It’s the time of year when Jerry Jones predicts his Dallas Cowboys will win the Super Bowl, Skip Bayless believes Tim Tebow will be a pro-bowl starting quarterback, and Browns fans think this is the year they’ll rise from the depths of awfulness (as this great video proves, Week 1 will bring Browns fans back to their normal state of depression).
As the preseason quickly gets underway, here’s a look at my Top 5 “Chipps” On the Block you should pay particular attention to this upcoming season.
5: Sophomore Jump or Sophomore Slump
We’ve always known that rookie QB’s and first year starting quarterbacks can ball, but last year’s class was unlike any draft class we had seen before. Andrew Luck, RGIII, Collin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson (among a few others) proved that rookie quarterbacks could not only play efficiently and put up big numbers, but also turn their teams around from pretenders to Super Bowl contenders. Luck, RGIII, Kaepernick, and Wilson each lead their teams to the playoffs while putting up record-breaking rookie season numbers.
Although there is often more expected from a second year quarterback, history tells us that quarterbacks tend to take a step back in year two. This talented and unique class of quarterbacks has higher expectations than any group of quarterbacks before them; several of these quarterbacks are expected to help their teams compete for a Super Bowl title.
But with the expectations, comes even more adversity.
Collin Kaepernick was one overthrown fade-pass away from winning the Super Bowl. Is he really a Super Bowl worthy quarterback, or was his first year a product of over achievement and a solid foundation built around him?
RGIII is coming off his second ACL surgery and a lot of questions surrounding the trust between him and his head coach Mike Shanahan. Can he stay healthy?
Andrew Luck made everyone forget who Peyton Manning was in Indianapolis, but is he really the chosen one to lead the Colts back to NFL fame and fortune?
Russell Wilson wasn’t supposed to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Too small, too slow, and not enough arm strength to make all the big throws, Wilson proved his doubters wrong by leading the Seahawks to the Divisional round of the playoffs, and throwing a rookie record 27 touchdown passes. Is he big enough and strong enough to do it again?
These are just some of the many questions surrounding the second year quarterbacks.
Will this be the year of the sophomore jump or the sophomore slump?
#4: The New England Patriots Receiving Core
Yes, Tom Brady is still the man under center in New England. Yes, Bill Belichick still calls the shots on the Patriots sideline. And yes, the New England Patriots are still the New England Patriots. But BEWARE: this team looks nothing like it did a season ago on the offensive side of the ball. With the departure of Wes Welker to Denver, Aaron Hernandez to a jail cell, and Rob Gronkowski to a training room for an indefinite amount of time, Brady’s targets are few and far between.
The addition of Danny Amendola will help fill the void of Welker’s departure, but Amendola has had issues staying healthy. Rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins contain a lot of upside, but are extremely raw. Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells are serviceable players to fill the roles left by Gronk and Hernandez, but Ballard is coming off a torn ACL injury and Fells has never been a full-time starter in the NFL.
Brady has been through this many times before. Working with no-name players seems to be Brady’s specialty, but this year’s core has me (and Patriots fans) worried like never before.
The Patriots are going to have to rely on their running game now more than ever before in the Brady era. Steven Ridley is going to have to prove that last years 1000-yard campaign was no fluke.
If the Patriots are going to continue their unprecedented run of success and make a run towards another Super Bowl, guys like Shane Vereen, Ballard, and Amendola are going to have play at a higher level then they are physically capable of doing. In most cases that’s impossible. But when you have Tom Brady throwing you the ball, anything is possible.
#3: Can Alex Smith and Andy Reid Save the Kansas City Chiefs?
It’s no easy task to go from worst to first, especially when the Chiefs were as bad as they were last season. It was virtually impossible for them to score last year, and I’m putting it nicely. Between Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, the Chiefs threw a total of eight touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions last season. Words can’t describe how awful that is.
After an abysmal 2-14 season that ended with the first pick in 2013 NFL draft, the Chiefs decided to blow it up and start over.
They started fresh by hiring Andy Reid as their head coach. Then they traded their second round draft pick to acquire Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers. When draft day arrived, the Chiefs used the first pick to select offensive linemen Eric Fisher from Central Michigan.
Without even playing a down of football in 2013, the Chiefs have already become a significantly better team then they were a year ago.
