||AFC Wild Cards
|Peter King||Patriots||Ravens||Colts||Broncos||Bengals & Chargers|
|Greg Bedard||Patriots||Bengals||Colts||Broncos||Chargers & Jets|
|Jenny Vrentas||Patriots||Ravens||Colts||Broncos||Chargers & Steelers|
|Robert Klemko||Patriots||Bengals||Colts||Broncos||Chargers & Steelers|
|Emily Kaplan||Patriots||Ravens||Colts||Broncos||Dolphins & Steelers|
|Andy Benoit||Patriots||Ravens||Colts||Broncos||Dolphins & Steelers|
Broncos vs. Colts
Chargers vs. Patriots
Broncos vs. Colts
Chargers vs. Patriots
Colts vs. Patriots
Colts vs. Patriots
||NFC Wild Cards
|Peter King||Eagles||Packers||Saints||Seahawks||49ers & Buccaneers|
|Greg Bedard||Eagles||Packers||Saints||Seahawks||49ers & Buccaneers|
|Jenny Vrentas||Eagles||Packers||Saints||Seahawks||49ers & Bears|
|Robert Klemko||Eagles||Bears||Saints||49ers||Packers & Seahawks|
|Emily Kaplan||Eagles||Packers||Saints||Seahawks||49ers & Buccaneers|
|Andy Benoit||Eagles||Packers||Buccaneers||Seahawks||49ers & Saints|
Packers vs. Saints
Saints vs. Seahawks
Packers vs. Saints
49ers vs. Bears
Packers vs. Seahawks
Packers vs. Seahawks
The MMQB’s Kickoff Q&A
The following questions were put to each of our writers, who had no knowledge of anyone else’s answers. Join the conversation by tweeting us @TheMMQB or the individual scribes: @SI_PeterKing, @GregABedard, @JennyVrentas, @RobertKlemko, @EmilyMKaplan and @Andy_Benoit. Our all-knowing, all-powerful, do-it-all editorial assistant Andy DeGory (@Degatron7) is manning the email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you need more than 140 characters to unload some things off your chest. And away we go!
* * * * *
We will see Johnny Manziel playing for the Browns in …
Peter King: Week 12. I think the thinking of the coaching staff at this point in Cleveland has to be to let Manziel learn the offense and not get killed by putting him in with a bad offensive team before he’s ready.
Greg Bedard: At some point in the Sept. 21 game against the Ravens. Brian Hoyer will play well in the opener, but struggle against the Saints in Week 2. When he can’t move the team against Baltimore in Week 3, coach Mike Pettine will give the home crowd what they want. That will be the start of the Johnny Football Era.
Jenny Vrentas: Week 1, if we’re talking about a “Manziel package.” Week 5, if we’re talking about Manziel starting. Veteran Brian Hoyer is the better choice to lead the Browns into division foe Pittsburgh for the opener. Cleveland’s early schedule is unkind: Steelers, Saints, Ravens. By the Week 4 bye, the Browns may already be searching for the proverbial spark, his name Manziel.
Robert Klemko: Week 5. It’s just a guess, of course. So much depends on things we can’t see: How comfortable Manziel becomes with the offense and how happy the Browns are with his level of preparation. Wins don’t matter here. Manziel will play when the coaches feel he’s ready.
Emily Kaplan: Maybe they’ll give him a series or two before the Week 4 bye, but I don’t think he gets fully thrown into the mix until the season is (officially) a lost cause.
Andy Benoit: Is there anyone who isn’t saying Week 5 after the Browns’ bye? Anyone at all? Just for giggles, I’ll say Week 6, for the rematch against the Steelers. That way, Mike Pettine’s logic can be: “They creamed us in Week 1 with Brian Hoyer in there, let’s change it up this time.”
* * * * *
The over/under on how many defenders mock Manziel with his money gesture …
Peter King: Four. (Where do you get these questions?)
Greg Bedard: Seven. It will get played out at some point.
Jenny Vrentas: Eight. He has to get on the field first. Once he does, one per week until the .gifs run their course on social media.
