[We sometimes think of him as the best thinker on baseball. It’s like the star spring athlete that you forget also plays varsity in the fall and winter terms. This post is the first in a series of articles in the coming days from East Coast Editor Ezra Troy on the biggest questions in the National Football League. We have one week of smash mouth under the belt, and now the biggest questions facing your favorite teams are coming into view. As my beloved quotation from the voice of John Facenda intones, “They call it pro football. It starts with a whistle and it ends with a gun.”]
As we approach Week Two of the National Football League (NFL) regular season, it is time to begin to grapple with some of the big questions for the 2018 Season.
1. New Faces, New Places: QB edition
This year in the NFL, ten teams are starting quarterbacks that did not start a game for them last year (Vikings, Colts, Bills, Broncos, Redskins, Dolphins, Browns, Buccaneers, Jets and Cardinals). Additionally, six quarterbacks were taken in this years draft and it is almost certain at least two will start at least one game by the seasons end. One of them, Sam Darnold, whom the Jets drafted at third overall, is projected to start from the beginning of the season.
2. Can the Patriots Continue Their Dominance?
The New England Patriots have won 16 of the past 17 AFC East titles and gone to seven straight AFC title games. This year may not be such a walk in the park. The Steelers always compete with the Pats and have arguably the best offense in the game. The Jaguars made the AFC championship last year, almost beat the Patriots, and only got better over the offseason. The Texans are getting JJ Watt back, who may be the greatest defensive player on the planet, to go along with Jadeveon Clowney, a trendy preseason pick for Defensive Player of the Year. Andrew Luck is playing for the Colts once more may make them relevant again. Any way you look at it, the AFC is stacked and the Patriots making the AFC championship again is far from a guarantee. That’s not to mention the Pats, who have virtually no receiving corps (at least for the first four weeks) and whose defense ranked 29th in yards allowed per game last season. Additionally, due to his wife concussion concerns, there is speculation that this may be Tom Brady’s last season. Can he lead his team to a Super Bowl win in what may be his final year?
3. Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings
Two of the surprise teams last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Minnesota Vikings, look to build on their success from last year, where they both made their conference championship games. These are two young, exciting teams with dominant defenses and electric second year running backs. Both teams also made splashes in free agency, with the Vikings signing Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson and the Jaguars giving Andrew Norwell the highest contract for a Guard ever and signing receiver Donte Moncrief. But with a group of good teams at the top of both conferences, it won’t be easy for them to make the championship game again.
4. Khalil Mack-Raiders and Bears
The blockbuster trade of edge rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears was more than we could ask for to cap off the 2018 offseason and preseason. Mack had been in a contract dispute with the Raiders for the better part of a year. He even sat out for the preseason because he couldn’t get the deal he wanted. New coach Jon Gruden’s overhaul of the Oakland roster and his dealing of his best player to the Bears is something to follow this year. The Bears sent their first round picks in 2019 and 2020, plus a 2019 sixth round and a 2020 third round pick in return for Mack and a second round pick in 2020, plus a conditional fifth rounder of the same year. The move signals a change in Oakland as they continue to shift and dismantle their roster. It also signals a shift in the culture in the Bears locker room. He adds a whole new dimension to their defense, and his new 6-year, $141 million extension with $90 million guaranteed ensures that he will stick around for a long time. The addition of Mack signals that the Bears are ready to both win now and build up their team over the next few years while QB Mitch Trubisky remains on his rookie deal.
5. Injury Returns
There were so many injuries to star players last year that it became a fad throughout the season to create “All-Injured Teams” made up of all the stars who were out for the year. The electric Odell Beckham Jr. went down in Week 4. David Johnson, coming off one of the best running back seasons in NFL history, was injured in Week 1 and didn’t return. Aaron Rodgers, considered by many as one of the best quarterbacks of this generation, broke his collarbone in Week 6, and missed the remainder of the season. JJ Watt, former Defensive Player of the Year and sack master, who was injured and only played a few games for the second straight year, looks to return to old form. How good will these players be upon their return?
These questions loom large. They are not, however, an exhaustive list. This article is the first in a series that will pose big NFL questions that require big NFL answers in the days and weeks ahead. As the autumn leaves turn, it’s football season. We would love to hear your thoughts in the Comment Section.