick to win the job.
While the Eagles aren't going to the postseason, they are a team on the rise.
As it concerns football, all eyes in our nation's capital are focused squarely on Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, as he continues his rehabilitation from a torn ACL.
Grffin was majestic as a rookie, leading the Redskins to their first NFC East title since 1999. Head coach Mike Shanahan is rightly being cautious with his franchise player, as there's no reason to rush him back onto the field.
While the continued injury issues of defensive lineman Adam Carriker will likely force him to miss the season, the defense will receive a major boost with the return of linebacker Brian Orakpo.
Let's face facts: The Redskins will either live or die with Griffin. Based on his performance last year, if he's healthy, Washington will be alive and well late into the season—and likely into the postseason as well.
Despite a 10-6 record last season, the Chicago Bears missed the postseason, and it cost coach Lovie Smith his job.
Enter new coach Marc Trestman, charged with elevating the play of erratic-but-talented quarterback Jay Cutler.
While the defense will be without all-time great linebacker Brian Urlacher, who retired after he and the team were unable to reach a deal, Bears fans should be confident in the remaining players and new coordinator Mel Tucker.
Ultimately, the fate of the Bears rests with Trestman and Cutler. Expect both men to have a good 2013 season.
The Detroit Lions failed to restore the roar following their playoff campaign in 2011, finishing with an awful 4-12 record in 2012 and putting head coach Jim Schwartz squarely on the hot seat.
The team recently extended quarterback Matthew Stafford, and despite the grumbles of some, the deal was appropriate for both team and player. Stafford is one of the better young quarterbacks in the game, and quarterbacks get paid. It's the price of doing business.
Receiver Calvin Johnson is an all-world talent, but the Lions need more balance on offense. They cannot hope to throw the ball 727 times, as they did last season, and succeed.
Unfortunately for Lions fans, they're the worst team in their own division.
Green Bay Packers
When evaluating the Green Bay Packers, it starts and ends with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the best player in the entire NFL. He is the maestro of the Packers offensive symphony. In fact, his only significant misstep was his misguided defense of disgraced Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun.
Head coach Mike McCarthy is one of the best in the league, and the offense, despite losing receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, will be just fine. Rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin should add a new dimension to the unit.
The defense should be better in 2013, with coordinator Dom Capers and linebacker Clay Matthews leading the charge.
Bottom line: As long as Rodgers is the quarterback, the stock can't be anything but up.
The Minnesota Vikings are coming off an improbable 2012 season that saw them qualify for the postseason as a wild-card team, buoyed by reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson and his 2,000-plus rushing yards.
But there are major questions on the team, and they start with quarterback Christian Ponder. While Ponder played well down the stretch and ultimately guided the team into the tournament, he needs to play with more consistency in 2013 if the Vikings are to take the next step.
The team lost receiver Percy Harvin after trading him to Seattle, and that is a major loss. Although the team signed Greg Jennings this offseason, it will be difficult for Minnesota to replace Harvin's overall productivity.
Minnesota isn't as good as either Chicago or Green Bay, and that means its stock is down.
Under the stewardship of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith, the Atlanta Falcons have morphed into one of the league's model franchises, and they finished a few yards shy of the Super Bowl last season.
The team will be even better in 2013, as the addition of running back Steven Jackson this offseason was an inspired one. Jackson will join receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, along with tight end Tony Gonzalez, to form one of the best offenses in football this season.
Expect Atlanta to contend for a Super Bowl berth in 2013.
The Carolina Panthers finished a disappointing 7-9 in 2012, and, unfortunately for their fans, the outlook doesn't look much rosier in 2013.
Quarterback Cam Newton is a star, and so is receiver Steve Smith, but there isn't much else to write home about on offense. The defense, keyed by second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly, has the potential to be decent, but skepticism abounds.
The likely scenario? The team misses the playoffs, and head coach Ron Rivera loses his job.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints can't wait to wash the stink of their 2012 season off, as the team missed the postseason without their leader, head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for his role in the Bountygate fiasco.
With Payton back on the sideline, expect the Saints offense, led by quarterback Drew Brees, to be humming throughout the upcoming season.
However, it's the defense that should truly be of concern. The unit was one of the worst in NFL history last season, and while it can't be much worse in 2013, will it really be much better?
The Saints are a borderline playoff team. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, that means the stock is down.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaners are one of the league's most improved teams, as general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Greg Schiano had a splendid offseason, keyed by the trade for all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis.
While much depends on the play of quarterback Josh Freeman, the talent around him is very good, starting with running back Doug Martin and receiver Vincent Jackson.
There are questions surrounding the pass rush, but the secondary will be much improved with Revis as well as the addition of All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson.
The stock for Tampa Bay is most certainly up.
On the bright side, there is literally no chance that the Arizona Cardinals quarterback situation could be worse than it was in 2012, when the team rolled out the three-headed monster of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley. In a related story, head coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves were both fired at season's end.
The bad news? New signal-caller Carson Palmer doesn't provide that significant of an upgrade, and the offensive line is still a major question mark.
While Thursday's signings of defensive end John Abraham and tackle Eric Winston should help, this is still a last-place football team.
St. Louis Rams
Lost in the postseason success of fellow NFC West teams Seattle and San Francisco, the St. Louis Rams quietly went 4-1-1 against divisional opponents in 2012, a positive sign of things to come.
Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead finally gave quarterback Sam Bradford some playmakers this offseason, with the drafting of West Virginia receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey along with the signing of tight end Jared Cook. While there is no primary running back, the committee of Daryl Richardson, Zac Stacy and Isaiah Pead could be successful. Plus, the defense should be stout.
It's unfortunate that the Rams play in a division with powerhouses like Seattle and San Francisco, but their stock is still up.
San Francisco 49ers
Much like they've been over the past two seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers are poised to be one of the best teams in football.
The roster is an embarrassment of riches, spearheaded by freakishly talented quarterback Colin Kaepernick and linebacker Patrick Willis.
Expect the 49ers to make another deep postseason run.
First, it's important to say that the Seattle Seahawks, under quarterback Russell Wilson and coach Pete Carroll, possess one of the best rosters in the NFL and are a likely playoff team.
But the hip injury sustained by new receiver Percy Harvin is troubling, with Carroll admitting yesterday that Harvin might need surgery. For Harvin, who battled migraines and injury troubles as a Minnesota Viking, this is troubling, and doubly so for the team, as it's counting on Harvin to make a big impact this season.
Because of the Harvin injury, Seattle's stock is currently down, but that could change if Harvin is able to go full speed in Week 1.