NFL Preseason 2013: Hottest Storylines for Every Team

Ryan RiddleCorrespondent IAugust 6, 2013

NFL Preseason 2013: Hottest Storylines for Every Team

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    Some storylines are hot for a couple of weeks, while others can last an entire season.

    In this slideshow, we take a look at the most pressing story for each team. Sometimes, it's a big question that needs answers, other times, it's simply about what needs to get done. Either way, the story that's projected to span over the entire season will most often find its way onto this slideshow.  

    Enjoy!

     

    *All facts referenced are from Pro-Football-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.

     

New England Patriots—Tom Brady’s Unproven Targets

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    At least the New England Patriots made an effort to replace the loss of Wes Welker with Danny Amendola. If he can stay healthy, he should be a key target for Brady. Beyond Amendola, there lies a series of question marks. Currently, Julian Edelman is penciled in as the starter opposite Amendola. But for the sake of the Pats offense, at least a couple of these young receivers must step up quickly.

    Aaron Dobson was drafted in the second round of this year’s draft with the expectations of him becoming a future No. 1 WR. His size and instincts are promising, but his collegiate tape while at Marshall was not overly impressive.

    If he struggles to stand out this August, fourth-round rookie Josh Boyce might be a nice consolation prize.

    Boyce is quite the athlete who possesses all the physical tools necessary to succeed at the NFL level. His big question mark will be whether or not he can learn the nuances of the position and demonstrate the savvy and competitive drive that make a player special.

    The once promising pair of tight ends in New England is no more. Will Rob Gronkowski ever get healthy?

    Tom Brady is no stranger to throwing at less-than-stellar receivers and having success, but when he does have the weapons, he can put up record-breaking numbers.

    Watching how Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady cope with the hurdles of youth and inexperience will be an ongoing storyline throughout the season.

Buffalo Bills—When Will EJ Take Over?

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    The Bills offense didn’t come with a “Manuel,” so they decided to get one of their own—EJ that is.

    Kevin Kolb is listed as the starter at the moment, as this QB competition seems to be as day-to-day as it gets.  Recently, Kolb slipped on his way to the practice field, hurting his knee in the process.

    EJ should benefit greatly from the added reps with the first-team offense.

    Manuel was the first quarterback drafted in last April’s draft. He’s a big, athletic QB loaded with raw talent and ideal size.

    There’s no question the former Florida State Seminole was brought on board to be the face of the franchise, but it remains to be seen when he will be handed the reins.

Miami Dolphins—Protection for Tannehill Iffy

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    According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Jonathan Martin has been looking “bad” at left tackle, where he's supposed to be taking over for Jake Long. All throughout training camp the second-year lineman has been beaten consistently in practice. Unfortunately, he didn’t look any better in Sunday night’s preseason opener against the Cowboys.

    It's a bit perplexing why the Fins felt it wise to move their worst-graded offensive lineman from 2012, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), into the most critical lineman position on offense. 

    If sophomore QB Ryan Tannehill is to have any chance of progressing in 2013, he will need to feel secure and protected on his backside. So far, it appears he's in for a long, painful season.  

    Without the proper time to throw, the big free-agent addition of Mike Wallace becomes null and void if they can’t hook up deep. Perhaps, some of the frivolous spending this offseason should have gone toward keeping their best offensive lineman.  

New York Jets—Smith vs. Sanchez

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    After the last few years of witnessing Mark Sanchez attempt to be an NFL quarterback, it’s hard to support any reasoning that would suggest he should be given another opportunity to help make the Jets offense inevitably the laughingstock of the NFL, yet again.

    We can sit around for hours and debate whether or not he was given the proper tools to be successful, but the reality of the situation is, Sanchez simply doesn’t have what it takes to be consistently successful in the NFL.

    Sure, there may be moments this season similar to when the Jets dismantled the Bills in Week 1, putting up 48 points, but for the most part, Sanchez is not the answer in New York, and everyone knows it.

