I've been sitting here for a few weeks trying to figure out what to write as it pertains to the upcoming NFL season, which I am very excited about. Sure, my beloved St. Louis Rams have won a total of 15 games in the last five years (that means 65 losses by the way), but I still anticipate the first week of the regular season like a kid opening a new present on Christmas Day. I guess it's because I always think something like the 1999 Rams can happen again when in reality it was a once in a lifetime kind of thing.
Instead of doing my NFL season preview (that will come the week before the season starts), I decided to instead write about ten random things that are on my mind. The preseason games are here, but the real games begin in three weeks on Wednesday September 5. I have plenty of thoughts on what's happening around the league already, so let's get to it.
1. The New York Giants are looking for R-E-S-P-E-C-T
There's talk that the Super Bowl champion New York Giants are complaining about a lack of respect. What team in the NFL ever feels like they're respected? The "nobody respects us" line is as common in the NFL as tackling.
The fact is that the Giants were 9-7 last year and they barely got into the playoffs. While I will give them credit for winning the Super Bowl, they were very frustrating to watch last regular season. After they were 6-2, they lost four straight games although in their defense the teams they lost to were the Niners, Eagles, Saints and Packers, so it's not like they were easy teams.
With all of that said, 9-7 sticks out to me. They got it done when it counted by beating truly elite teams like the Niners, Packers and Patriots, but that regular season sticks out to me. Are they a playoff team this year? Probably. It wouldn't shock me if they missed out either.
2. Will the Steelers miss Mike Wallace?
The Mike Wallace holdout with the Steelers is interesting. To me, he's a top ten wide receiver. I think he deserves the raise he's asking for, but I can see why the Steelers are doing what they are doing too. The latest word is that he'll be in camp before the regular season starts and will play week one, but is that a guarantee? I'm not sure.
The thing about posturing for a contract is sometimes reports get out as a negotiating ploy by an agent or a team. The Steelers have a favorable schedule this year. If Mike Wallace plays they can win more than 10 games and compete for a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
He's the guy that opposing teams double team, which makes everybody else better. If he's not there then the offense will be less effective. The Steelers need him and I think long term they will realize that. He'll get his money eventually.
3. Can Cam Newton guide his team to the playoffs?
I'm a huge fan of Cam Newton. Most people expect the Carolina Panthers to be better than they were last year as a 6-10 team. Remember how my beloved St. Louis Rams went 7-9 in Sam Bradford's rookie year of 2010? Went back down to 2-14 last year. I think Newton is better than Bradford. However, there's no guarantee things will be easier or better in year two.
I'm not sure if there's room for the Panthers in the playoffs. I'll get to that a bit later. The NFC is loaded, so it will be tough. For it to happen Newton will have to be better than last year and even if he is does he have enough talent around him to make a serious push? Maybe not this year. I think 2013 is more likely for them.
4. Peyton Manning is healthy again. We think.
Peyton Manning is one of my favorite players in the history of the NFL. He's a true professional that was gifted with a lot of natural talent. What I like most is his work ethic, though. Even though he's won more MVP awards than everybody else in the history of the game (he has four), he's continued to study the game as if he is throwing a football for the first time.
I'm not sure if the Broncos will win the AFC West. That's one of those divisions that I find is very difficult to predict. What I am sure of is if Manning is healthy then they have a chance. As a fan of his, I hope these last 3-4 years of his career are healthy ones for him because I respect his game so much.
5. It's time for DeMarcus Ware to take his game to another level.
I'll make a statement here. Some may think it's bold. Others may not. I think the best defensive player in the NFL is DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys.
One of these years he's going to have a ridiculous year where he leads the league in sacks, forces ten fumbles or so and separates himself from the rest of the league. This might be the year. Don't blame him for the Cowboys lack of success in recent years. He's their best player. His teammates need to follow his lead. If they do then the Cowboys can make a lot of noise this season.
6. Can the regular NFL referees please come back? They are needed.
If the NFL doesn't come an agreement with their regular referees, who are currently on strike, it's going to hurt the game. While I don't think regular NFL referees are without flaw, they are good at what they do.
After the first week of the preseason it seemed like the biggest story was about how many bad calls the replacement referees made. The referees should never make more news than the actual games. That's a bad thing.
Plus, I watch the NFL so much that I know the names of all of the regular NFL referees. Who doesn't enjoy the thrill of wondering if Ed "The Hulk" Hochuli will rip his shirt as he's signalling for a first down? Come on NFL. You have billions. You can spare a few dollars to give the referees more money. It's for the betterment of the game. Make it happen.
7. I have a feeling that Robert Griffin III is the real thing.
I won't admit to being a huge college football junkie, but I always watch the big games and always follow the elite players. When you're a Rams fan you always have to scout the elite players. Stop laughing! It hurts!
Anyway, the rookie that I'm most fond of is Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins, who is a QB with all of the tools to be successful. That's not taking anything away from Andrew Luck or Trent Richardson, both of whom I really like, but if I had to pick one as my favorite it would be Griffin. He's a hard worker with a big arm, he has good accuracy and he's a mobile QB that will force teams to worry about what he can do with his legs.
If Griffin turns out to be the elite player that I think he is I'm always going to wonder "what if" the Rams picked him at number two instead of trading it away to get two first round picks the next two years. It was a money move because Bradford makes about $15 million per and would cost a lot to cut while the top picks of today make about $5 million thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
I think Griffin will be an elite quarterback sooner rather than later. I saw on NFL Network that his jersey is already the second highest seller in the league behind Peyton Manning. The hype for Griffin is there. Can he deliver the goods? I think so. I think it will happen quickly too. Like I said with Cam Newton it will be tough to make the playoffs in the NFC, but the Skins will be better because of Griffin.