Robert Klemko: 40. One for every time he’s sacked or intercepted.
Emily Kaplan: Ever the optimist, I’ll lowball at four. I like to think players will get a bit more creative.
Andy Benoit: Are we counting when a guy gets a sack, does the money gesture and two or three of his teammates join in? If that’s the case, I’ll say 93. If that’s not the case, then 25. More importantly, how many sacks will Manziel take each game? If the over/under is 2.5, take the over. And that doesn’t even include all the bad scrambling decisions he’ll make, which are the slightly less ugly cousin of sacks.
* * * * *
The 2013 non-playoff team that is most likely to contend for the Super Bowl …
Peter King: Tampa Bay. The Bucs were the best bad 2013 team I saw of the 27 I saw in person on my training camp trip this summer. Lovie Smith has three keystone players at crucial positions on his defense, and a quarterback who’s better than people think in Josh McCown.
Greg Bedard: That has a legit chance to win a Super Bowl? The Bears. The rest of the risers (Cardinals, Buccaneers, Texans, Jets, Dolphins) aren’t Super Bowl contenders.
Jenny Vrentas: The Ravens. Last season was the first time in coach John Harbaugh’s tenure that Baltimore missed the playoffs. An improved 2014 roster could position this team for another deep postseason run: Tight end Dennis Pitta is back from injury, wideout Steve Smith was a smart free-agent pickup, and their top two draft picks were used to bolster the defense (linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan). The most important addition, though, could be new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who has been entrusted to get the running game back on track and help quarterback Joe Flacco take the next step in his development.
Robert Klemko: Bears. Upgrades on defense include ironman Jared Allen, plus it’s Year 3 for Alshon Jeffery and football’s most-talented/underrated skill position group.
Emily Kaplan: Steelers. These aren’t the boring, mediocre Steelers of 2013. Ryan Shazier (my runner-up choice for defensive rookie of the year) is going to be a stud, and a healthy Ben Roethlisberger will thrive in the no-huddle offense. I’m also excited to see how they use super-speedy Dri Archer and, of course, marvel at Antonio Brown’s ascent.
Andy Benoit: Tampa Bay. Followed closely by Miami.
* * * * *
Will heavy-handed officiating still be a storyline by Week 4?
Peter King: Nope. Players will deal with it. The corners I spoke with on my trip are totally unconcerned with it. “I’m not changing my game for the refs,’’ Richard Sherman scoffed. I don’t think it’ll be as ticky-tack as it’s been once the season starts.
Greg Bedard: The number of flags won’t talked about, but fans and the media always complain about the officials. Every. Single. Year.
Jenny Vrentas: No. Both the players and the officials will adjust. The NFL might be ensuring that offenses keep whirring, but it also doesn’t want games dragging on. They’ll find a middle ground.
Robert Klemko: No. Either defensive players will change their ways, or officials will adjust, or both. Most likely both.
Emily Kaplan: Not really, though the conversation may revive when Brandon Browner is re-instated from his four-game suspension.
Andy Benoit: No. Either players will adjust to the new emphasis on rules, or officials will regress to their mean in calling the fouls. Or maybe the viewing public will simply start caring about something else. Where this storyline could be revived is in the playoffs, when a close play is flagged late in a tight game.
* * * * *
The free-agent pickup who proves to be the best investment by January …
Peter King: Emmanuel Sanders. Peyton Manning and he will make beautiful music together on the deep balls.
Greg Bedard: Darrelle Revis, Patriots. He’ll be worth every penny of that $12 million.
Jenny Vrentas: Darrelle Revis, Patriots. The cornerback hasn’t been in top form since 2011 (he tore his ACL in 2012, and wasn’t at 100% in 2013), so perhaps it’s easy to forget that he was nearly infallible at shutting down half of the field in Rex Ryan’s Jets defense. But Bill Belichick hasn’t forgotten. Their defense has been starved for such a player.
Robert Klemko: Josh McCown. The two-year, $10 million pact between the journeyman quarterback and the Bucs will look like a discount by season’s end. McCown was playing like a top 10 passer last season in spot duty for the Bears, and he recognizes that this opportunity in Tampa Bay is his last shot at making a real impact in the NFL.