    The big intrigue this season will be development of rookie quarterback Geno Smith out of West Virginia.

    Smith is starting to come on as of late in training camp, looking impressive with the first-team offense during their scrimmage on Saturday.

    If Rex Ryan and company decide to be patient with Smith out the gate, they could be signing their own death warrants.

    It’s no secret Coach Ryan is on the hot seat this season and cannot afford another losing campaign. Smith may be Rex’s only hope for salvation.

    It should be very interesting who Rex ultimately dubs as his starter for Week 1.  

Baltimore Ravens—Legends Lost, No Problem?

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    How in the world are the Baltimore Ravens—the Super Bowl champions—going to survive this season without some of the greatest players to ever play the game?

    Not only did they lose their inspirational captain and one of the greatest leaders of men I’ve ever witnessed in Ray Lewis, but they also said goodbye to future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed.

    If that wasn’t enough, Anquan Boldin was shipped off to San Francisco for peanuts, while a great deal of the roster was ransacked via free agency.

    Surprisingly, the Ravens could still find success, despite what could only be described as a major overhaul to their Super Bowl roster.

    Second-team All-Pro cornerback Lardarius Webb should be ready by the regular season after missing most of last year with a knee injury, while Terrell Suggs should also be fully recovered from the torn Achilles that limited him in 2012.

    If he can resemble the level of play that earned him Defensive Player of the Year two years ago as Webb returns to his dominant form, the Ravens should have a formidable one-two punch of All-Star talent.

    In addition, they wisely jumped at the opportunity to sign former Bronco Elvis Dumervil, who happens to be one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL.

    They've also addressed some other pressing needs via the draft with safety Matt Elam and Arthur Brown, whom they drafted in the first and second rounds.

    Brown will be expected to help stop the bleeding inside from the departure of Dannell Ellerbe and Lewis, while Elam is a mere band-aid on the gaping wounds left by the terrific safety tandem of Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed who have both moved on.

    Offensively, the Ravens have been dealt even more bad news with Dennis Pitta expected to miss the entire season with an injury.  

    Can the Ravens find cohesiveness after the departure of so many key contributors and legends?

Cincinnati Bengals—Can Lewis and Dalton Win Their First Playoff Game?

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    For two years straight, the Cincinnati Bengals have impressed members of the football world with hard-fought playoff appearances. The recent success has given head coach Marvin Lewis some breathing room as the second-longest tenured active head coach in the NFL (10 years), behind only Bill Belichick (13 years).

    Without those postseason games, Lewis would almost certainly be working as a defensive coordinator somewhere in the league right now.

    But with those playoff appearances comes new expectations.

    Will third-year quarterback Andy Dalton be able to take his game to the next level?

    If not, the Bengals don’t stand much of a chance trying to win in the postseason for the first time since 1990.

    Are Lewis and Dalton ready for the big stage?

    Adding offensive weapons Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard could be just enough to get Cincinnati over the hump and help them end the 22-year postseason-victory drought.

     

     

Cleveland Browns—They'll Go as Far as Weeden Can Carry Them

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    Unfortunately for Cleveland, Weeden is limited in his ability to play QB at an NFL level.

    Personally, I’ve never been very high on Brandon Weeden’s ability coming out of Oklahoma St.

    Expect newly appointed offensive coordinator Norv Turner to rely heavily on second-year running back Trent Richardson. This should help open up the passing lanes for Weeden and allow him to be somewhat productive. But don’t expect him to win many games for you through the air. He has no mastery of reading defenses and panics under the first sign of pressure.

    Once the Browns can nail down a decent quarterback, they should have the talent on both sides of the ball to finally contend for divisional dominance.

Pittsburgh Steelers—Rebound Year or Steady Decline?

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    Since 2001, they have only missed the postseason four times, including last season.

    Ben Roethlisberger is still an elite quarterback, and the offensive line should be much-improved. Those two critical elements should always give a team a fighting chance. But the defense is getting up there in age, while finding youthful replacements has been more of a struggle than in previous years.

