2010 NFL Preseason: 32 Important Questions Yet To Be Answered
Although preseason games are essentially meaningless, there is a lot that can be learned by watching each game.
The information gathered by each team's coaching staff will go a long way in determining the fate of your favorite team and players.
Here are the most important questions facing each team for the upcoming season.
Can they be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium?
The Cowboys have become an early Super Bowl favorite, and for good reason. They won the NFC East and their first playoff game in years last season and are bringing back most of the same team, as well as adding highly touted rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Getting to the Super Bowl won't be easy for the Cowboys, not only do they play in one of the deepest divisions in football, they also have to play the New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers, and Minnesota Vikings, all playoff teams from last year.
The biggest question mark for the Cowboys is along the offensive line. Pro Bowl left tackle Flozell Adams was released and the position will be filled by fourth-year tackle Doug Free. Free has looked good this preseason and will need to do a good job of protecting Tony Romo's blindside during the regular season if the Cowboys hope to be the first team to play a home game in the Super Bowl.
New York Giants
Can they get back to their 2007 form?
After stunning the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants again made the playoffs in 2008, but were eliminated early, and last season they took a big step backwards, finishing with a 8-8 record and finishing third in the NFC East.
The defense that was so crucial to the Giants' success in 2007, ranked 30th in points allowed, giving up over 26 points per game last season.
The Giants made numerous moves this offseason to improve their defense, drafting defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and defensive tackle Linval Joseph in the first two rounds and acquiring safeties Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant.
If the new additions on defense can contribute this season, the Giants could be in the mix in the very tough NFC East again this season.
Did they make the right decision in trading Donovan McNabb?
Trading a franchise quarterback is rare in the NFL, and even more rare is trading a franchise quarterback in the division, but that is what the Eagles did this offseason, when they sent Donovan McNabb to the Redskins for a couple of draft picks. The trade says less about how little the Eagles thought about McNabb, and more about how confident they feel about Kevin Kolb.
Regardless of how good Kevin Kolb is or becomes, trading a talented quarterback to a division rival is a risky proposition.
With the addition of McNabb and Shanahan, how much better will the Redskins be?
After a disappointing 4-12 campaign last year, the Redskins made some big changes.
Gone is head coach Jim Zorn, replaced with Mike Shanahan. Unlike Zorn, who had almost no previous head coaching experience, Shanahan brings in years of experience, including stints with the Raiders and Broncos, which include Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998. Shanahan has already begun making his mark with the team. And with his battle with disgruntled defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
The head-coaching change was not the only big move made in the offseason, the Redskins decided to end the Jason Campbell era and traded in the division for rival quarterback Donovan McNabb. You could argue that McNabb is past is prime, but he still an upgrade over Campbell, who never seemed to develop into a franchise quarterback in Washington.
The question remains, will these changes translate into wins?
Can the Falcons stay healthy enough to be contenders?
For the first time ever the Atlanta Falcons had back-to-back winning seasons, despite both quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner missing time due to injury. The Falcons still missed the playoffs, but have high hopes for this season.
Turner looks to be completely healthy and will be looking to return to his 2008 form, which saw him rush for nearly 1,700 yards and Ryan is fully recovered from injuries that sidelined him last season.
If both can stay healthy, the Falcons could challenge the Saints for the NFC South title.
Can Matt Moore hold off Jimmy Clausen as the starting quarterback?
Matt Moore will be the starting quarterback for the Panthers when the season starts, but if he struggles or if the team struggles will the Panthers be tempted to play Jimmy Clausen?
Moore played well towards the end of last season in relief of Jake Delhomme, but has struggled a bit this preseason. Clausen may not be an upgrade over Moore at this point, but if they feel the second-round pick is the quarterback of the future and if the Panthers are not competing for a playoff spot midway though the season, giving Clausen a shot might be the smart choice.
New Orleans Saints
Can the Saints defense perform as well as it did last year?
The Saints had an incredibly prolific offense last year, leading the league in both total yards and points scored. With most of the same players returning from last year, there is little doubt that this year, barring injuries, they could be just as explosive.
