Let’s think back to this time last year for a second. RGIII hadn’t set foot on an NFL field yet. Colin Kaepernick was still a virtual unknown; Ray Lewis was still making his wacky motivational speeches. The read-option was still confined to the college game and no one knew how Peyton Manning would respond to neck surgery and a year away from the game.
Now looking five months into the future, Super Bowl XLVIII will be played just across the Hudson in New Jersey. Between now and then, the tide of the National Football League can and will change drastically. There will be teams that surprise and an equal number who’ll disappoint their fans. With that in mind, here are some story lines to watch for throughout the season.
Quarterback: The man in the middle
Like it or not, the NFL is undoubtedly a quarterback driven league. There were more than a few moves involving the guys under center this offseason.
The New England Patriots cut Tim Tebow this past weekend. The oft spoken about quarterback [Ed. note: This is the last time we'll mention Tim Tebow until he actually does something newsworthy] was trying to make the team as a backup to Tom Brady, who is perpetually one of the league’s top signal callers. It was thought that Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ coach who is know to do literally anything to win, would find a creative way to use him. This was not the case and iwhen the season begins on Thursday night, Tebow will need a miracle to find another NFL job.
Also, look out for some inexperienced quarterbacks to take center stage. It was announced recently that Terrelle Pryor of the Oakland Raiders will be their starting quarterback for week 1. He was pretty good at the Ohio State, but kind of dropped off the face of the earth after withdrawing from the school during an investigation for receiving improper benefits. The Buffalo Bills assumed they’d trot out their first round pick, E.J. Manuel, on opening day, but his debut looked in doubt as he had preseason knee surgery. Right now, though, it looks like he’ll give it a go. Hopefully for everyone upstate, that’s the case; after Kevin Kolb was concussed, their only other option is undrafted free agent signee, Jeff Tuel.
In local news, Geno Smith of the New York Jets will also be starting week 1 as incumbent, Mark Sanchez, is injured. It’s likely the end of the Sanchez era, which should give Gang Green fans some small solace during what looks to be a dreadful season. One final quarterback of note is Colin Kaepernick. It is his first full season and it will be interesting to see if he can survive with his aggressive style of play for a complete season.
Defense Wins Championships
This season might be remembered as the “Year of the Sack”. The Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants all have dominant defensive fronts. However, more teams this year than ever seem to have lined up their front four in order to take pressure off of their secondary. Teams such as the Atlanta Falcons (Osi Umenyiora), Baltimore Ravens (Elvis Dumervil) and Seattle Seahawks (Cliff Avril) signed free agent defensive ends to bolster their lines. This will set up an interesting match-up: the new trend of mobile quarterbacks are built to escape coverage, but the veteran lineman will surely think of some schemes to slow them down. As the season progresses, we’ll see more and more of a chess match around the line and backfield.
One of, if not the biggest trades, in the offseason was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers acquisition of former Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets in exchange for two draft picks. This trade immediately gives the Bucs a top line secondary, even with Revis coming off of a major knee injury. Another cornerback to watch out for on a new team is Nnamdi Asomugha of the San Francisco 49ers. As it stands right now, he is the third cornerback on the depth chart. This former Pro Bowler, however, could easily play his way back to top form and regain his status as one of the top shutdown cornerbacks in the league.
The Minnesota Vikings had the best draft of any team this year. Their three first round picks (defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson) might not impact the team significantly this year but they will have a huge impact in years to come. Looking at a few other significant rookies, the Rams Tavon Austin could be in for a breakout year taking over Danny Amendola’s role and Giovani Bernard could be a sleeper running back. Neither Eric Fisher nor Luke Joeckel (the offensive guards taken first and second overall respectively) will appear on the highlight reels, but they should significantly improve their squads. On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts snagged big Bjoern Werner, who should help them immediately.
Predicting the champion of any of the four major sports at the beginning of a season is virtually impossible. Teams exceed and fail to meet expectations. Rookies break out and injuries happen. However, there are two teams that should shine above the rest this year. On February 2nd, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the New England Patriots will be holding the Vince Lombardi trophy after defeating the San Francisco 49ers 28-27.