    With the departure of key players like wide receiver Mike Wallace and OLB James Harrison, some of the younger players will have to step up and elevate this team back to prominence.

    Veteran safety Troy Polamalu has started all 16 games in only four of his 10 seasons in the NFL. He needs to find a way to stay healthy without sacrificing his aggressive style of play. But at 32 years of age, that feat becomes increasingly more difficult.

    Should they fail to make the playoffs for a second straight year, something that hasn’t happened in over a decade, head coach Mike Tomlin might be out of a job. But that would likely only be the beginning of several changes throughout all levels of the organization.

     

     

Houston Texans—Have They Done Enough to Get over the Hump?

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    The Houston Texans have been ascending the NFL ranks over the years, looking to finally make it to the "big dance."

    This offseason, they finally hope to have found the missing pieces to the Super Bowl puzzle. 

    Bringing in Ed Reed, whom they hope to have healthy soon, and drafting the second wide receiver off the board in DeAndre Hopkins are apparently the answers Houston believes will take this team to the next level.

    It’s true that Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have been in serious need of some help in the passing game. Hopkins comes in as one of the more polished rookie wideouts available and should offer immediate relief to an offense chronically limited in weapons down the field.

    It’s hard to say how much Reed has left in his tank and his value may just be as a player-coach at this point.

    This could finally be the year head coach Gary Kubiak gets his talented squad over the hump and all the way to the "Promised Land."  

Indianapolis Colts—Chuck Strong or Chuck Wrong?

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    Was last year’s magic more about Bruce Arians or Chuck Pagano?

    It’s hard to say how much credit head coach Chuck Pagano deserves for the surprising success of last season. For those who don’t remember, last year, Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia at the beginning of the season and was forced to take a leave of absence.

    In steps offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and the Indianapolis Colts are off to a magical season of inspired play all the way to the postseason.

    Admittedly, a great deal of the credit for their success should fall on the shoulders of rookie sensation Andrew Luck.  

    So, what direction will Pagano lead this young team in with his first full season as the head guy in Indy?

    The Colts have a long way to go before they can become the team they’re hoping to be. The defense has been transformed into a 3-4 front where nearly all players from the old regime are either gone or are on their way out.

    This team is young and full of spunk, but if they can’t protect Andrew Luck better than they did last year, he may not make it out of the season alive.

    Pagano may be resilient, but we still have yet to see what type of strategist and head coach he can be.

Jacksonville Jaguars—Gabbert's Last Stand

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    Out in Jacksonville is the GM and head coach responsible for drafting Blaine Gabbert 10th overall in 2011. They have since been replaced by new GM David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley.

    But as long as Gabbert is taking snaps under center, the Jaguars will continue to be the bottom feeders of the NFL.  

    However, this is technically Gabbert’s last chance to prove he deserves to start at quarterback in the NFL. If he fails to show significant improvement in his third season, his career as a starter in this league will soon be a distant memory.  

    Bradley and Co. have their work cut out for them this season, as they wait at least one more year to risk their jobs on a handpicked quarterback of their liking.

    Until then, anything beyond four wins should be looked at as promising out of this group.

Tennessee Titans—Ready to Run the Rock

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    The Tennessee Titans have had a lot of money invested in their running game, yet finished 21st in the league in rushing yards last season. This is primarily the result of having to play catch-up offense and not utilize a more balanced attack—considering they were a top-10 team in yards per carry (4.5).

    It should be interesting to see how the revamped offensive line helps pave the way for Chris Johnson, who hopes to return to the player who rushed for over 2,000 yards a few years ago.

    With Jake Locker’s accuracy in question, Johnson must be able to take the load off the passing game, while the defense has to prevent games from turning into a shootout.

    Tennessee has a lot of talent to work with this year. But they won’t go far without solid contributions from the offensive line.  