The defensive side of the ball in another matter. The Saints defense finished 25th in yards allowed and 20th in points allowed, but excelled in forcing turnovers, forcing 39, second only to the Green Bay Packers with 40.
The Saints offense alone will win them some games, but if they hope to repeat the success they had last season, the defense will have to show that they can stop opposing offenses and continue to create turnovers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will Josh Freeman develop into a franchise quarterback this season?
Josh Freeman took over the starting quarterback job midway through the season last year against the Green Bay Packers. Freeman played well against Green Bay passing for three touchdowns and only one pick, but the rest of the season was a bit of a struggle. Freeman ended the season throwing only 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in nine games as a starter.
If the Buccaneers have any hope of improving on their 3-13 season, Freeman will need to play better this season. Complicating Freeman's chances is the fact that the Buccaneers have little depth at wide receiver. Rookie Mike Williams looks like he could of been a huge steal in this year's draft and looks to have secured one of the starting jobs, but the battle for the second receiver spot looks to be wide open.
Freeman has the strong arm, athleticism, and mobility to be a great NFL quarterback, but this year he will need to improve on his decision-making and accuracy.
Will Trent Edwards be able to hold on the to the starting QB job all season?
Since Jim Kelly's retirement, the Buffalo Bills have struggled to find a franchise quarterback.
This year it appears that the quarterback job will be given to Trent Edwards to start the season, but Edwards will need to do more to hang on to the job than he did last year, where in eight games he threw only six touchdowns and seven interceptions. If Edwards does not show improvement the Bills may see what either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Brian Brohm can do.
The good news for the Bills is that although their offensive line depth is questionable, the running game for the Bills could be very good this year, with the addition of C.J. Spiller to an already formidable backfield of Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson.
Is Chad Henne the answer at quarterback?
Like the Bills, the Dolphins have had a hard time replacing their legendary quarterback, Dan Marino, but the Dolphins hope to have found their man in Chad Henne.
Henne started 13 games for the Dolphins his sophomore season. At times Henne showed glimpses of why he was chosen in the second round of the 2008 draft, and at other times he looked a little overwhelmed with the speed of the game.
Henne finished the season with 14 interceptions and 12 touchdowns, and just under 2,900 yards. The good news for Henne is that the Dolphins traded for Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall this offseason. The Dolphins offense will probably still rely mainly on the running game for thier offense, but the addition of Marshall should add another dimension to the passing game.
New England Patriots
Will the Patriots of 2007 be back?
The Patriots were nearly unstoppable in 2007, crushing their opponents on their way to a 16-0 record, their only stumble, a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.
Expectations were high with most of the same team returning in 2008, but quarterback Tom Brady's season was over after an injury in the first game of the season. The Patriots were respectable with Matt Cassell at the helm, but just missed the playoffs. The Patriots won the AFC East and made it back to the playoffs last season, but Brady never looked completely comfortable.
With a full year to recover for Brady and wide receiver Wes Welker recovered from his own serious knee injury, will the Patriots be the offensive juggernaut that set offensive records in 2007, or will the Jets be the new kings of the AFC East?
New York Jets
Can the Jets live up to the hype?
After a somewhat surprising playoff run that ended with a loss in the AFC Championship game to the Indianapolis Colts, the Jets were one of the biggest movers in the offseason, Acquiring running back LaDainian Tomlinson, linebacker Jason Taylor, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
The excitement for the Jets is not due just because of their offseason additions, but because of head coach Rex Ryan making seemingly constant declarations of the team's greatness.
But the offseason was not without losses, gone are guard Alan Faneca, running backs Leon Washington, and Thomas Jones, and Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis is still holding out for a new contract.
The Jets defense should again be one of the best in the league, but the offense will have to manage to score some points if they want to keep pace with the Patriots.
Will the depleted secondary be the downfall of the Ravens?
The Baltimore Ravens seem to have one of the best defenses in the league year after year, but their offense has usually been pretty middle of the road. Even with the emergence of quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice the Ravens ranked 13th in the NFL in total yards.
This year could be different however, with the acquisition of wide receiver Anquan Boldin from the Cardinals. Boldin gives the Ravens something they have been missing for years, a legitimate No. 1 receiver. The addition of Boldin made the Ravens a trendy Super Bowl pick, but a depleted secondary could be their Achilles' heel.
Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed will miss an unspecified amount of time due to injury and could start the season on the PUP list, cornerback Domonique Foxworth has been placed on season-ending injured reserve and corner backs Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington are both coming off of serious knee injuries.
The Ravens can still contend in the AFC North, but they will need to get healthy in the secondary to make a deep playoff run.
Will all the roster moves translate into wins this season?
Aside from a 10-6 record in 2007, the Cleveland Browns have been awful since coming back to the NFL in 1999. In hopes of changing that, ownership brought in Mike Holmgren to be team president and Tom Heckert to be the new GM.
Heckert and Holmgren have made a lot of moves, acquiring mostly middle-of-the road players, who will help with the team's overall depth, and releasing or trading players who may not fit into their plans.
The biggest move was the addition of Jake Delhomme, who at one time was a Pro Bowl quarterback, but has struggled the past few years with the Panthers. With the release of Derek Anderson and the trade of Brady Quinn, Delhomme should start for the Browns.
The moves made this year should be a good start to turning the Browns organization in the right direction, but with the amount of talent in the division, I still think they are a couple of years away from competing for the AFC North.
Can Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens co-exist on the same team?
The Bengals went 6-0 in the AFC North last season, but sputtered out towards the end of the season and made an early exit in the playoffs. The main culprit for the Bengals woes seemed to be the passing game, which ranked 26th in the league last season.
To bolster the passing game, the Bengals signed receivers Antonio Bryant to a long-term contract, as well as former first-round pick Matt Jones to a one-year deal. The Bengals made the biggest move however, just before the start of the preseason signing receiver Terrell Owens.
The move definitely makes the Bengals more talented at the receiver position, but will both Owens and Chad Ochocinco be able to put their egos aside for the good of team if one receiver starts to get more attention than the other?
Can the Steelers withstand the loss of Big Ben and still contend for a playoff spot?
Like the Ravens, the Steelers seem to continually have one of the best defenses in the league, and that should be know different this year with the return of safety Troy Polamalu.
The key for the Steelers will be weathering the first four to six games of the season when quarterback Ben Rothilisberger will be serving a suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, and in his place will be either Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon.
The task for Leftwich or Dixon is not an easy one. The first four games of the season the Steelers face the Ravens, Titans, and Falcons, all teams that could be playoff contenders this season. If the Steelers start the season 0-4 or 1-3 they could have a very difficult time making the playoffs.
With all of their offseason losses can the Cardinals still win the division?
The Cardinals lost Pro Bowl safety Antrel Rolle, Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin, and highly-productive linebacker Karlos Dansby, to free agency or trade, but the greatest loss is that of future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, whose retirement will be very difficult to overcome.
Matt Leinart is scheduled to be the starting the quarterback when the season begins, but he has looked less than impressive this preseason and could be in danger of losing his job to Derek Anderson.
Even with all their losses the Cardinals still have a lot of talent on the team, but the loss of Warner may be enough to switch the balance of power in the NFC West.
St. Louis Rams
When will Sam Bradford become the starting QB for the Rams?
As of right now A.J. Feely is the starting quarterback for the Rams, but that will surely change sometime this season when the torch is passed to rookie Sam Bradford. The only question is when.
There are two schools of thought when dealing with a rookie quarterback. The first being, start them right away and let them play through adversity, which worked well for Peyton Manning who has developed into one of the games best quarterbacks, and more recently the Ravens' Joe Flacco and the Falcons' Matt Ryan.
The strategy did not go so well with David Carr for example, who was sacked a record 76 times his rookie season and never developed into a starting-caliber quarterback.
The second school of thought is, let them play behind a veteran for some time to let them develop and learn the intricacies of being an NFL quarterback. This strategy maybe preferable for the Rams, who have some issues along the offensive line.
If the Rams don't feel their offensive line can sufficiently protect Bradford, who missed most of his junior season with a shoulder injury, the smart move may be to let him sit behind Feely and not rush him into a situation that could hamper his growth as an NFL quarterback.