8. Chad Johnson let attention get to his head.
The fall of Chad Johnson/Ochocinco has been sad. As I tweeted on my @TJRSports twitter account a few days ago, he's somebody that was gifted as a wide receiver. He worked hard, he studied a lot and became a six-time Pro Bowler. What hurt him is that he spent too much time working on a persona and it became a distraction. There's no telling how good he would have been if he didn't worry about reality TV shows and doing whatever he could to get attention.
Johnson barely made the New England Patriots last year. He didn't have much of an impact since he only caught 15 balls in the regular season. If you can't play with one of the best QBs ever then I doubt many other teams are going to take a chance on you especially after an alleged spousal abuse incident.
Now that he's in his mid 30s with a legal issue hanging over his head, I doubt Johnson plays another down in the NFL.
Remember that HOF jacket he had on as a joke on the sideline a few years back? That's never going to happen, Chad. It's not the voters fault either. It's on you.
9. In the fantasy football world, the Wide Receiver position is very deep.
I have a lot of thoughts as it relates to the Wide Receiver position in fantasy football. Here are some bullet points on what I'm thinking.
- Calvin Johnson of the Lions is clearly the best WR in football. However, he's on the cover of Madden 13 this year and the Madden curse dictates that whoever is on the cover will suffer some form of injury. I know it's silly, but when it happens nearly every year (not the year Brett Favre was on the cover) it's pretty scary. He's one of my favorite players to watch on a weekly basis. Megatron is in a class by himself.
- Larry Fitzgerald is the second best WR in football. However, who is throwing him passes? John Skelton or Kevin Kolb? I think Skelton should win the starting job, but with Kolb getting paid significantly more I can see there being a bit of a battle.
- I'm not picking Andre Johnson of the Texans on any teams. He's an elite WR, but that hamstring injury he had last year killed one of my teams. Throw in the fact that he's already battling a groin injury and his name comes with a huge "WARNING" sign for me.
- I think Julio Jones of the Falcons will be a special WR. Whether he has his big year this year or next year I'm not sure. I don't think having Roddy White on his team will hurt him too much because they will score a bunch of points, but if he tears it up early he'll be double teamed in the second half of the season.
- As mentioned, the Patriots offense is incredible. With Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez now joined by Brandon Lloyd I wonder if the stats of the first three guys will dip a bit because they have a better starting WR on the field than Deion Branch. Can Gronk top 17 TDs? Can Welker catch more than 122 balls? Doubt it in both cases.
- It's hard not to love the WR group of the Packers. Clearly Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings are the top two guys there, but they also have other weapons in James Jones, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb, who I think should be playing more because of how explosive he is with the ball in his hands. I've had some of these Packers guys in recent years in fantasy leagues. There's consistency, but I doubt any of them will get more than 10 TDs this year because they spread it around so much.
There are a lot of other WR questions like how will Victor Cruz do in his second year with defenses having a year of film on him? Will any of San Francisco's receiving options have a big year? What about the best rookie WR last year, AJ Green. Can he duplicate what he did last year or build upon it?
I think wide receiver is the deepest position in fantasy football. It would be great to nab one of the top guys like CalJohn or Fitz, but I think if you wait on them a bit there are still a lot of options later in the draft.
I'd write more about fantasy football, but I think everybody in the eight leagues I'm doing (yes I said eight) will read what I write so I want to keep some thoughts to myself.
I think Matt Seagull of TJRSports offered up some great thoughts in his weekly FF column about wide receivers, so be sure to check that out if you haven't done so already.
10. Trying to make a Super Bowl prediction can be a difficult task.
I'm not sure what my Super Bowl pick is yet. In the AFC my two favorites are the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans. I realize I'm not going out on a limb there because they are the leading AFC favorites if you look at the odds. I'll make my official pick in a few weeks, but barring any major injuries those are the two AFC teams I'm looking at the most.
In the NFC I'm less sure. I think it's the deeper conference. I also think the regular season doesn't matter as much as it used to as the Giants and Packers both proved in the last two years as lower seeded teams that won it all. I think the six returning playoff teams (Packers, Niners, Saints, Giants, Falcons and Lions) are all dangerous without many signs to make me think they will do a lot worse this year. Then there are non-playoff teams like the Eagles, Cowboys and Bears (to name a few) that could potentially make a run for the Super Bowl.
I'm leaning towards the Packers because I think they're still the best team. However, don't be surprised to see a team like the Eagles emerge this year since they have a lot less pressure than they did last year after Vince Young's stupid "dream team" comment. Since when did the opinions of backup QB's really matter anyway? Backups for a reason. Now he's on the Bills. I rest my case.
Anyway, I'll look at the schedule a little closer as I work on the season preview column that's a couple of weeks away. Then I'll make a definite prediction that hopefully turns out to be true although I've been at this too long to expect that to happen!
That's it for this time. Once the season gets here the plan is to write a weekly NFL picks column with Bret Clevenger and Mike Maloney. We'll do a prediction column on the Thursday game of every week (Wednesday week one) in the morning and then on Friday we'll post our picks for the rest of the games in the week. Then on Monday or Tuesday (probably Monday) I'll write about all the games from the previous week with short takes on what I thought and what stood out to me.
Other than that, I'll possibly write another random thoughts column before the season and I'll aim to have my season preview ready for Thursday August 29.
Until next time, follow my sports account on Twitter @TJRSports because I'm always tweeting random sports related things from there.
Thanks for reading.
John Canton - firstname.lastname@example.org