Denver Broncos—Manning's Postseason Pitfalls

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    We know the Denver Broncos winning the AFC West is a virtual lock, but the real story for Denver will be whether or not Peyton Manning can carry the team through the playoffs? Manning is 9-11 in the postseason with a passer rating of 88.4. That’s a significant drop-off from his regular-season passer rating of 95.7.

    In 12 postseason appearances through his career, Manning has gone one-and-done in eight of those opportunities. This is somewhat startling, considering Peyton is one of greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

    One theory I have about this phenomenon is that Manning is such a preparation freak, he actually can overthink himself in playoff competition. He relies heavily on his ability to understand the tendencies of his opponents and thus leaves little room for improvisation.

    It is this perpetual nervousness by which he plays that ultimately becomes his undoing in the most pressure-filled situations.  

    It could be possible that playoff atmospheres in the NFL require a certain level of bravado and moxie which have helped propel Joe Flacco and Tom Brady to much greater postseason success than Peyton Manning. Even his brother seems to possess this trait on a much higher level by comparison.

    So can the Broncos make it all the way to the Super Bowl? Peyton has proved he can do it in the past.

    Their biggest hurdle this year will be the Houston Texans.

     

    All facts referenced are from Pro-Football-Reference.com.

Kansas City Chiefs—How Will Andy Reid and Alex Smith Get Along in Kansas City?

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    Apparently, Alex Smith has been earning some high praise in Kansas City.

    But only time will tell what the Chiefs really have in the Smith/Reid combo. Both guys are new to the organization and looking for a second chance to prove they belong among the best in the league.

    Kansas City does have the weapons and coaching needed for a huge turnaround.

    Can Smith be reborn in the Chiefs organization and prove to the world that he can carry a franchise to glory? At least we know Smith’s new offensive coordinator Doug Pederson thinks so.

    Let's see if Pederson is singing the same tune midway through the season. 

Oakland Raiders—Is Matt Flynn "Mr. Right" or "Mr. Right Now"?

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    Matt Flynn has managed to turn one stellar game in a Green Bay Packers uniform into a nice payday for two different teams in two years.

    Now as a member of the Oakland Raiders, Flynn appears to have the starting job locked up—though poor preseason play could cost him his starting position.

    Even if he retains his job as the starter for the entire year, one still has to wonder whether or not his replacement is just an offseason away.

    I happen to fall in line with NFL.com’s former player/scout and current analyst, Bucky Brooks, who thinks very little of Flynn in regard to him being a starting quarterback.

    It’s unclear whether or not the future QB of this rebuilding franchise is currently on the roster or if Oakland must continue the hunt for answers at the most critical position in football.

San Diego Chargers—Phil-"Up" or Phil-"Down" Rivers?

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    Rookie linebacker Manti Te’o might be able to steal some preseason headlines for the Chargers, but the real story down in San Diego is going to be whether Philip Rivers has fixed whatever malfunction has hampered his game over the last two seasons.

    At 31 years old, Rivers should still have several years of highly productive football left in him. Losing some of his key targets over the years coupled with a depleted offensive line has really affected his ability to be successful as of late. Perhaps, the addition of rookie WR Keenan Allen and RT D.J. Fluker will provide Rivers with some much-needed upgrades.

    It should be interesting to see how Rivers performs without his longtime mentor, Norv Turner.

    Some have already lost faith in Rivers’ ability to be an elite QB. But all you really need is a QB who can make the throws when he has to. Rivers has proven the ability to do this and will be looking to show off everything he’s learned so far.

New York Giants—Regular-Season Consistency

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    Will the New York Giants finally find a way to be consistent in the regular season?

    It seems each year, the Giants struggle to be the same team throughout the season. Rarely are they ever the same team they were the week before, unless it happens to be one of their trademark playoff runs.

    Somehow, some way, head coach Tom Coughlin has to get his players to play at a high level and stay there each and every week. Sure, every team can have a bad week here and there, but the Giants have become notorious for being unpredictable performers.

    If there’s some secret to fixing this problem, I’d love to know what it is.