San Francisco 49ers
Are the 49ers the team to beat in the NFC West?
The Cardinals have been the best team in the NFC West for the past two years, but that could change this year. Arizona has lost some key players, while the 49ers look poised for a breakout season.
Quarterback Alex Smith, who has been widely regarded as a bust so far in his career, has a chance to lead the 49ers back to a division title if he plays at a competent level. With Vernon Davis at tight end, Frank Gore at running back, and Michael Crabtree at wide receiver, the 49ers appear to be loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball.
Defensively, the 49ers ranked in the top five in points allowed last season and there is no reason they should not repeat that kind of performance.
Will Pete Carroll's return to the NFL be a successful one?
Though not a complete disaster, Pete Carroll's stints as head coach of the New York Jets and New England Patriots, were not nearly as successful as his college head coaching career with the USC Trojans.
Carroll is taking over a Seahawks team that has had back-to-back losing seasons, and despite all the roster additions and subtractions this offseason, the key to the Seahawks success will lie in the hands of Carroll and longtime quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
When healthy Hasselbeck is a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, but his inability to stay healthy has been one of the main reasons for the Seahawks' struggles the past couple of years. The addition of quarterback Charlie Whitehurst could provide some insurance for Hasselbeck, but Whitehurst is still not a proven NFL starter.
Green Bay Packers
Can the Packers defense stop the top-tier quarterbacks?
The Packers had the No. 2-ranked defense in all of football last year, but they had a glaring weakness against top-tier quarterbacks. Kurt Warner, Ben Roethlisberger, and Brett Favre were all able to light up the Packers secondary.
The Packers offense looked great in the first preseason game this year, but the defense allowed Cleveland to march up and down the field, granted it was only a preseason game and the Packers did almost no blitzing, but the defensive line was not able to get any pressure on the quarterback.
There is some good news for the Packers. After sustaining a serious knee injury last year, cornerback Al Harris may start practicing next week and could be ready for Week One.
With Brett Favre back, can the Vikings get to the Super Bowl?
A couple of weeks ago things were looking pretty bleak for the Vikings. Rumors were swirling that Brett Favre would be retiring, leaving Tavaris Jackson to lead the team. Now Brett Favre is back and so is the Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl talk.
But the question is, can Favre have the same type of season he had last year? Favre had his best season statistically last year, but there are legitimate concerns whether or not Favre can have the same type of season coming off his ankle injury and the news that Sidney Rice may miss half the season.
The Vikings came up just short in the NFC Championship game last season, but with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers getting another year of experience under their belt, there is no guarantee that they will win the NFC North.
Can the Lions make the jump from cellar-dweller to respectable team?
The Lions have a total of two wins in the last two years, so no one is expecting them to compete for a playoff spot this season, but they could become respectable.
The Lions finished last in the league in both points and yards allowed per game last season, but they made some nice off-season additions along the defensive line, with the selection of Ndamukong Suh in the draft and the acquisitions of Corey Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch. The secondary is still a question mark, but if the defensive line can get some pressure on the quarterback it should make the secondary's job much easier.
Expectations for the Lions have been so low for so many years, a six-win season could be considered a success.
How will Jay Cutler do in Mike Martz's offense?
After a lengthy search for a new offensive coordinator this off season, the Bears eventually settled on Mike Martz.
Martz is widely considered an offensive genius for his work with Rams, but has since struggled to find the same kind of success with either the Lions or the 49ers. There are questions on how well Martz's style of offense will mesh with quarterback Jay Cutler's style of play.
Cutler is coming off a season that saw him lead the league in interceptions with 26, and Martz-run offenses tend to be a very high-risk offense that lends itself to throwing a lot of interceptions. Cutler has a great arm, but there are questions about his mental toughness. If Cutler once again leads the league in interceptions will it destroy his confidence?
To be honest I have no idea how the Bears season will turn out. I think there is a possibility they could go 5-11 or if Martz and Cutler get in sync with each other they could go 11-5, but one thing that's for sure is they should be fun to watch.
Who will handle the ball-carrying duties?