Amidst the Chiefs offensive woes a year ago, this team possesses great talent on the offensive side of the ball. It was only a few years ago Dwayne Bowe was considered an elite wide receiver with the likes of Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. One year removed from his ACL surgery, Jamaal Charles statistically had the best season of his career last year, rushing for over 1500 yards.
The pairing of Smith and Reid seems like a perfect combination in the confines of Arrowhead Stadium. Smith’s career has been comparable to a high-octane TV drama, going from top draft pick to bench warmer, to savior and resurrecting of the 49ers, back to sitting the bench in place of a younger more exciting Collin Kaepernick.
With Alex Smith, you know what you’re getting: 15-20 touchdowns, a good game manager, and a proven winner. Smith won’t excite you with 50-yard bombs or long runs down the sideline, but he plays with his head and doesn’t make mistakes. That’s an entity a rebuilding team can’t put a price on.
It’s tough to say how good this team can really be this season, but the addition of Smith and Reid inherently makes the Chiefs a better football team. Reid and Smith have been around the block, and both have successfully helped turn their former teams around from bottom feeders to Super Bowl contenders.
I don’t see the Chiefs making the playoffs in a tough AFC that has too many up-and-coming teams with proven track records, but this team has a shot to finish second in the AFC West behind the Denver Broncos.
Reid and Smith are foundations that are being laid down for a new future in Kansas City, and I think they can help turn the Chiefs back into playoff contenders.
#2: It’s Time to Get Real in the A.T.L
Last season was a milestone year for Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. After years of scrutiny surrounding his ability to win in the regular season, but his inability to win in the postseason, Ryan led the Falcons to the NFL Championship game, falling just short to the San Francisco 49ers.
This season, the expectations in Atlanta are simple: Super Bowl or bust.
This offseason was busy one for the Falcons. Ryan and Head Coach Mike Smith convinced future hall of fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to come back for one more year, the team signed St. Louis Rams pro-bowl running back Steven Jackson, and used their first two picks in this years draft to address their need at defensive back.
If I only had one word to describe the Falcons this season I would say, “loaded.” It sounds like a stretch at first, but when you have Julio Jones and Roddy White as the most dangerous one two wide receiver punch in football, combined with the best tight end to ever play the game, and a top five quarterback throwing to all of them, the description seems a bit more reasonable.
The biggest concern with the Falcons exists on their defensive line. Losing John Abraham hurts, but the addition of Osi Umenyiora will bolster a line that needs to do a better job of creating pressure and getting to the quarterback.
It’s a bold predication to make, but the Falcons are my pick to win the Super Bowl.
Since his rookie season in 2008, Ryan has arguably been the best quarterback in football. Each year his touchdown passes have increased, and last season he had a career high 99.1 quarterback rating. Not only that, Ryan has 56 wins as a starter since his rookie season in ’08, and he’s produced 23 game-winning drives. Those numbers speak for themselves my friends.
Coming off a newly inked $100 million deal, I believe Ryan is poised to have an MVP caliber year.
If the Falcons don’t at least represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, we’ll have to consider this season a disappointment. It should be exciting to see what Ryan and company accomplish this season.
#1: Can Chip Kelly’s Spread Offense Work?
The guy who made scoring touchdowns look so easy in college football, yet so painful for the team mascot who did an endless amount of push-ups, Chip Kelly has taken his talents and his colorful spread offense to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Replacing a legend like Andy Reid is no easy task, but trying to change the culture of professional football is an even bigger challenge.
Kelly is the first of his kind; a head coach who runs the spread offense in the NFL. At Oregon, his offense was a masterpiece comparable to that of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. The Ducks averaged over 40 points per game in his four seasons in Eugene. After leading them to a national title game appearance and three BCS bowl appearances in his four seasons as head coach, Kelly abruptly decided it was time to embark on a new journey, and took the job of replacing Andy Reid as head coach of the Eagles.
Kelly not only has the task of turning around a 4-12 team from a year ago, but also turning doubters of his spread offense into believers. Kelly has an ideal quarterback in Michael Vick to run his system, but can he put the pieces together to mold a winning team with his system?
There are a lot of questions that surround Kelly as he prepares to begin his first season in the NFL, but with the new age of dual-threat quarterbacks and more spread systems being installed by coaches throughout the league, Kelly’s success or failure could have a monumental impact on the future of football.