    As always, it should be interesting to watch and see which team will show up on a given week, or, perhaps, they find a way to minimize those frustrating fluctuations.

    This is the story that will dominate the Giants until the problem is rectified, if ever. Once it’s an issue no more, that too will be a story in itself.

Philadelphia Eagles—It's Going to Be a "Chip-Tastic" Season

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    What will the Chip Kelly-led Philadelphia Eagles look like, and can they succeed in the NFL?

    We all know Kelly from his crazy, high-paced, 80-point offenses at Oregon.

    There are a lot of things different about this coach that will bring a great deal of attention to everything he does. Whether the Eagles enjoy a ton of success or suffer miserable failures, the storyline draw throughout will always be angled at the first-year head coach who was brought in to replace Andy Reid.

    Currently, there’s a lot of mystery and excitement surrounding everything Coach Kelly does, from his practice methods to his drafting of Matt Barkley, everyone is sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for a glimpse of what to expect in Philadelphia.

    This is the story that will carry on throughout the season—that other story, surrounding an ignorant wide receiver will eventually fade into the background.  

Washington Redskins—Can RG3 Stay Healthy?

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    The national concern for Robert Griffin III’s health grows with every step closer he gets to another tackle. Head coach Mike Shanahan’s presumed responsibility for his quarterback’s health and career longevity is just as fascinating.

    Of course, Shanahan plays a significant role in the amount of abuse RG3 takes on the field, but the style of play which has defined this burgeoning superstar is primarily of his own creation.

    If backup QB Kirk Cousins were out there scrambling for a first down, nobody would be yelling at Shanahan for his careless play calling.

    Bottom line here is this, nobody wants to see RG3 get hurt, especially not the guy whose job depends on the big plays that his legs and arm produce on a weekly basis.

    Anytime Griffin so much as grimaces during a game, there are sure to be a litany of questions and stories to follow all season long.  

Dallas Cowboys—Who Is the Real Head Coach of the Cowboys?

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    To be a head coach in the NFL, you have to have personality and be put in a position to command respect. Jason Garrett has neither of those in Dallas which has made it difficult to tell, at times, who exactly is running things from a coaching standpoint.

    By now, we’re all used to outspoken Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his antics, but under the Garrett regime, Jones barely even tries to hide his lust for control.

    At this point, it’s starting to seem as though Jones enjoys undermining his, at times affable, head coach.

    This undoubtedly makes it 10 times harder for Garrett to do his job while earning the respect of his players.

    If Dallas struggles regularly in the first half of this season, look for a quick trigger on Garrett’s firing.

Chicago Bears—Preparing for the Post-Urlacher Era

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    When the Chicago Bears released their first unofficial depth chart of the season, D.J. Williams, formerly of the Denver Broncos was listed as the starting “Mike” linebacker—rookie Jon Bostic, who was drafted in the second round, is penciled in as his backup.

    These two players should be interesting to watch this preseason as they battle for the right to take over for the legendary Brain Urlacher, who recently retired.

    Williams is a veteran player whose production should be more predictable. He has always been a decent starter without doing anything miraculous.

    The real intrigue should be for the rookie of the bunch. Bostic is one of the most athletic prospects in his class and should prove to be an impressive sideline-to-sideline player.

    What neither of these players can replace, however, is the leadership, toughness and iconic presence that Brian Urlacher brought to this organization.

    Urlacher’s departure from Chicago is sort of a microcosm of how the new regime intends on conducting business. For this reason, the post-Urlacher era should be an interesting storyline throughout the season.

    These are not your father’s Chicago Bears.

Detroit Lions—Calvin Johnson Eyes 2,000 Yards Receiving

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    The Detroit Lions may not have been the best team last year, but they definitely had the best receiver in the game. Calvin Johnson managed to haul in 1,964 receiving yards, which is the most in NFL history.

    Now Johnson has his eyes set on being the first player in history to gain more than 2,000 yards through the air.