Emily Kaplan: Darrelle Revis. Last year was an aberration. He’s in great shape, and he’ll be a much better fit with the Patriots in whatever capacity Bill Belichick chooses to use him.
Andy Benoit: Steve Smith, Ravens. It’s easy to assume that Smith is washed up at 35. Though he wasn’t his usual productive self in Carolina last season, he didn’t show a marked decline in speed or vertical prowess on film. And he’s a guy who doesn’t necessarily need to be open to make plays; he’s still able to make the tough catch.
* * * * *
The most intriguing (non-Manziel) storyline …
Peter King: Peyton Manning breaks Favre’s alltime touchdown record. But no one cares much. All they want to see is him break his Super Bowl schneid.
Greg Bedard: The Seahawks being first legit back-to-back champions threat since the 2003-04 Patriots.
Jenny Vrentas: Manziel has stolen all the rookie headlines, but the guy taken No. 1 overall is just as big an enigma. Will Jadeveon Clowney have the impact the Texans hoped for when they invested their top pick in him instead of a quarterback? Will he and J.J. Watt be enough to lift Houston from the basement of the NFL? Surprise offseason sports hernia surgery only added to the questions surrounding Clowney, who is also transitioning from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. But the expectations for the uniquely talented pass rusher remain sky high, and so do the Texans’ needs.
Robert Klemko: New coach, new star wideout, and a new knee for Robert Griffin III in Washington. In 2012, RG3 was arguably the most electric rookie to break into the NFL in a decade, and now you wonder if he can last anything close to a decade in the league. If healthy, Griffin, along with a sexy offensive core comprised of DeSean Jackson, Trent Williams, Alfred Morris and Jordan Reed, should put Washington back in the playoff conversation after a 3-13 season.
Emily Kaplan: Blake Bortles Watch. The Jaguars appear pretty adamant that the No. 3 pick will redshirt this season. Yet anyone who watched the rookie this preseason has to wonder if the coddling is necessary. I think the temptation to play Bortles will grow stronger.
Andy Benoit: Andrew Luck’s ascension to the top of the NFL quarterbacking ranks. Luck has had the best first and second seasons of any player I’ve ever studied on film. He truly plays like a 10-year veteran, and even though nobody talks about it he’s physically an absolute freak.
* * * * *
The team most likely to break fans’ hearts …
Peter King: Cleveland. Drafted Manziel, wiped out an unpopular front office, had two first-round picks, and it’s going to be the same stuff in a new year. (To say nothing of losing Josh Gordon for the entire season.)
Greg Bedard: Broncos. Despite loading up on both sides of the ball, they’ll fall short against a more physical team (the Patriots) again.
Jenny Vrentas: The Giants started 0-6 last year, and Eli Manning threw the most interceptions of any season in his 11-year pro career. Their response? Start over on offense with new coordinator Ben McAdoo. At first glance, the former Packers quarterbacks coach’s West Coast offense didn’t seem like the best fit given Manning’s strength in the vertical passing game, and the early returns haven’t been promising. The Giants have treated their fans with two Super Bowls over the past seven years, but if change doesn’t prove to be good for Eli Manning, it would be the third straight long winter.
Robert Klemko: Panthers. I’m low on these guys for a few reasons. Greg Hardy, arguably Carolina’s best defensive player, is facing a suspension for off-field transgressions, and top offensive lineman, Jordan Gross, has retired. The top receiver is now in Baltimore and vowing revenge. Simply put, the rest of the NFC South got better while the Panthers got worse.
Emily Kaplan: The Falcons are clearly better than their 2013 iteration. With Matt Ryan, Roddy White and a triumphant return by Julio Jones, Atlanta’s offense will be just fine. But “just fine” isn’t good enough in the crowded NFC South. With too many holes on defense, a propensity for giving up big plays and no dominant pass rusher, the Falcons won’t make the playoffs.
Andy Benoit: Panthers. Too many holes and too much regression. Unless their defense can top last year’s performance (all but impossible) this team will take a significant step backward.
