With training camps set to open across the United States next week, now seems like a good time to chip in with a key question or issue for each of the 32 NFL teams.
Arizona Cardinals... Can Kevin Kolb emerge as a franchise quarterback?
The Cardinals invested heavily in Kolb in 2011 and he essentially went 2-7 while suffering foot and concussion injuries. The worrying aspect is that the concussion symptoms lingered well into the off-season. Kolb is 6-10 as an NFL starter, hence Arizona’s flirtation with Peyton Manning this year.
Atlanta Falcons... How much longer can Michael Turner be the featured back?
In his first season since turning 30, the clock is ticking for Michael Turner and the Falcons are going to put him on a pitch count this year. Due to his physical style, Turner is going to hit a wall sooner or later. Given their reliance on him in the ground attack, the Falcons will hope for later, much later.
Baltimore Ravens... Can the Ravens adequately replace Terrell Suggs?
The Ravens have long employed a ‘Next man up’ philosophy but we’re talking about replacing one of the NFL’s best defenders here. When Suggs tore his Achilles’ it seriously hurt the Ravens. Rookie Courtney Upshaw and veterans such as Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle now need to produce.
Buffalo Bills... Can the Bills live up to the lofty expectations of their supporters?
You would think fans in Buffalo were beyond getting excited about an upcoming season, but that is not the case. The off-season additions of pass-rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson have Bills fans thinking big. But if this team is to deliver, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick needs to find his form.
Carolina Panthers... Can Carolina put up enough of a defensive fight to be playoff contenders?
As exciting as they were to watch on offense in 2011, the Panthers were a defensive train wreck. They gave up the most points and yards in team history. Ron Rivera will take an increased role in 2012 and the addition of rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly should help. Will it be enough?
Chicago Bears... Can the Bears pick up where they left off before Jay Cutler got hurt?
Before losing their starting quarterback for the remainder of the 2011 campaign, the Bears were one of the hottest teams in the NFL and playoff-bound. Since then, they have strengthened by signing Matt Forte to a long-term deal and adding WR Brandon Marshall and RB Michael Bush.
Cincinnati Bengals... Can the Bengals topple the AFC North big boys?
The Bengals were one of the NFL’s biggest success stories in 2011 but they still went 0-7 against playoff teams. Cincy lost all four games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh (all by seven points or more). To emerge as a true AFC power, Marvin Lewis’ men need to take control of their division.
Cleveland Browns... Will Greg Little emerge as a trusted, playmaking wide receiver?
Greg Little went into the 2011 NFL season a bit rusty and that might explain why he ranked second among receivers with 14 drops (thanks, Pro Football Focus). Little has the raw tools but he has to improve drastically if rookie passer Brandon Weeden is to enjoy a smooth transition into the NFL.
Dallas Cowboys... Will Tony Romo step up and prove himself to be an elite quarterback?
Tony Romo enjoyed a career year stats-wise in 2011 but it’s hard to imagine him taking a red-hot Cowboys team on a run through the playoffs and to Super Bowl glory, as Eli Manning has now done twice with the Giants. It will take that kind of run to get Romo the respect he so craves.
Denver Broncos... When will Peyton be Peyton?
The answer might be never. But we will watch with fascination to see if number 18 can overcome multiple neck surgeries and recapture the form of his glory days. If he comes anywhere close, the Broncos will be contenders. They face a tough start against Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Houston.
Detroit Lions... Will the Lions seek more offensive balance in 2012?
In an ideal world, the Lions would love to run the football more – but in order to do that they need Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure to stay healthy. That is not a given. Until then, Matthew Stafford will continue his bombs-away approach. Will it bring even greater progress in 2012?
Green Bay Packers... Can Clay Matthews re-emerge as a pass-rushing threat?
The Packers were horrible on defense in 2011 and their star man, Clay Matthews, managed just 6 sacks. But we should not really blame Matthews as he faced double and triple teams and received little help. The Packers have added young pass-rushers in Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy. Will it help?
Houston Texans... Can Andre Johnson stay healthy and return to All-Pro form?
The Texans suffered some off-season hits but will still enter 2012 as AFC South favourites. But they will need Andre Johnson back at his very best to move into Super Bowl contender status. Johnson missed nine games with a hamstring injury in 2011 and had his knee scoped during the off-season.
Indianapolis Colts... How many wins can Andrew Luck coax out of the Colts?
The Colts won just two games in 2011 but will expect more than that this time around as they will be led by hot, young quarterback Andrew Luck. Among Indy’s first six games are winnable meetings with Minnesota, Jacksonville and Cleveland. Can Luck get the Colts close to .500 this season?
Jacksonville Jaguars... What will happen with Maurice Jones-Drew?
While the development of quarterback Blaine Gabbert will be key, it will not be as important as the situation regarding Maurice Jones-Drew, who could hold out long into camp in search of a new deal. That will lead to questions about the effectiveness of the man who IS the Jacksonville offense.
Kansas City Chiefs... Will Matt Cassel produce a strong season at quarterback?
