Finally, the season is here. So stop your grinnin' and drop your linen. Time for football.
We celebrate the opening of another NFL season with—wait, hold on...another 49ers player was just arrested. Stand by while he posts bail.
OK, sorry, let's try again. We celebrate the opening of another football season with a special 10-Point Stance looking at 10 vital questions entering the year.
My Super Bowl pick at the end is, well, interesting.
Happy football, everyone.
Flash back to last season. Peyton Manning set single-season records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns. Those seem like records that won't be broken for at least a few years, right? Right?
No, Aaron Rodgers likely won't break it, but he will come damn close. I know he has a reliable running game now, but that will only slightly lower his statistics.
I think Rodgers is primed to have his best season ever. There are two reasons.
First, the fact that game officials will likely call more penalties on secondary players should allow a pinpoint thrower like Rodgers to destroy secondaries—even more than he already does. I'm not buying that the refs will back down once the regular season starts. This will make terrible quarterbacks average, average ones good, good ones great and elite ones like Rodgers into supermen.
Second, Green Bay's defense will again be average at best. I think the Packers will win a lot of games 38-30.
No, Rodgers probably won't break Manning's records, but it will be closer than you think.
2. Can the Seahawks repeat?
They can because the number of good teams in the NFC, unlike in the AFC, is arguably limited. The Packers have the offense to beat Seattle but not the defense. The Panthers have the defense but not the offense. The Cowboys choke. The 49ers might end up in another remake of The Longest Yard before another title game. The Saints are too soft. The Eagles aren't ready...yet.
Another big reason they could easily repeat: This team is deep. The Seahawks front office is one of the most underrated in all of sports. Lack of depth is the biggest reason that repeat champs are so rare (the fact that other teams are uber-motivated is second). The Seahawks won't have that problem.
The only thing that can derail Seattle is chemistry. Will the relationship between quarterback and offense remain OK? That's one of the larger questions.
But the Seahawks are perhaps the best bet to repeat of any champion in league history.
3. Will Rob Gronkowski stay healthy?
It's one of the bigger questions of the season, and the answer is hell no.
Said one NFC scout: "Guys like Rob (Gronkowski), strong guys with a long injury history who constantly take big shots, never stay healthy."
No one knows what will happen when it comes to Gronkowski's health, but as the scout said, you play the odds. Few football people I speak to believe he will complete the season.
(You could also insert "Wes Welker" for "Gronkowski" throughout this section.)
4. What game will Johnny Manziel start?
Johnny Manziel won't start. Not this season, anyway.
I'm one of the few people in the world who believe the Browns will surprise some people and Brian Hoyer will do enough to keep the starting job for the entire season.
I also believe Browns wide receiver Miles Austin will make the Pro Bowl, so maybe I'm smoking the good stuff like Josh Gordon.
What does seem certain is that the Browns will have a package of plays specifically designed to get Manziel involved.
"The thing about it, New York tried to do that with Tim Tebow a little bit," said Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who will face the Browns in the season opener, per NFL.com's Marc Sessler. "But Tebow's a guy you have to just play and play and grind out the entire game. I don't think Johnny is that type of guy. I think if Johnny came into the game, he would make some splashes. He doesn't need to get into a rhythm."
5. Will Jason Garrett get fired?
That's like asking, is there gravity? If the Cowboys fail to make the playoffs, he's gone. NFL team executives I've spoken to believe that even if Jason Garrett makes the postseason and the Cowboys have an early playoff exit, he's gone.
By this time next year, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin will be preparing for his first game as Cowboys head coach.
6. Which team will shock the world?
The Jaguars. I finally feel like this organization is going in the right direction. I'm not saying the team makes the postseason, but I am saying they make a run. At some point—and it will happen early—Blake Bortles will start under center, and the coaching staff will be kicking itself for not starting him earlier.
7. Can LeSean McCoy rush for 2,000 yards?
"Who wouldn't like to do it?" LeSean McCoy told reporters recently, per Rob Maaddi of The Associated Press. "But I just like to have fun with it. I let the media and all the fans really react to it, and the fantasy people. But the biggest thing is winning. That's what I want to do. That's the main goal."
Can McCoy do it? He can. Will he? Hell no.
The Eagles will be solid, but I see McCoy repeating in the range of 1,600 yards. Maybe slightly less. I do think Philadelphia's offense presents great challenges to defenses, and McCoy and that offense will benefit greatly from a division with no great defenses. But I also believe that the NFL will adjust to what Chip Kelly does offensively. It's only natural.
This is what always happens in football. And that will prevent McCoy from reaching two grand.
8. What will we see with RG3?
We're going to see what we witnessed in the preseason: Robert Griffin III struggling and limping. I'm not buying his claim that the team fixed the offensive problems in practice. Excellent spin, but no proof that's true.
I'm not convinced, and I don't think Griffin will do more to protect his body. He's too stubborn—on and off the field.
9. Which star will take a step back?
I think it's Tony Romo. He's 34 and has faced multiple back surgeries recently.
I want him to succeed. He's a good dude, but he chokes a little and is in a situation where he's had no defense put around him by his general manager/owner/stadium builder/star/guy who's jealous of Jimmy Johnson.
|Tony Romo stats|
That defense will even be worse this season, and it's going to drag the whole team into the drink, including Romo.
10. Who will win the Super Bowl?
I've gone back and forth over this for months, and what makes the Super Bowl harder to pick than normal is the abundance of good teams in the AFC. I'm focusing on two, though: Indianapolis and San Diego.
The Chargers have a nasty schedule. They play the 49ers, Seahawks and Patriots once and the Broncos and Chiefs twice each. Yet something about this team makes me believe they can win the conference. It's mainly quarterback Philip Rivers, but it's also all of the weapons around him on both sides of the ball.
Methodically, quietly, San Diego has become stacked with talent. The addition of Dwight Freeney was one of the best free-agent pickups of the past five years. The Chargers have a nice mix of pure talent, younger players and veteran leadership.
The Colts are similar, and to me, Andrew Luck is on the verge of something great. By the end of this coming season, everyone will view him as a top-five quarterback. Maybe even top three.
But I'm officially going Chargers-Seahawks, with the Seahawks repeating.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.