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Continued from Part 1..
Question: Can Ronnie Brown recover from his injury and repeat the flashes of greatness he showed last year?
Answer: Ronnie Brown was on pace for well over 1,500 yards and 10 TD’s before his season was ended by an ACL tear last year. While all reports of his recovery have been good (are they ever bad?) the one thing Brown needs is time. Having suffered the injury in Week 7 last year, Brown is lucky to have gotten a significant amount of time to heal his injury and begin rehabbing back to full strength. The major concern, besides having Ronnie become good friends with Ricky Williams, is that he’ll aggravate the injury, so he’ll likely get more and more carries as the season progresses.
Answer: Many people have given up on Jackson and called for the Vikings to put in a QB who can take better advantage of a Peterson/Taylor backfield. But with arguably the best running back duo in the game, Jackson will benefit from a lot of defenses failing to pay him much attention and he will have plenty of opportunities to make some big plays. If Jackson can find a balance between playing conservatively but also taking some risks and learning on the job, he may be a perfect fit for the Vikings offense.
Question: With one of the easiest schedules in the league, how long will it take until the Patriots lose their first game and end all of the undefeated talk?
Answer: While the realist in me is saying the Patriots may lose a shocker early in the year, I would likely be beaten in my parking lot, labeled a traitor and left in a dumpster if I formally admitted it. And since I don’t like dumpsters and I’m an unabashed Patriots fan, I say the absolute earliest they will lose will probably be in Week 6 against the Chargers or Week 7 against the Broncos. If the Chargers can march out a healthy offense, they can go score for score with the Patriots whose weak points this year will all be on the defensive front. As for the Broncos, Mike Shanahan has had Bill Belichick’s number these past couple years and they have the combination of a strong running game and a talented defense that gives the Patriots fits.
Question: Have we already witnessed the ceiling of Reggie Bush?
Answer: It’s only been two years and crazier things have happened, but it’s obvious that Reggie’s slash and dash style that was so successful in college isn’t quite as flattering in the pros. While he’s best paired with a Deuce McAllister type bruiser back, don’t be surprised if he builds on his power game as time passes and ends up finally transforming into a legitimate starting running back a la Brian Westbrook.
Question: Will Eli Manning’s Super Bowl win help him improve upon a mediocre regular season performance or will he fuel speculation that he just managed to get lucky at the right time?
Answer: It is more of a credit to the entire Giants team than Manning himself that he managed to win a Super Bowl. Although he’s a solid QB, and his on-the-money pass to David Tyree definitely wasn’t ‘lucky’, Eli will have to improve a bit overall if he wants another shot at the Lombardi trophy (See: The NFC East). Or at least not nearly match his large touchdown total with an equally large interception total. Regardless of the statistics, though, a Super Bowl win definitely counts for something and may have completely smashed the shell that Eli had been slowly emerging.
Question: Will Alan Faneca’s arrival provide the spark that Thomas Jones needs or will we learn this year that the Jones’ brothers just might not be starter material?
Answer: Although at first glance, Jones’ 1,119 rushing yards in 2007 may look impressive, it gets slightly less so when you factor in his 310 carries. Add in a mere 1 rushing TD and what you’ve got is a mediocre season. And with that, comes more excuses than an Odell Thurman court appearance. While quarterback play, the defense and the Jets team in general have been used to explain TJ’s sub-par season, the one that makes the most sense and was the biggest factor was the offensive line. They sucked and they sucked bad. Free agent acquisitions Alan Faneca and Damien Woody look to change that and will assure 2008 as the year that Thomas Jones can finally prove his doubters wrong… or right.
Question: Can Jamarcus Russell learn quickly enough to help the Raiders compete, or will 2008 just turn out to be an NFL 101 learning experience for Darren McFadden?
Answer: Since he only played in four games last year, Russell will likely continue to struggle this season, working out the kinks and learning through in-game experience. With McFadden on the field, the Raiders will essentially have a rookie QB and rookie RB on the same field for much of the season. So 2008 should be NFL 101 for both Russell and Run DMC, with McFadden getting the worst of it due to all of the eight-plus-in-the-box defenses they’ll be facing.
Question: Will the cornerback-by-committee experiment work out for the Eagles or will the receiving corps’ performance have them wishing they had gone and traded Lito Shephard for a wide out?
Answer: Lito Shephard was one of the biggest names this past off-season who was rumored to be changing teams. However the Eagles decided upon keeping him, leaving them with three top-tier cornerbacks and some major question marks at receiver. While having three Pro Bowl caliber cornerbacks could never be a bad thing, it’s going to come down to whether or not the benefits of improving the defense with the CBBC will outweigh the effectiveness of the wide receivers. If Kevin Curtis can step up on a more consistent basis, Jason Avant can continue to improve and Desean Jackson can make a splash than the Eagles refusal to deal Shephard may turn out to be the exact opposite and be the smartest move of the off-season.
