After all of the Free Agent signings, Draft choices, Training Camps & Preseason, one would think that all 32 NFL teams would be ready for week 1, but questions reamain.
It seems only a handful of NFL teams enter the new season feeling good about themselves, even with seven months of planning. trading, signing, drafting, evaluating, cutting, practicing and four exhibition games for most teams under their belt. And although Optimism is a personal thing and usually NFL teams, players, fans and the NFL odds market are more optimistic about their Futures Bets in the spring and Summer than they are in the Fall when the football games that really mean something finally begin. Assembling a talented and deep Roster is hard in all professional sports, but especially so here in the rugged NFL where tackles have the same force as small car crashes and injuries are expected and depth, and planning for those injuries are all a part of the game to the astute General Manager, Head Coach and their staffs. Having Depth on an NFL Roster is one thing. Having quality Depth is quite another. And things change in the blink of an eye too, and sometimes the teams’ or Head Coaches’ motivations are unknown. Like with the Philadelphia Eagles who had four QBs—something essential in the NFL, depth at the QB position—late Thursday and now have just two here Saturday afternoon after Tim Tebow was cut and third-stringer Matt Barkley was dealt to the Arizona Cardinals on Friday, leaving the Eagles with Sam Bradford as starter and Mark Sanchez as his backup. So, if Bradford gets hurt—and he has a history of doing so—Philadelphia has problems although Kelly probably has Tebow on Speed Dial and has a plan for a No. 3 guy, maybe someone worthy cut by another team (the Bills’ Matt Cassel?). Heading into the NFL Regular Season with just two QBs is like heading across Death Valley with just two bottles of water brother...it will get you so far but at some point you will really wish you had the third so expect Philadelphia to sign someone in the next week.
Anyway, every team in the NFL still has questions now and some probably bigger ones now than when Training Camp actually started. Let’s look at 10 teams in the NFC that do have obvious issues and list some of those problems the teams may or may not be addressing.
Ranked No. 1 by most pundits and the oddsmakers’ favorites (9/2 to win Super Bowl 50), the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks have their fair share of questions heading into Week 1. SS Kam Chancellor—a member of Seattle’s legendary Legion of Boom defensive backfield—is still holding out and threatened to do so the entire season. Seattle will also to have to worry about QB Russell Wilson staying healthy the entire season as he had Concussion issues late last year. But maybe the biggest potential problem for the Seahawks is the OL. In order to get TE Jimmy Graham from the Saints, Seattle had to ship veteran C Max Unger to the Big Easy so now the anchor is gone and Drew Nowak will reportedly try to fill his shoes. Three of the five OL spots for Seattle were a mystery with Russell Okung returning at LT, Justin Britt likely starting at LG—who moved from RT—Nowak at C, JR Sweezy at RG and Gary Gilliam at RT looking like the opening day starters. The Seahawks also have LG Alvin Bailey and C Lemuel Jeanpierre as well as Rookies G Terry Poole, G Mark Glowinski and C Kristjan Sokoli on the OL but none of them started in the Preseason. Seattle met with LG Evan Mathis and are reportedly going to look at C Samson Satele on Monday although the Seahawks—who signed RB Fred Jackson on Saturday—might not have the room under the Cap Space right now to sign Mathis. Protecting Wilson and keeping him healthy is imperative for Seattle and OL Coach Tom Cable certainly has his work cut out for him and this team can’t help but miss Unger.
Green Bay Packers
Although they have done a pretty decent job shoring up depth on the OL this Offseason, the Green Bay Packers (6/1 to win Super Bowl) may still have issues with their Rushing Defense (119.9 ypg in 2014) and Special Teams which were were absolutely abysmal last season. And the Cheeseheads have a serious problem at WR, where QB Aaron Rodgers most-targeted receiver, WR Jordy Nelson suffered a freakish, season-ending injury against the Steelers in a Preseason game on the playing field of Heinz Field. Green Bay also got a big scare weeks later when its’ other star WR, Randall Cobb, hurt his shoulder early on in a Preseason game against the Eagles, so instead of gambling and possibly seeing the entire Regular Season go up in flames for the Packers before it even started, Head Coach Mike McCarthy quickly sat No. 3 WR Davante Adams just in case Cobb’s injury was worse than it actually ended up being. With Nelson—Rodgers’ favorite and most thrown-to target last season—out for the year, teams can now focus on Cobb and unless Green Bay makes vast improvements against the Run and on Special Teams, just falling short because of the little things may become the norm in Brown County. And this Packers team, which very well could make the Super Bowl from the NFC, is a Randall Cobb injury away from a real crisis.
