NFL fans will rejoice Friday because the Buffalo Bills will be the first team to report to training camp. The Bills don't have a QB battle but a few other teams do. Here's a look at these clubs, none of which have very good Super Bowl chances on NFL odds.
NY Jets: Geno Smith vs. Michael Vick
The Jets report to camp at SUNY Cortland in New York on July 22 and all eyes will be on this duo. Smith is definitely the leader in the clubhouse. He started every game last season for the Jets as a 2013 second-round pick out of West Virginia. Smith turned the ball over way too much, with 21 interceptions and four fumbles (as those backing the Jets with their NFL picks will remember).
Then again, Peyton Manning had 28 interceptions and three fumbles in his 1998 rookie season. I'm obviously not saying Smith is in the same universe as Manning, and Smith was nearly benched a couple of times by Rex Ryan but the head coach really didn't have any good options behind him with projected starter Mark Sanchez suffering a season-ending injury in the preseason. Smith did have a decent knack for leading fourth-quarter comeback victories. He led five of those last season: against Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Atlanta (the only road one), New England and Cleveland.
We all know the story with Vick. He remains a very capable player and probably is a better one-year option than Smith. However, Vick is 34 and is going to get hurt at some point because he always does. Vick himself has said he thinks the job is Smith's to lose and that it's not an "open competition." For what it's worth former Giants and Jets receiver Plaxico Burress this week predicted that Vick would win the job. That's his opinion and it's wrong. Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg says Smith will get 70-75 percent of the first-team reps at camp. That tells you everything.
Prediction: Smith is under center Week 1 with the Jets as 6-point home favorites on NFL odds against Oakland.
Cleveland Browns: Brian Hoyer vs. Johnny Manziel
Cleveland veterans report to camp at the team's training facility on the 25th. I don't know about you, but I already have Johnny Manziel fatigue as the guy has been talked about more than any other NFL player since the draft. So what if he likes to party in Las Vegas in his free time? Manziel has said he "absolutely expects" to win the starting job over Hoyer. Of course he does.
It's an interesting dynamic because Manziel is the young, partying superstar, while Hoyer is a veteran journeyman and family man. Hoyer, a career backup, was 3-0 as a starter for the Browns last season before tearing his ACL. The coaches are leaning toward starting Hoyer in part because the Browns open with three very tough games: at Pittsburgh, vs. New Orleans and vs. Baltimore. Three potential playoff teams with good defenses. The Browns are on a bye Week 4 so if Hoyer struggles in the first three and Cleveland is 0-3, Manziel could get the call Week 4 in Tennessee. Starting him on the road might help take some of the pressure off, and he could make his home debut on Oct. 12 against the Steelers.
Prediction: Hoyer is the starter Week 1, with the Browns +6 on NFL odds at Pittsburgh. I actually believe LeBron James has an effect on this, as well as your future sports picks. The Browns will want to start Manziel before the Cavaliers start playing, in my opinion, to generate some excitement. Once LeBron takes the court, all the buzz in Cleveland moves to the NBA.
Minnesota Vikings: Matt Cassel vs. Christian Ponder vs. Teddy Bridgewater
The Vikings report to Minnesota State University (I thought that was a fictional school on the show "Coach) on July 24. Cassel went 3-3 as a starter for the Vikings last season while Ponder, a former first-round pick, was 2-6-1 in his nine starts. Bridgewater was the final pick of the first round of the 2014 draft. The Vikings have an entirely new coaching staff so it's not like Cassel or Ponder has an advantage in knowing the system under new coordinator Norv Turner. Last month during minicamp, new head coach Mike Zimmer declared that the quarterback competition was open.
I don't think Ponder is a factor here. The Vikings re-signed Cassel this offseason to a two-year, $10 million deal and you don't give that type of money to a backup. He got the majority of the first-team reps in minicamps and OTAs. I have a hard time believing Zimmer will throw Bridgewater to the wolves as the Vikings also have a very tough opening three games: at St Louis, vs. New England, at New Orleans.
Prediction: Cassel starts Week 1 with the Vikings 6-point dogs on NFL odds at the Rams. The smart move is to build up Cassel's value and then trade him during the season for a draft pick to a QB-needy team that lost its starter to injury.
NFL free picks: At least one rookie QB has started Week 1 since 2008 but that streak ends. Manziel will be the first rookie to get the call, however.