The kickoff of each new NFL season brings its own set of riddles and mysteries as endless as the NFL preseason. You have got some questions? I have got answers. Here are a dozen things to ponder while you are waiting for Terrell Owens to do something foolish again.
1. Is three the magic number of the Patriots?
The football world might be asking too much of the Patriots, the first dynasty in the post salary cap era. It is hard enough to battle the revolving door at the bottom of the roster. The Patriots, this offseason, have dealt with the retirement of heart of the defense Tedy Bruschi and the loss of top coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis. It now seems chic to pick against the Patriots this year. But the experts have bet against the team before. That seems to be the way coach Bill Belichick likes it.
2. Will Peyton Manning shake the big game jinx?
The Patriots have become Manning's NFL version of the Florida Gators and it has fans in Indianapolis concerned. John Elway had Terrell Davis to push him over the top. Steve Young had Deion Sanders. Who will be the guy who can push Manning over the top, or is he destined to join other great quarterbacks who just missed such as Danny White, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino? The key will be Edgerrin James who is poised for a big season while looking for a potential multi-year contract in 2006. This could be the last go-round for the Colts big three of Manning, James, and Marvin Harrison.
3. Is the NFL really playing a regular season game out of the country?
Yes. Most fans wondered why the NFL would schedule a regular season game in Mexico on October 2. Then they found out it was Arizona and San Francisco, so it made sense.
4. Are the Cowboys reinventing the Over the Hill Gang?
The Cowboys roster reads like a Pro Bowl program--from the 1990s. Larry Allen, Drew Bledsoe, Terry Glenn, La' Roi Glover, and Keyshawn Johnson went to camp with the team. It might be a lark if you are playing Madden football, but it probably will not take the team very far in the competitive NFC East. But with two young quarterbacks in New York and Washington, Bledsoe does not seem like a bad option. This is third (and if history is any indicator--final) year for Bill Parcells in Dallas so look for him to squeeze as much out of the veterans as possible.
5. Seriously, who is the quarterback in Washington?
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. But this is taking it a little bit too far. Washington has not had this much rudderless leadership since Election Day, 2000. Maybe the Redskins are hopping that the drafting of Jason Campbell will spur a Drew Brees-like rebirth of quarterback Patrick Ramsey.
6. Can Randy Moss take the Raiders to the next level?
Moss already has taken the Raiders to another level--in jersey sales. Moss' number 18 Raiders jersey topped the charts before he even played he failed his first drug test with his new club. The enigmatic receiver will stretch defenses and make it harder for Kerry Collins to overthrow him. Moss also gives coach Norv Turner his best chance to prove that he is not another in a long line of great offensive coordinators that make disappointing head coaches. The only thing Moss cannot do for the Raiders is play defensive back which will be the club's Achilles heel.
7. Is this the make-or-break it year for Joey Harrington in Detroit?
Lions coach Steve Marriucci is not too high on Harrington, having brought in Jeff Garcia from Cleveland and drafted Connecticut quarterback Dan Orlovsky. In other words, Harrington had better win early. But maybe Lions fans should be rooting for Harrington to fail. St. Louis (Kurt Warner), Baltimore (Trent Dilfer), New England (Tom Brady), and Carolina (Jake Delhomme) all reached the Super Bowl in recent years with quarterbacks who started the season as backups.
8. Who is going to win the running back job in Denver?
Does it matter? Reuben Droughns was the latest running back to go from obscurity to light in the Broncos offense. Why not select a fan before each home game to be the team's running back? It has to be a better option than Ron Dayne. It is just a shame the Broncos and coach Mike Shanahan has not had the same success finding a successor to Elway as they did for Davis.
9. Isn't it about time Mike Vick lived up to his potential?
Vick is one of the most marketable quarterbacks in the league, but one of the least effective. Sure, the Falcons reached the NFC Championship Game in 2004, but that was reaching the finals of the Real World/Road Rules Challenge. Vick ranked 24th in the NFL with 14 touchdown passes as even Billy Volek tossed more. The Falcons ranked 30th in passing offense and 16th in scoring offense. It is hard to believe that some still think the Chargers made a mistake by taking LaDainian Tomlinson instead of Vick.
10. Does anybody want to win the NFC West?
The Cardinals could have won the division in 2004, but two loses to San Francisco (the club's only victories) prevented that. Mike Martz could not win when his core players were in their prime instead of past it. Mike Nolan is more concerned wearing a tie on the sideline, while Mike Holmgren has pretty much proven to the world that Matt Hasselbeck is not Brett Favre. Look for 8-8 to take this division--if anybody is that good.
11. Which Ben Roethlisberger will show up for the Steelers this season?
Will it be the smooth rookie that led the Steelers to the best record in football? Or will it be the wide-eyed rookie that was exposed in consecutive playoff games? Blaming his poor playoff performance on a bummed toe does not give a good indication. Neither does riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Tommy Maddox once made a living selling insurance and will be a valuable insurance policy for the Steelers this season if Roethlisberger regresses.
12. Which team will surprise the experts?
Do not even pretend that you thought the San Diego Chargers would win the AFC West last season. One NFL pundit (yours truly) named his fantasy team, Chargers 0-16, in the hopes that the Chargers would make history. They did. Parity is alive and running rampant in pro football, sort of like a washed up celebrities running through reality televison. So the question is not whether a new team will emerge, the question is its identity. But do not bother consulting with any of the experts. They do not know, either.