* * * * *
The non-quarterback who, if lost to injury, would derail his team the most …
Peter King: Good question. I’d say Jamaal Charles, the best all-around running back in football. He does too much in the running game, the passing game and in blitz pickup for the Chiefs to be a playoff contender if he’s lost.
Greg Bedard: LeSean McCoy, Eagles. He’s so special in that system, Philadelphia couldn’t overcome that loss.
Jenny Vrentas: Earl Thomas. The Seahawks are driven by their defense, and their defense is driven by the safety’s play in the middle of the field. There’s a reason Thomas’s contract extension (four years, $40 million) was Seattle’s top offseason priority. His combination of run-stopping and ball-hawking skills is the foundation for the Legion of Boom and a perfect answer to the league’s evolving offenses.
Robert Klemko: The Chiefs’ Justin Houston is probably the best 3-4 outside linebacker in football (at least until Aldon Smith shows he can be available for an entire season). More than any other team, Kansas City reached the playoffs last season on the strength of its defense. Houston’s top-tier pass rushing ability made some suspect cornerbacks look adequate.
Emily Kaplan: Sammy Watkins. Maybe it’s odd to choose a rookie, but E.J. Manuel and the Bills’ offense would be pedestrian without this wideout. Consider this: with Watkins out nursing an injury against the Buccaneers last week, Manuel went 9-for-18 for 67 yards, a fumble and an interception against Tampa’s first-team defense. Watkins isn’t Buffalo’s saving grace, but he at least makes the passing game dynamic—and watchable.
Andy Benoit: Jamaal Charles, Chiefs. Kansas City has no offensive weapons at all beyond Charles. Their passing attack is lackluster. Dwayne Bowe can’t run anymore, Donnie Avery is unreliable and the only juice at tight end is in the form of untested 2013 third-round pick Travis Kelce, who is returning from a serious knee injury.
* * * * *
The one offensive lineman you should make a point of watching …
Peter King: Jake Matthews. Because if he fails to protect Matt Ryan this year, it won’t just be Matthews who will be taking heat—it’ll be Thomas Dimitroff, the GM who drafted him and needs this team to have a big season.
Greg Bedard: Larry Warford, Lions. The 2013 third-round pick could have been offensive rookie of the year (he was that good), and is primed to become the next great guard in the league.
Jenny Vrentas: Ryan Clady, left tackle, Broncos. The fact that Peyton Manning played like he did last season without his starting left tackle for all but two games makes it even more impressive. Clady’s return to the lineup, after suffering a season-ending foot injury last September, is the biggest offseason gain for the Broncos’ offense.
Robert Klemko: Run blocking is more fun to watch than pass protection, and nobody does the former better than Evan Mathis in Philadelphia. The left guard drafted in 2005 is as essential to LeSean McCoy’s success as anybody on that team.
Emily Kaplan: Larry Warford. There’s a reason Matthew Stafford was sacked just 23 times last season. A lot of that begins with Warford, whom Pro Football Focus ranked as the third-best guard. He allowed just five QB hits and 10 hurries without a sack in 668 pass-blocking snaps. And that was just as a 22-year-old rookie out of Kentucky. Imagine what he can do in Year 2.
Andy Benoit: Tyron Smith, Cowboys. He’s most physically gifted blocker in the league and has finally developed the mechanics to harness that gift.
* * * * *
The under-the-radar player who becomes a star …
Peter King: If Keenan Allen is under the radar, him. He will be spectacular in his second season with Philip Rivers. If he is not, then Arizona running back Andre Ellington, who could gain 1,500 yards. Still too famous for you? Then Jordan Reed, the Washington tight end.
Greg Bedard: Chandler Jones, Patriots. With the trickle-down effect of Revis improving the Patriots’ secondary overall, Jones will get the extra time needed to climb the sack lists.
Jenny Vrentas: Zach Ertz, tight end, Eagles. The former second-round pick will be one of the ways Philadelphia makes up for losing DeSean Jackson. He’ll share time with veteran Brent Celek, but Ertz’s combination of size (6-foot-5) and speed (4.68 40-yard dash) will make him a favorite for Nick Foles in the red zone and up the seams of the field.