Dallas has its own share of football issues too, including trying to find a Running attack after shipping 1,845-yard rusher DeMarco Murray to the Eagles and the Cowpoke are now looking to Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and others to carry the load at RB. Maybe Tony Dorsett’s not too old. The Cowboys (14/1 to win Super Bowl) are coming off an awful Preseason where they went 1-3, scored just 48 points and allowed 82 points. And although the exhibition games usually aren’t about confidence and momentum, it seems Dallas isn’t feeling good entering this season and after building such a tremendous OL to run the football, Owner Jerry Jones, Head Coach Jason Garrett and QB Tony Romo are all starting to realize how important it was to have the University of Oklahoma product Murray in the backfield as it helped open up the Passing game and made the Offense much more well-balanced. Now opposing Defenses know WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten are the Cowboys go-to guys and can focus on shutting down Dallas’s Passing attack. To go from two-dimensional to one-dimensional will be a major issue for America’s Team. So very Dallas.
St. Louis Rams
Many thought the Rams were on the verge of a big jump forward these last two seasons, but, so far, Head Coach Jeff Fisher’s gutty team has failed to impress both on the Gridiron and with the building of a semi-decent Roster. The odds on St. Louis have dropped from 25/1 down to 50/1 to win the Super Bowl strictly on what sports gamblers have seen from June until this Labor Day weekend and St. Louis’s pathetic 0-4 record in the Preseason can’t instill confidence and the 48 points the Rams scored in 4 games reveals very much. St. Louis does have some decent skill guys in WRs Brian Quick, Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt and RB Tre Mason but Rookie RB Todd Gurley has had some injury issues with his knee and could end up being a bust. Expect this team to play very conservatively and hope its Defense can keep it in games as the acquisition of QB Nick Foles from the Eagles looks like a win for Philadelphia. Generating offense and points and keeping possession of the pigskin may be a problem for the Rams who host the defending NFC champion Seahawks at Home at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday afternoon in Week 1 in a big NFC West tilt (Seahawks -3½, Total: 41½, Pinnacle).
New York Giants
The G-Men have injury problems to two main cogs with DE Jason Pierre-Paul having to have a finger amputated after a Fourth of July fireworks accident and WR Victor Cruz (Doubtful, Torn Patellar Tendon) dealing with his own health issues. New York (40/1 to win Super Bowl, William Hill) is expecting JPP to play “early in the season” according to ESPN, but the jury is still out and he will miss Week 1 as well as a chunk of the start of the season. Besides injury issues, the Giants are also a team getting a little long in the tooth with Head Coach Coughlin entering his 12th year and QB Eli Manning set to turn 35 in January. Big Blue’s Defense will probably be an issue again also. Last season, the Giants ranked No. 29 in the NFL in Total Defense, allowing an average of 375.8 ypg and 6,012 Total Yards on the season and like, the Saints, its seems not enough effort was made to strengthen that side of the ball. Doubt reigns supreme in the hearts of Giants players and fans these days and rightfully so and that 40/1 to become NFL champions this season should probably be more like 66/1 to 80/1.
The NFC South’s Carolina Panthers looked poised to have a solid 2015 Regular Season and then, like the Packers’ WR Nelson and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ C Maurkice Pouncey, Carolina WR Kelvin Benjamin suffered a freak injury and tore his ACL running a simple pass pattern in practice and is out for the entire season. So now Panthers QB Cam Newton and Head Coach Ron Rivera (36-30-1 ATS) will be hoping that Jerricho Cotchery, Corey Brown and Rookie Devin Funchess can pick up the receiving slack for Carolina (50/1 to win Super Bowl, William Hill) which has won this division the last two seasons. Besides the injury to Benjamin (73 receptions, 1,008 yards, 8 TDs)—who was targeted a team-high 145 times last season and may force the team into a dual-TE formation at times—the Panthers have also seen numerous players get banged up in the Preseason including Stephen Hill, Ryan Kalil, Frank Alexander, Ed Dickson, Amini Silatolu, Brandon Williams, Colin Jones, De’Andre Presley and Lou Young to name more than a few. But whereas the Packers had Cobb to fill in the role of the No. 1 WR after Nelson’s injury, Carolina doesn’t have that luxury and Benjamin’s injury might not only change the Offense Carolina OC Mike Shula is running but may also put an awful lot of pressure on workhorse RB James Stewart to try do it all with Defenses now able to concentrate more on him with the productive Benjamin out. This loss could be massive in the long run and there really is no quick fix, although Rookie and Round 2 pick Funchess (6-4, 232 pounds) is of similar size and build to Benjamin and could possibly surprise. Still, Benjamin’s 73 catches, 1,000+ yards and downfield presence will be impossible to replace.