A more relevant question might be: Would he need to? The Chiefs have a potent one-two rushing punch now in Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis and that will take the pressure off their QB. But Cassel has to take a significant step forward because KC really likes backup passer Ricky Stanzi.
Miami Dolphins... Who will be the starting quarterback?
The Dolphins enter training camp with three men battling for one job. Matt Moore finished 2011 strong but has no track record with this coaching staff, David Garrard was impressive during mini-camps and Ryan Tannehill is the first round draft pick and hope for the future. Let battle commence.
Minnesota Vikings... How healthy will Adrian Peterson be at the start of the season?
Adrian Peterson tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus on Christmas Eve so it’s hard to be optimistic about his health and form early in the new season. AP insists he is on track for a full recovery, but we simply won’t know until the games begin for real in September. Here’s hoping he’s 100 per cent.
New England Patriots... Will the defense offer more resistance this time around?
The Pats were terrible on defense in 2011 but made moves to toughen up that side of the ball via the draft and free agency. But worries remain about the team’s ability to create enough pass rush. If the defense does not take a step forward, Tom Brady will have to win his share of shootouts again.
New Orleans Saints... Will the absence of head coach Sean Payton be significant?
We’ll find out soon enough about the importance of a head coach or if players win games. Sean Payton is one of the most creative coaches on the sidelines each Sunday and it may be that X’s and O’s loss that is most sorely felt in New Orleans. Either way, the Saints will make fascinating viewing.
New York Giants... Will the Giants offer better protection for Eli Manning?
The defending Super Bowl champs finished 2011 as the league’s hot team and enter 2012 in pretty good shape. But they must find a way to better protect quarterback Eli Manning, who comes under way too much pressure behind a sub-par offensive line. This is an area of real concern in NY.
New York Jets... Will Mark Sanchez join Kyle Orton as a victim of Tebowmania?
The Jets are about to embark on another soap opera and this is of their own making. With early games against tough defenses such as Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Houston, how long can Sanchez hold on before Tebow enters the fray? Sanchez needs to produce the form of his career.
Oakland Raiders... Can Darren McFadden play long enough to be a star of the 2012 season?
When healthy, there might not be a more dynamic back in the NFL than Darren McFadden. The problem is that he has played just 19 games over the past four seasons. With reliable backup Michael Bush now in Chicago, the Silver and Black need a healthy McFadden now more than ever.
Philadelphia Eagles... Will Michael Vick take care of his body and the football?
As exciting as he is to watch, Michael Vick has become associated with two things, in my mind – not being able to play a full season due to injury and being reckless with the football. If the Eagles are to be a Super Bowl team, Vick must reduce his turnovers and be under center for every game.
Pittsburgh Steelers... Can Isaac Redman serve as the feature back?
The Steelers have high hopes for Isaac Redman as he sets about replacing Rashard Mendenhall, who tore his ACL late in the 2011 season. You might suggest it doesn’t matter all that much with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, but the Steelers will want to run well to create offensive balance.
San Diego Chargers... Who will rush the passer?
Pressure on Norv Turner and the up-and-down form of Philip Rivers will be issues, but of vital importance is the team’s lack of pass rush. Antwan Barnes had 11 sacks in 2011 but San Diego managed just 32 as a team. Much will be expected of rookie pass-rusher Melvin Ingram.
San Francisco 49ers... Will Alex Smith be more than a game manager?
Smith showed in the playoff win over New Orleans that he could make the big throws when necessary. But a week later the NFC Championship Game was there for the taking and he couldn’t get it done. He has more weapons to work with in 2012 and will be expected to make big strides.
Seattle Seahawks... Will Matt Flynn prove himself as a starting quarterback?
The Seahawks invested a decent chunk of change in Matt Flynn this off-season but then opened up their QB job between the former Green Bay man, Tarvaris Jackson and rookie Russell Wilson. Flynn should be the front-runner. Then it will be up to him to prove his worth as a long-awaited starter.
St. Louis Rams... Who will coach the defense?
With Gregg Williams taking an enforced break from the game in disgrace, who will run a Rams’ D that must hold up in 2012? Jeff Fisher, Dave McGinnis and Chuck Cecil will probably coach by committee. They will work with a frightening front four book-ended by Chris Long and Robert Quinn.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers... Can Josh Freeman bounce back?
Josh Freeman was an emerging star at quarterback in 2010. He was a total nightmare in 2011. What will 2012 bring? He will have better protection up front and more weapons around him. If Freeman can return to his 2010 form, the Bucs could make a very quick return to form in the NFC South.
Tennessee Titans... Will it be Jake or Matt?
The Titans spent a first round draft choice on quarterback Jake Locker in 2011 but it’s still not a lock that this becomes his team in 2012. Matt Hasselbeck is not going without a fight but it might be time to go with the younger, stronger arm and see where it takes the Titans.
Washington Redskins... Can the Redskins protect RGIII?
The Redskins were very aggressive in going and getting Robert Griffin III in the off-season. Now they will hope their offensive linemen protect him with the same fervour. Don’t count on it – the Redskins gave up 41 sacks and 150 quarterback hurries in 2011. That has to improve.