Robert Klemko: Andre Ellington in Arizona. Following team 2013 rushing leader Rashard Mendenhall’s abrupt retirement this offseason at 26, Ellington becomes the lead back after carrying the ball 118 times for 652 yards (5.5 per). Versatile enough to play wide receiver—he caught 39 balls for 371 yards (9.5 per), the 25-year-old sixth-rounder out of Clemson has the potential to be a Pro Bowler in Year 2.
Emily Kaplan: Markus Wheaton, Steelers. Non-Yinzers probably don’t remember Wheaton’s play last season; thanks to a lingering finger injury, he sat out a month and caught just six passes. Now healthy, and with a year of acclimation, Wheaton will be the perfect complement to Antonio Brown.
Andy Benoit: Andre Holmes, Raiders. Assuming, of course, his quarterback (whomever it winds up being) can get him the ball. Holmes has jaw-dropping elevation skills and explosive suppleness to win one-on-one battles on the outside.
* * * * *
The star who falls back to earth …
Peter King: Andre Johnson. Not happy, and with rising star DeAndre Hopkins on the other side of the field and an iffy quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) throwing to him, I can see a decline in Johnson’s immediate future.
Greg Bedard: Jamaal Charles, Chiefs. He was a one-man band for much of last season and it will catch up to him.
Jenny Vrentas: Cam Newton had the season that Panthers fans had been waiting for in 2013, leading his team to a division crown and a 12-4 record. But 2014 is off to a rocky start. He lost his best weapon, Steve Smith, from what is perhaps the league’s thinnest receiving corps. And Newton’s own personal best weapon, his athleticism, has taken a hit after ankle surgery and his recent hairline rib fracture sustained on one of his scrambles.
Robert Klemko: Cam Newton. Forget for a moment that Carolina has potentially the worst group of wide receivers in the NFL. Following the retirement of left tackle Jordan Gross, Byron Bell now moves over to the left side after giving up nine sacks last season, fifth-most among right tackles according to Pro Football Focus. His replacement on the right side, Nate Chandler, is a former college defensive tackle who struggled at guard last season.
Emily Kaplan: Reggie Bush. Maybe I’ll regret this choice (yes, I saw his ridiculous 86-yard preseason touchdown run) but I think the 29-year-old Bush is on the decline, and Joique Bell will only pick up more of the workload in Detroit.
Andy Benoit: Daryl Washington, the Cardinals inside linebacker who is suspended for the 2014 season after testing positive for marijuana. Falling back to earth is inevitable when coming off a high.
* * * * *
The coach whose seat will be hottest by the season’s midpoint …
Peter King: Doug Marrone. The warning signs are there. He feuded with some players in camp, his quarterback opens the season in a big slump, and the Bills already have injury issues.
Greg Bedard: Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh and Mike Smith in Atlanta will be in the most trouble, but there’s no chance either gets fired during the season. There’s only one team that might do that: the Cowboys with Jason Garrett.
Jenny Vrentas: Jason Garrett is entering his fourth full season as Cowboys head coach, and rare are the times that his seat hasn’t been hot. Time and patience are running out for a season that doesn’t end with an 8-8 record, and with Tony Romo coming off back surgery and a defense thinned by injuries, suspensions and free-agent losses, it’s hard to imagine this being the year.
Robert Klemko: Joe Philbin. Miami’s new general manager, Dennis Hickey, kept the coach around despite yet another middling season and a toxic locker room scandal that made national headlines in 2013. The new boss may want to bring in his own guy if things don’t turn around quickly.
Emily Kaplan: Dennis Allen. Two new quarterbacks and a refurbished defense should push the Raiders above the 4-12 hump. They might not be much better than that, though.
Andy Benoit: Rex Ryan. His defensive scheme becomes crippled without quality man-to-man cornerbacks. Without a dominant defense, the Jets will descend to the bottom of the AFC East.
* * * * *
Who has more left in the tank, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady?