New Orleans Saints
QB Drew Brees (55-47-4 ATS Away) and the New Orleans Saints are in a division where they could steal away a title, but this team is its own worst enemy and the departure of heart-and-soul Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks can’t be sitting well with die-hard Who Dat Nation folks. New Orleans (40/1 to win Super Bowl, William Hill) was very weak on Total Defense last season, where they ranked 31st overall (6,144 yards allowed, 26.5 ppg), and for a team that has a gun-slinging QB and prides itself on throwing the football, New Orleans is really thin at WR with the aging Marques Colston at one starting spot and Brandin Cooks at the other. Toss in the void left by Graham’s departure at TE and Brees will possibly be looking for RBs Mark Ingram and CJ Spiller and TE Josh Hill a lot. And, have the Saints done enough on D to ready themselves for the coming 2015 Regular Season? Their 0-4 record and 121 points allowed in the Preseason screams “No!” and this is a team that makes too many stupid mistakes and it seems if New Orleans does slide that it could be good for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of all teams. Allowing 384.0 ypg isn’t something you cure overnight.
The Bears (66/1 to win Super Bowl, bet365) actually had a pretty decent Preseason, going 3-1 and outscoring opponents by an 84-42 margin. So, only 42 points allowed in 4 games, is something up in the Windy City? We’ll see, but putting great value on Preseason results is like judging food by a perfect picture of that food. Like so many other clubs, Chicago suffered a massive blow when Round 1 Draft Pick, speedy WR Kevin White (West Virginia) suffered a Stress Fracture in his Shin and will most likely most the whole season although the Bears haven’t gone quite that far yet. Chicago’s main WR, Alshon Jeffery is also a question mark, with new Head Coach John Fox mysteriously treating news of Jeffery’s injury like Roswell. Jeffrey hasn’t finished a practice since August 11 and with the new HC starting off choppy, the Defense (ranked #30 last year, allowed 6,033 Total Yards, 377 ypg) still suspect and QB Jay Cutler’s decision-making process still a huge issue and Chicago will be put to the test right out of the gate in week 1 with a big NFC North rivalry showdown with the Green Packers at Soldier Field in Chicago this coming Sunday afternoon (Packers -6½, Total: 50, Pinnacle).
San Francisco 49ers
No NFL team has lost as much in one Offseason as have the San Francisco 49ers and their odds of winning Super Bowl 50 in their own new Home-stomping grounds of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in February plummeted from 25/1 all the way to their current 100/1 with all of this football flight out of the Bay Area. San Francisco 49ers will basically have to start from scratch with a new Head Coach trying to replace Jim Harbaugh who decided to get as far away from team CEO Jed York as possible, heading back to his alma mater, the University of Michigan. As far as players, here are some of the phone-book levels of Niners who are now gone from this team: Free Agent RB Frank Gore, Free Agent WR Michael Crabtree, DT Justin Smith, ILB Patrick Willis, LB Chris Borland, DE Darnell Dockett, Free Agent CB Chris Culliver, P Andy Lee, Free Agent DE Ray McDonald and 25-year-old T Anthony Davis who has decided to take a year away from the NFL and think about things. And there are more. Many. Even if San Francisco isn’t as bad as everyone thinks—and it probably won’t be—so many new faces in so many new places means it will take time to jell and with the mercurial Colin Kaepernick at QB, this team could have questions for seasons to come. Luckily for the 49ers and their fans, they play in the same division as the Rams and Cardinals. But unluckily for that same lot is the cruel reality York seems entrenched as the franchise’s in-over-his-head young owner.
Like the Bears, the Washington Redskins (150/1 to win Super Bowl, William Hill) had a very decent Preseason (3-1, 88 PF-64 PA), but also like Chicago, Washington has some questions at QB and a contract currently enslaving the team. It seems the Redskins have had enough of Robert Griffin III, but know the importance of having solid backups who already know your Offense, so for now, Kirk Cousins will be the Washington starting QB with Griffin at backup and Colt McCoy at No. 3. Of course, Griffin still has to pass the NFL’s Concussion Protocol, but expect him to do so but to likely be in another color uniform at this time next year. Perhaps the Bears and ‘Skins can trade problems? I kid. Quality of depth is a problem with this team’s Roster, but luckily for Washington and Head Coach Jay Gruden (5-11 ATS) they play in the same division as the Giants, and the Cowboys looks like they may regress some. But the move to Cousins is what the players want according to reports and so maybe the biggest question surrounding this team was finally answered, albeit at such a late point in the Preseason and too close to the start of the Regular Season. Now watch Cousins get hurt and RGIII have to come in and try to save the season. The NFL is a cruel mistress.
NFC “LEAST AMOUNT OF QUESTIONS TEAM” FUTURES PICK: Minnesota Vikings +625 to Reach NFC Championship Game (5Dimes)
NFC LONGSHOT FUTURES BOOK PICK: Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Reach NFC Championship Game +2050 (5Dimes)