Question: If everyone plays up to potential can the Steelers offense be on par with the mighty Patriots?
Answer: Santonio Holmes, Willie Parker, Heath Miller, Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger and the potentially potent duo of rookies Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed? Uh, I’m going to go on a limb and give an enthusiastic yes to this question.
Question: Whose health do the Chargers need most after two dangerous injuries: Philip Rivers or Antonio Gates?
Answer: On one hand, you can say that the most important player on any given team is the quarterback. But when you have a tight end like Gates, who could not be equaled even if you somehow combined both of the Chargers backup tight ends into one person, you absolutely need him healthy. Don’t get me wrong, Rivers is a great quarterback and very important to the team, but Billy Volek proved in leading a playoff win against the Colts last year that he is at least a serviceable replacement. He may not put up gaudy numbers and the ones he does put up may not be perfect, but he will get the job done. Gates is infinitely more important to the Chargers offensive attack than Rivers.
Question: Will the offensive line be able to remain relatively intact this year so that Marc Bulger can worry about winning instead of fracturing his ribs?
Answer: The malaria-esque outbreak of injuries that the Rams offensive line suffered last year almost seemed to bad to be true. With a ragtag group attempting (and failing miserably, mind you) to protect him, Marc Bulger had a lot more to worry about than completing passes and looking to his check down receiver. Like whether or not he’d have to go to the hospital that night, for instance. With a healthy starting offensive line returning, a rejuvenated Stephen Jackson and the fact that what happened last year had one in a thousand type odds, Bulger should be able to focus on actual quarterbacking this year. Unless of course he now has a phobia of staying in the pocket thanks to last year.
Question: Will Mike Martz’s arrival put Alex Smith and the 49ers offense on the map?
Answer: Martz is known for the quarterbacks that have blossomed under his watchful eye. Although the gigantic and complicated offensive attack that he brings with him may be just what Alex Smith needs to translate his skills into actual NFL success. Since one of the major reasons the 49ers offense has been so bad these past few years is poor QB play, how Smith (or Hill) adjusts and understands the system will directly impact how much the offense will flourish. Weird how that works..
Question: Will Julius Jones/Maurice Morris + T.J. Duckett = Vintage Shaun Alexander?
Answer: With Branch’s health a major concern, the Seahawks receiving corps won’t be the best Matt Hasselbeck has ever had to work with. Although Shaun Alexander’s decline was evident to all who watched it last year, the Seahawks may not know what they had until it’s gone. While Jones could do well with a change in scenery, the Seahawks would do well to committee Julius Jones and Maurice Morris for all situations except the goal line and short yardage downs. Those honors would be then given to power back T.J. Duckett. Overly complicated for Holmgren? Maybe. Does it make sense? Yes.
Question: How many Buccaneer quarterbacks could start for another NFL team?
Answer: Of the six currently on the roster, definitely three but maybe four could go and start for other teams. Jeff Garcia (obviously), Bruce Gradkowski and Chris Simms being the obvious ones where Brian Griese could start, but only in an emergency type situation. With only three final QB spots available and the Bucs likely to keep the rookie QB they drafted, Josh Johnson, don’t be surprised if you see some of the Buccaneer castoffs land themselves on another NFL island. And yes, I realize that statement was very corny.
UPDATE: Bruce Gradkowski is actually with the Rams, I didn't even realize. So there's that.
Question: Will the Titans failure to acquire any wide receivers to help Vince Young come back and bite them in the ass?
Answer: The only possible reason the Titans have forgone getting some legitimate receiving help for Vince Young is that they believe the receiving crop they currently have has the potential to mature into a reputable, quality unit. While he hasn’t put up spectacular numbers, Young has proven he can win with sub-par talent. With Young having built a rapport with Justin Gage and Roydell Williams last year, the front office will either get their wish and see the receiving corps take a step forward or they will make themselves look like fools and piss off Vince Young for not giving him anyone good to throw to.
Question: Will the arrival of youngster Colt Brennan cause Jason Campbell to ‘make the leap’?
Answer: Although it’s not fair to place such expectations on Campbell since he’ll have to learn yet another new system this year, such is life in the NFL. If Todd Collins wasn’t 5,000 years old than we could have had a legitimate QB battle on our hands. Luckily for Campbell, he is the prospect the organization has spent a lot of time, money and hopes on -- so he should have a much longer leash than say, Derek Anderson.