Peter King: Both will throw for more than 4,000 yards. Manning will surpass 5,000. They’re both going to be huge this year.
Greg Bedard: Tom Brady, no question. Physically, he’s much better at this point than Manning.
Jenny Vrentas: Have you heard? Their proverbial “windows” are closing! But both having plenty “left in the tank” simply means that circumstance never prevents them from being the best at what they do, even if Manning’s throws sometimes come out wobbly, or Brady’s go-to receiver is a 5-foot-10 former seventh-round pick. We don’t know how many more years we’ll be saying that, but we can say it in 2014.
Robert Klemko: Impossible to guess. Both are still playing at a high level. For Manning, though, that may have increasingly more to do with smarts considering his neck woes.
Emily Kaplan: They both have plenty, but ask me again in 2018 … (only half-kidding).
Andy Benoit: Both have plenty. Jeeze. How is this even a discussion? Manning just had the most prolific season in NFL history and Brady just guided a limited Patriots offense to the AFC Championship Game. This question might—might—be valid three years from now. No sooner, though.
* * * * *
One parting thought about the upcoming season …
Peter King: I worry about Cam Newton’s health, with that offensive line being totally rebuilt and with Newton not having the chance to get familiar with a brand-new receiving corps. Duck, Cam.
Greg Bedard: Nothing comes to mind other than, Can we please not hear the name Johnny Manziel until he actually does something!?!
Jenny Vrentas: Last year, two quarterbacks threw for more than 5,000 yards (Peyton Manning and Drew Brees). The most quarterbacks to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a single season is three, which happened in 2011 (Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford). The crackdown on illegal contact penalties on defenders this preseason, and the continued spread of no-huddle offenses, makes you wonder how many there will be this season. Five? It seems possible, doesn’t it? There have only been eight 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history, which is further proof of how much times have changed.
Robert Klemko: NFL prognosticating is dumb. Maybe predictions are worth something in the NBA, where you can always count on two out of five preseason favorites being in the Finals. But in football, they aren’t worth a damn. Why? Well, the season is too short, meaning a couple bad breaks can drop a 10-6 division-winning team to 8-8 and out of the playoffs. And injuries loom too large. Also, and more importantly, we writers have no idea what we’re talking about. We swoop into a city for two days in August and have the audacity to forecast that team’s fortunes over the next five months. Consider The MMQB’s 2013 predictions: Peter King put the Texans and Falcons in the playoffs and had Robert Griffin III winning the Comeback Player of the Year award. Oops. Greg Bedard had the Steelers going to the SUPER BOWL! Jenny Vrentas liked the Texans and the Falcons for the playoffs, in addition to the Steelers, Ravens and Giants, all of whom missed out in 2013. Out of the four of us, I was the only MMQB writer who picked the correct Super Bowl champ (Seahawks) and NFL MVP (Peyton Manning), so this is my long-winded (and joking) way of saying, If you’re going to listen to anyone, listen to me! Or not, because if I had any clue what was actually going to happen, the games wouldn’t be so fun to watch.
Emily Kaplan: While I commend the league for finally addressing domestic violence, I wonder about the scope and logistics of its new policy. Will an accusation apply, or must there be a police report? Is a report not enough if no charges are brought? Must there be a conviction? And what happens to Greg Hardy? Each case is unique, and often complex. Watching the NFL sort through these questions, to me, will loom as a bigger storyline than any other 2014 rule changes.
Andy Benoit: The league has seen an influx of running quarterbacks over the last two years. Typically, that style of play abates once defenses figure out a scrambler’s tendencies, or when the scrambler figures out how to play from the pocket. But that likely won’t be the case this time around. The NFL is about to see an influx in man coverage. It’s actually started already. More teams are playing more man coverage because it’s the simplest way to defend spread and hurry-up offenses (which we’re seeing more and more). When you play man coverage, you’re susceptible to quarterback scrambles because defenders can be drawn away from the ball while following route runners, often with their backs to the quarterback. Expect the Kaepernicks, Wilsons and Newtons to keep running in 2014.