In the post-lockout NFL, there has been a frenzy of trades and free-agency activity. However, there are some story lines that have remained under the radar.
First off, the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers, aren't getting much attention. A lot of the preseason hype so far has been about the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, following their offseason moves.
However, a lot of people forget that the Packers were decimated by injuries last year and still won the Super Bowl as a sixth seed. Aaron Rogers is possibly the most underrated quarterback in the league; even after last year’s success, he still plays 2nd fiddle in the ESPN hype machine to Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Michael Vick.
The Packers return their starting running back, Ryan Grant, who missed almost the entire 2010 season, as well as several other key contributors from last season who were banged up. They have also added former Kentucky standout Randall Cobb to their impressive receiving corps.
Matt Hasselbeck signing with the Tennessee Titans is also a story line I don’t see getting very much attention. Hasselbeck gives the Titans something they have lacked in recent years, which is stability at quarterback. He also helps the Titans prepare for the future by being a veteran presence who has seen several trips to the playoffs and can mentor their first-round pick, Jake Locker.
The Titans are set at quarterback for the short term and the long term with this addition. The Titans were also one of the worst defenses in the league last year. If they are improved at all on defense and can get Chris Johnson humming, Hasselbeck should be able to utilize the Titans' other skill players to move Tennessee into division contention.
I say Tennessee could be in contention because the dominant team in the AFC South, the Indianapolis Colts, has a growing problem that hasn’t received very much attention either. Peyton Manning has not been recovering from his neck surgery as quickly as expected.
If Manning isn’t ready by the start of the season, the Colts will be going with the untested Curtis Painter. The Colts start the season at the Houston Texans, followed by home games against the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a visit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With no Manning, the Colts could start as poorly as 1-3 or even 0-4.
In the wide-open NFC West, the St. Louis Rams look like the team to beat. With quarterback Sam Bradford coming into his second season after being a game away from the playoffs last year, the Rams are in a position to break through this fall.
They added several veteran free agents, including running back Cadillac Williams and cornerback Al Harris. They also drafted UNC pass rusher Robert Quinn in the first round. Combined with the Seattle Seahawks losing Hasselbeck, the NFC West is there for the taking for the Rams.
The San Diego Chargers is another team that is not getting the hype it deserves. Last year, Philip Rivers threw for over 4,700 yards despite his top targets, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, missing several games each. In addition, the Chargers' starting running back, Ryan Matthews, missed seven games.
The Chargers still managed to go 9-7 last year, even with an offense in shambles. This year, they plan to be running 100 percent healthy, and thus even more explosive. On defense, the Chargers added Takeo Spikes and Bob Sanders, who should provide some veteran stability to a defense that is breaking in new coordinator Greg Manusky.