    Considering this 6’5”, 230-pound freak of nature cannot be blocked, it seems his only limitation would be the number of opportunities he receives.

    Did I mention he did all of that last year with three broken fingers?

Green Bay Packers—Can Green Bay Protect Aaron Rodgers?

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    Aaron Rodgers has done a nice job, thus far, in his career, of not making a habit of getting injured, but without Bulaga protecting his blindside, things could get hairy real fast. The last thing the Packers want to see is the stretcher being brought out for the best player in the National Football League because they couldn’t properly protect him.

    The Packers do have some young guys in the lineup from last April’s draft who may be able to fill in during Bulaga’s absence, guys such as David Bakhtiari and J.C Tretter, who were each drafted in the fourth round.

    It’s probably a good idea to watch these two youngsters closely throughout the preseason to see which of the two can emerge as the most promising.

    Meanwhile, the beating Rodgers can potentially incur this season should be a storyline to keep an eye on throughout.

Minnesota Vikings—Their Long-Term QB Situation Is Something to Ponder

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    When the Minnesota Vikings took Christian Ponder in the first round two years ago, I was surprised. I couldn’t believe the way marginal QB prospects were being valued in today’s pass-happy NFL.

    Ponder has never proven his excellence at the collegiate level, which gives me little reason to think he would be anything more than an average QB at the next level.  

    Nevertheless, the Vikings have made a significant investment in Ponder in the hopes he can guide them to a better future.

    To his credit, he has demonstrated the ability to progress from his first to second year. But when drafting a quarterback in the first round, you must always ask yourself—can this guy lead us to a Super Bowl?

    The answer to that question should become much clearer after this season.

Atlanta Falcons—Did They Upgrade Their Running Game?

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    Atlanta felt a strong need to upgrade the running back situation which featured the aging Michael Turner last year. So they decide to replace his worn-out legs with the aging Steven Jackson.

    Mr. Jackson is an extremely strong, competitive runner, trust me. I've tried tackling him before, and it is a painful task to say the least. He also keeps himself in great shape, but the fact remains, he's entering dangerous territory for any NFL RB, the dreaded 30s.

    Jackson has never averaged more than 4.4 yards per carry in a season where he gained over 1,000 yards. There should be no reason to assume he can do it at this stage in his career—even with the talent at the receiver position and the perception that he'll face less defenders in the box. The fact that he is more of a rhythm runner who gets stronger as the game goes on is going to hurt him at times in Atlanta.  

    The Falcons may have just exchanged one aging RB for another, but this doesn't mean they won't get any production out of him, just don't expect Pro Bowl-type numbers.

Carolina Panthers—the Maturation of Cam

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    We’ve seen the immature side of Cam Newton over the course of his first two seasons. Some have even questioned his ability to be a true team leader. Many doubt whether or not Cam will ever develop into a complete quarterback in the NFL.

    Now in his third season, Newton must take that next step in his evolution toward greatness.

    One element which could hamper those efforts is the concerning lack of talent in the receiving corps. If Newton can thrive with these limited weapons, we must give him the credit he deserves for being able to help the guys around him overachieve—which after all, is the true sign of a great leader.  

New Orleans Saints—Is Rob Ryan’s New-Look Defense Enough?

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    There is only so much a defensive coordinator can do before the players on the field must take over. Rob Ryan has his work cut out for him, as he tries to convert the Saints’ defensive front from a 4-3 to a 3-4. The good news about this switch is that it allows inside linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Curtis Lofton to be on the field at the same time.

    Vilma does have experience in a 3-4 during his time with the Jets, but became expendable there because it’s not an ideal fit for his skill set.

    The big concern for the defense is going to be in pass defense. There are no established pass-rushers on the roster, and the secondary is still suspect.

    Drafting safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round should help a little, but there are still far too many holes in that defense to feel confident that any dramatic turnaround is underway.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers—What Will Darrelle Revis Bring to the Bucs’ Secondary?