Coming into the 2009 season Steve Slaton looked like he could become a superstar running back, but after losing five fumbles last season he lost much of his playing time to Ryan Moats and Arian Foster, who appears to be the favorite for the starting job this season, after second-round pick Ben Tate was placed on injured reserve.
The Texans have an explosive passing offense, but if they want to contend for a playoff spot this year they are going to need to get some consistency out of their running game.
Will the offensive line be improved?
The Indianapolis Colts continue to be the most consistent team in the NFL, winning at least 12 games the past seven seasons, including two Super Bowl appearances.
After last year's loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl, Colts GM Bill Polian placed a lot of the blame on the offensive line, but surprisingly they did very little to address this in the offseason, using only one mid-round draft pick on an offensive lineman and only adding a couple reserve linemen in free agency.
Despite Polian's claims about the offensive line, quarterback Peyton Manning was sacked a league low 10 times last season, so I would expect the offensive line to be a non-factor in the regular season this year, but the questions may arise again in the postseason.
Can the Jaguars muster a pass rush?
The Jaguars managed a meager 14 sacks last season, a league low by eight sacks.
To help rectify the situation the Jaguars signed defensive end Aaron Kampman, and used three of their first four picks on the draft on the defensive line.
If the Jaguars hope to have any chance to compete with the pass-oriented offenses of division rivals Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts, a consistent pass rush will need to be generated.
Will Vince Young be consistent?
Vince Young has had an up-and-down NFL career thus far. Named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and to selected to the Pro Bowl in 2006, Young has since lost his starting job to veteran Kerry Collins in 2008 and regained his starting job in 2009.
With opposing defenses likely keying in on 2,000 yard rusher Chris Johnson, Young should have every opportunity this year to prove he can be Pro Bowl caliber starting quarterback in the NFL.
How much playing time will Tim Tebow see this season?
Kyle Orton seems to get very little respect, even after passing for nearly 4,000 yards last season, the Broncos traded for former first-rounder Brady Quinn and moved up in the draft to select quarterback Tim Tebow.
Although currently third on the Broncos depth chart, it seemed like there was a good possibility Tebow could take over for Orton if the team struggled later in the season, but this is looking more unlikely now that Orton was signed to a contract extension earlier this month.
It still seems likely that Tebow beats out Quinn for the back up quarterback spot, but with Orton's new extension look for Tebow to be used primarily in "wildcat" formation and goal line situations.
Kansas City Chiefs
Was signing Matt Cassel to a long-term contract a mistake?
After a great season with the Patriots filling in for the injured Tom Brady, the Kansas City Chiefs traded for Matt Cassel and quickly signed him to a six-year $63 million contract.
But a mediocre 2009 season, leaves some questions to be answered. Was Cassel's success in New England only due to the talent he was surrounded with? Did the Chiefs sign him to lucrative contract too quickly?
Cassel will have a new offensive coordinator this year with the addition of former New England Patriots offensive coordinator and more recently Notre Dame head coach, Charlie Weis, who many consider to be instrumental in the success of Tom Brady and the Patriots this past decade. Cassel has a lot to prove, but Weis might be the best person to help him maximize his talents.
Will Jason Campbell thrive in a new setting?
Jason Campbell never seemed to get a fair shake in Washington, with constant changes at offensive coordinator, shoddy offensive line play, and questionable talent at wide receiver. And the Oakland Raiders are not exactly known as the most stable organization in the league, but the change of scenery may do Campbell good.
Any competent quarterback play will be seen positively after JaMarcus Russell's time in Oakland, and he does have some talent around him in young wide receivers, Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is extremely talented yet raw.
San Diego Chargers
Can the Chargers withstand the hold outs of Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill?
Two key pieces to the San Diego Chargers offense continue to hold out late into the preseason. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who will already be suspended the first three games of the season for violating the league's personal conduct policy, looks like he could be traded before the season starts. Jackson has been quarterback Philip Rivers' go-to receiver for the past couple of seasons.
Even more troubling for the Chargers is the absence of Pro Bowl tackle Marcus McNeill. McNeill is pushing for a new contract, but GM A.J. Smith does not appear to be willing to budge on his position. The lack of a quality left tackle could prove fatal to a team with Super Bowl aspirations.