After a few months of waiting, we are finally on the verge of another season in the NFL. As with every year, there are always some questions that need to be answered. What follows are ten of the biggest questions that most of us are asking as training camps begin and the players begin chasing the Lombardi Trophy yet again:
Will Tom Brady be as good as he was before the knee injury?
Brady hasn't played competitive football since he was injured. Since then, he has shown significant improvement, but a torn ACL has a way of bringing superstar athletes back down to earth.
After recovering from surgery to repair that crucial tendon, players seem more tentative in their movements for fear they will injure it again. It still remains to be seen how Brady will perform on the field, but expect him to be a little bit more tentative in his movements.
Are the Lions headed in the right direction?
After drafting Matthew Stafford in the draft, the Lions do seem to be headed in the right direction. However, this team is a house in extreme disarray.
Drafting Stafford, along with picking up linebacker Larry Foote and receiver Dennis Northcutt was a good start, but the Lions still need a lot of work on both sides of the ball. They also cleaned house in the coaching department, bringing in a new head coach (Jim Schwartz), a new offensive coordinator (Scott Linehan), and a new defensive coordinator (Gunther Cunningham), so there will be a big shake-up in the way the Lions play.
As they say, there is nowhere to go but up, but don't expect Detroit to be making the playoffs anytime soon. They should piece together at least five wins, but probably not much more than that.
Can the Ravens play spoiler again in the AFC?
The Ravens certainly played the role of spoiler during the AFC playoffs last year, upsetting a very strong Titans team and blasting the upstart Dolphins. With the loss of Bart Scott at linebacker, the defense is weakened, but only slightly.
However, the Ravens are aging on both sides of the ball, with Ray Lewis, the anchor of this team, nearing retirement, and offensive playmakers, such as Willis McGahee, nearing the peak of his career. If the Ravens are to play spoiler again (or, indeed, contend for the AFC North title), Joe Flacco must prove to everybody that last year's stellar season wasn't a fluke and match his totals from last year.
How will Terrell Owens fare in Buffalo?
As I see it, this is probably Owens' last chance. He's in his 13th year in the NFL, and probably only has a couple more years left.
It all depends on how the Bills utilize him. If they don't utilize him to what he thinks is his full potential, he'll just shut down and the Bills will self destruct, just like the Eagles, 49ers, and Cowboys before them. However, unlike the Eagles, 49ers and Cowboys, the Bills do have a pretty decent passing attack, so they should be able to utilize Owens as much as he thinks he should be. If the Bills remain healthy, they should be able to do what they haven't done since 1995: win the AFC East.
Can the Cardinals do as well as they did last year?
It sure seems that way. They picked up Beanie Wells in the draft, which should fill the void left by the retiring Edgerrin James.
They have a pretty tough schedule, but they have the talent and experience to win the NFC West. The 49ers, while they did as well as the Cardinals in picking up talent, still need a few pieces to get back to the playoffs. The Cardinals, however, have all their pieces in place and should contend for the NFC's spot in the Super Bowl
How does the AFC West look this year?
Unfortunately, as bad as it did last year.
Not only do the Broncos have to adapt to a new coaching scheme after several years under Mike Shanahan, they gave away a very talented quarterback in Jay Cutler instead of working out their problems. The Chiefs and the Raiders, while they made big strides in the draft and free agency, are still a couple of years away from legitimately competing for the division title. San Diego is the only team with some semblance of stability in the division, and if they remain healthy, they'll be able to win the division for the fourth time in a row. Unfortunately, they'll win it pretty much by default.
Can Jay Cutler help the Bears?
Definitely. If not, the Bears will be left with very little options at quarterback, with two untested players at that position.
Chicago's receiving corps got better in the offseason too, with the acquisition of Juaquin Iglesias, a speedy wide receiver from Oklahoma. They also picked up a very good offensive lineman in talented, but oft-injured Orlando Pace from St. Louis. This should bolster the offensive line and give Cutler more time in the pocket to work his magic. Cutler should be a great asset to the Bears and be a prime factor in sending them to the playoffs.
What needs to be done about the crazy things going on in the NFL?
Roger Goodell has done a good job keeping players on the straight and narrow, but this offseason has been absolutely insane, with the arrest of Donte Stallworth and the shooting death of Steve McNair marring the face of the NFL, among other things.
Obviously, while the personal conduct policy is one of the most stringent of the four major sports, it really doesn't go far enough. Players still believe that they can skirt the rules and can get away with it if they aren’t caught.
There really should be a policy in place that does the same thing that Major League Baseball imposed on Pete Rose: if you are caught doing something totally illegal or are arrested and show no remorse for your actions, you get an automatic lifetime ban. No excuses, no reinstatement, no second chances. This will show those players that they cannot spit in the face of authority and get away with it.
What should be done about Michael Vick?
At the risk of sounding contradictory (see previous question), I seriously do believe that Vick has realized the magnitude of what he has done. He has shown remorse and knows the error of his ways. I realize what he did was serious and required jail time, but it isn't fair that he's being raked through the coals every time his name is brought up. He just wants to put the past behind him and play football, and Roger Goodell should see that and reinstate him.
Can the Steelers repeat as Super Bowl champions?
The Steelers kept most of their core players from last season, and bolstered their depth chart through the draft and free agency. The only setback was the loss of Larry Foote, who demanded to get out of Pittsburgh. They do have a very easy schedule, with their toughest game being Tennessee in Week One. It certainly looks like the Steelers will make another run at a title, and if they stay healthy, they should be holding up their seventh Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year.
There you have it; those are the 10 questions that need answers in the NFL. Will we get answers on any or all of them? You'll just have to watch the 2009 NFL season unfold to find out!