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What will Darrelle Revis bring to the secondary?

    It’s hard to say at this point what Revis will be capable of after being less than a year removed from knee surgery. He may not be ready to play on opening day, but by the midpoint of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Revis shutting guys down like he would in the good old days.

    The Buccaneers spent a lot of money this offseason to fix a leaky secondary. This year, the only returning starter will be second-year safety Mark Barron. They paid handsomely for the services of Dashon Goldston and Darrelle Revis as well. Then in the second round of the draft, the Bucs picked up one of my favorite draft prospects, CB Johnthan Banks out of Mississippi State.

    If Revis can be the same guy we’ve grown accustomed too, the Buccaneers should have one of the most talented secondaries in the league.

Arizona Cardinals—Will the Cardinals Block Anyone This Year?

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    Last season, the Cardinals had, by far, the worst offensive line in football.

    So the first thing new head coach Bruce Arians does is bring in veteran quarterback Carson Palmer to provide the team with some leadership and a strong arm.

    Hopefully, the guys paid to protect him are actually going to do their job this time.

    Last season, LT Levi Brown was injured and missed the entire season, well he is back now and ready to compete.

    The other tackle spot will be occupied by free-agent acquisition Eric Winston. This was a solid pickup that should bolster a unit that lacked both talent and depth.

    The Cards even spent a top draft pick on offensive guard Jonathan Cooper. He’s a talented rookie who should be able to plug in and start on day one.

    All in all, it feels like the Cardinals put a lot of attention toward improving their most glaring weakness; at least on paper, the unit seems much-improved.

    Either way, this storyline is not likely to go away anytime soon out in the desert. 

San Francisco 49ers—Who Will Emerge Among the 49ers’ Receivers?

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    Michael Crabtree? Out. Mario Manningham? Out. Kyle Williams? Recovering from injuries.

    Until these key offensive playmakers are able to return from injuries, the receiving corps is going to continue looking mighty thin. Anquan Boldin has already solidified one of the starting positions, at least in the interim. But who will emerge this preseason to stake a claim as a starting receiver in this offense.

    The San Francisco 49ers drafted WR Quinton Patton to provide depth and maybe even compete for a significant role in the offense, but last year’s disappointing first-round pick, A.J. Jenkins, should be thriving under these conditions yet there has been some mixed reviews as to whether Jenkins is, or will ever be, ready—though he did look good at practice on Sunday, according to Taylor Price of 49ers.com.

    To add depth to a depleted receiving unit, the 49ers recently signed Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins.

Seattle Seahawks—Have They Passed the 49ers in the NFC West?

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    If Percy Harvin were a factor this season, the answer to this question would be a resounding yes, especially considering the 49ers are decimated with injuries at the moment.

    We know that the Seahawks are outmatched with regard to the offensive line and linebackers, but Seattle may have the edge over San Francisco in every other category if we were to consider the QB position a push.

    In the end, the battle for the NFC West will probably come down to health and attrition. Whichever team outlasts the other—while finding a way to stay healthy over the course of a 16-game season—will likely be the better team when it really counts in January.

St. Louis Rams—Is Sam Bradford Ready to Be Great?

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    It will be fun following the Sam Bradford saga all season long, as he tries to show the St. Louis Rams’ faithful that he is the right guy for the job. This is a big year for him to be able to prove he belongs amongst the best young QBs in the league.

    To help matters, Bradford will have the same offensive coordinator he had last year for the first time in his professional career.

    The standard he must live up to is now set pretty high for No. 8, considering the Rams passed on RG3 in favor of the incumbent QB. What they were able to do since then is supply Bradford with all the protection and weapons he can handle.

    Bradford does have all the tools needed to be great; he just needs to go out there and stand firm in the pocket and trust that he will not get serious hurt. Once he understands this facet, the sky is the limit.

     

    Ryan Riddle is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a contributor to Footballguys.com. Before B/R, Ryan played at the University of California. Afterward, he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders and spent time with the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Avengers.