Rookie QB’s: Who Will See the Field?
Three quarterbacks were drafted in the first round: Blake Bortles (Jacksonville), Johnny Manziel (Cleveland) and Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota). All three went to teams that do not have solidified No. 1 quarterbacks. Each player brings his own unique style to the game, but will any of them see action early, if at all this season, other than in an injury situation? It has already been said in Cleveland that Brian Hoyer will get the starting job as Manziel is still having issues with the playbook. It’s likely that Chad Henne and Matt Cassel will get the starts over Bortles and Bridgewater respectively, but as history has shown, both the Jaguars and Vikings have had their share of quarterbacking issues. With that in mind, look for a possible change with either team should things not start off too well. The same can be said for Cleveland and Manziel. For now, however, the days of throwing rookie NFL quarterbacks to the wolves may be over.
How will Former Penn State Coach Bill O’Brien Fair?
Though no stranger to the NFL, O’Brien has a difficult task in his first year as the head coach of the Houston Texans, who finished 2-14 one season ago. O’Brien has success in New England under Bill Belichick, but he also had Tom Brady under center. He doesn’t have anything remotely comparable in Houston, as the starting quarterback position is apparently going to Ryan Fitzpatrick. O’Brien’s time at Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, however, has proven that he can thrive under pressure and work with limited options. First-overall draft pick Jadaveon Clowney has shown that he can make an impact working alongside J.J. Watt and should improve a defense that gave up 26.8 points per game in 2013. Expectations may not be high for O’Brien and the Texans, but in an AFC South division without much promise, 2014 could see Houston rise from the ashes.
Can Seattle Repeat?
The Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII in convincing fashion over the Denver Broncos, 43-8. Pete Carroll’s squad proved that defense ca n still win championships, as the Hawks allowed only 14.4 points per game in the regular season, best in the league. More than that, the No. 1 defense in the league jumped all over Peyton Manning and the No. 1 offense in NFL history when it counted most. With the majority of the key elements relatively intact, the Seahawks have the weaponry to repeat in 2014. Running back Marshawn Lynch’s future was in question with a brief eight-day holdout, but he received his monetary wish and reported to practice. Quarterback Russell Wilson will look to build off of his 26 touchdown, 9 interception performance from a year ago. The battle begins within the NFC West, where the San Francisco 49ers aim to seek revenge on a controversial end to their season a year ago at the hands of the Seahawks.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Bounce Back Year?
Pittsburgh has finished 8-8 the past two seasons, narrowly missing the playoffs in 2013. When Steeler fans look back on last season, the only thing that matters is the record. A third straight .500 or worse record would be cause for a lot of unrest around the fan base. Heading into the 2014 season, the Steelers have received quite the makeover. There are plenty of new faces on offense as well as defense. Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to lead a no-huddle offensive attack and propel the Steelers into league supremacy again. With what should be a balanced run game led by second-year man Le’veon Bell, and a defense anchored by veterans Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu, mediocre should not be a word featured in the vocabulary of the Steelers. With age being an issue the past few years, there are now only five players over 30 on the active roster.
Are the Bengals Ready to Join the Big Boys?
The Bengals have made the playoffs three years in a row. The Bengals have lost their first playoff game for the past three seasons. Both of those statements are true, and while Marvin Lewis has dragged Cincinnati from the depths of the NFL to the top of the AFC North, there is a still a stigma that the Bengals are still the little brothers to the Big Boy Ravens and Steelers. While the only AFC North squad to make the playoffs last season was the Bengals, the fact remains that Baltimore and Pittsburgh are satisfied only by Super Bowl championships—and have the hardware to back it up—while the Bengals are still celebrating regular season wins. The Cincinnati defense, running game and receiving corps appear to be operating at an elite level, leaving quarterback Andy Dalton to answer the questions that Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco have already answered. Until further notice, Big Ben’s 10-4 postseason record and Flacco’s 9-4 mark stand in sharp contrast to Dalton’s 0-3 record.
Kicking the Habit
The NFL experimented with a 32-yard extra point this exhibition season after the competition committee deemed the chip-shot PAT too easy. The experiment only lasted through the first two games of the preseason, but it’s far from over. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said a change might be coming to the extra point rule by next season. Through two weeks of the preseason, eight PAT attempts have been missed. During the 2013 regular season, when the ball was placed at the 2-yard line, kickers converted on 99.6 percent of those attempts. “I think we’re going to gather all the information we can from this experiment,” Blandino said on the Dan Patrick Show. “I’m sure some teams will propose some things but I do anticipate this play is going to change.” The competition committee will likely revisit the issue next year during the league’s annual meetings.