NFL Thoughts Before Training Camp Arrives
So, how about the NFL?
The NBA playoffs should be dominating the sports media landscape at the moment, but let’s face facts: The games have been boring for the most part.
So, the NFL did what it usually does during this time of year: Take over the national conversation with a bit of news that has nothing to do with the actual game. For 2018, it’s the national anthem.
Specifically, the league has seemingly taken away the players’ ability to protest during “The Star Spangled Banner.” They’re now free to stay in the locker room during the anthem, but if they’re on the field, they must stand at attention and show the appropriate amount of respect.
Predictably, the reaction was swift and emotional. Takes have been fiery. Outrage has been flowing strong like the Nile. One side is raging about their rights being taken away. The other is fuming about respect for God and country (I think).
What side is right? As with many hot-button issues, there are valid arguments to be made on each side. And as is customary in American society, no middle ground will be found.
Sigh. Just another exciting offseason.
Anyway, how about we talk about some football, eh? With training camps under two months away, let’s break down how each team should be feeling about their 2018 prospects. In fact, let’s divide the league into three categories.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
THOSE WHO SHOULD BE PUMPED
Vikings: Still can’t believe they didn’t reach the Super Bowl, especially after that miracle win in the divisional round. But no matter. They’ve upgraded at QB with Kirk Cousins and will get RB Dalvin Cook back at some point. Add them to an already stout defense and things should continue without a hiccup.
Saints: New Orleans did the right thing and brought Drew Brees back along with defensive ends Alex Okafor and George Johnson. It’s also hard not to like their acquisitions of LB Demario Davis and S Kurt Coleman. This team won’t sneak up on people in 2018, but it’s hard to imagine they won’t make a playoff push.
Chargers: Clearly the best team that didn’t make the postseason in 2017. And even though they just lost TE Hunter Henry to a torn ACL in minicamp, they should still be excited about where they’re going. They’re loaded.
Rams: Most people feel they won the offseason. They certainly did on paper. And while everything is rosy right now during minicamp, let’s see how Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh fare once this team hits a bad stretch during the regular season. Then we’ll see if this experiment is a success.
Eagles: Defending Super Bowl champs. And they’re getting Carson Wentz back under center. Good times in the City of Brotherly Love.
Patriots: Big clouds are forming over Foxborough, right? The Patriot Way has hit the wall, so to speak? Psssh. I don’t buy it. Tom Brady is still there. Gronk is still there. Belichick is still there. This team will be there come January.
Steelers: Big Ben might have had a crappy attitude when the team took QB Mason Rudolph in the draft, but there was a silver lining to that move in that it seems to have lit a fire under their QB. Notice there hasn’t been any retirement talk coming out of his mouth lately. Good. This team is loaded, especially on offense, and should walk away with their division.
Falcons: They took a step back last season, but still made the playoffs and were in position to steal a win from the Eagles before falling just short. And they just added WR Calvin Ridley to an already talented offense. The NFC South will be appointment television.
THOSE WHO SHOULD BE SMILING
Texans: Deshaun Watson. Deshaun Watson. Deshaun Watson. I can’t say his name enough. The good news is his knee “feels well” as he recovers from ACL surgery. With him under center, they’re going places. Can’t wait to see him in action again.
Panthers: Does Norv Turner have the magic elixir to get Cam Newton to complete at least 60 percent of his passes? We’ll find out. Either way, this team will be a tough out.
Browns: Yes, I’m fully aware this team didn’t win a game in 2017. However, I’ll admit it: I was drinking the Kool-Aid on draft night. I didn’t think Baker Mayfield was worthy of the No. 1 pick, but the Cleveland front office seemed so sure of themselves that I bought in. I’m not trying to be a wise guy and predict a winning season, but there’s nowhere to go but up. I hope Mayfield pans out.
Chiefs: Notice how easily Kansas City let Alex Smith and Marcus Peters go? They must know something we don’t. And when it comes to evaluating talent, I’ll give Andy Reid the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully new QB Patrick Mahomes will make a habit of throwing the ball downfield. God knows the people in the stands have been starving for it.
Jaguars: One win from the Super Bowl. Actually, more like one quarter from it. They had me believing in that AFC championship game and I have a feeling that momentum will carry over. That defense is vicious and Leonard Fournette is Beast Mode reborn. I’m high on Jacksonville.
Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension woes are behind him and Dez Bryant’s up-and-down personality is no longer an issue. And while it’s true that Dallas is a bit shaky at wide receiver, if they concentrate on controlling the ball with Zeke and finding openings in the play-action game, they should be fine. Remember, they still went 9-7 with a ton of drama in 2017.
49ers: They’re the sexy pick to make a playoff run this season. And while I pumped the brakes on freaking out over their run of success to end 2017, there’s no reason to doubt this franchise is on the upswing. And now they’ve got Richard Sherman, to boot. Don’t sleep on the acquisition of RB Jerick McKinnon either.
Packers: Aaron Rodgers healthy? Yes? Then they’ll be in the mix.
THOSE WHO COULD GO EITHER WAY
Bills: While they finally broke their streak of playoff-less seasons in 2017, they’re back to being questionable at quarterback. It’s either A.J. McCarron or rookie Josh Allen. Nothing there that would excite the casual fan.
Buccaneers: They came into last season with all the hype and finished 5-11. I’m not letting them off the hook that easily, even though they had a good offseason. Love the pick of giant DT Vita Vea in the first round of the draft and landing RB Ronald Jones in the second round was great value. They also beefed up their pass-rush by signing Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry. Secondary will continue to be a concern though. They have the talent, but I’m still wary.
Titans: They managed to win a playoff game, but that was against the Chiefs, which doesn’t really count based on Kansas City’s miserable postseason record. And while signing Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis were good decisions, this team will still hang around the 9-7 mark. Book it.
Seahawks: Their offensive line didn’t seem to get any better this season and key parts of their defensive core left for greener pastures. The 12th Man might have a rough go of it in 2018.
Ravens: At the risk of sounding like a dork, I can’t figure out this team’s identity. And then they added Robert Griffin III in free agency and traded up to grab Lamar Jackson in the first round of the draft. That should be some quarterback room this season. The receiver group is shaky despite acquiring WR Michael Crabtree and drafting TE Hayden Hurst. Still like their defense though.
Dolphins: Yay! Ryan Tannehill is back! Now what?
Lions: They went 9-7 last season, fired head coach Jim Caldwell and brought in Patriots wunderkind Matt Patricia to take over. Only to find out later that he was accused of sexual assault two decades ago. Ugh.
Cardinals: People forget this squad is coming off an 8-8 season. Certainly didn’t feel that way. But they’ve got reason for excitement with the arrival of rookie QB Josh Rosen. And he’s learning from gimpy veteran Sam Bradford. They could surprise some people.
THOSE WHO SHOULD BE SAYING “MEH”
Raiders: New coach Jon Gruden wants to bring an old-school mentality back to the Silver and Black. Commence eye rolls.
Broncos: They lucked into the best defensive player in the draft in Bradley Chubb. That’s a win. They also signed QB Case Keenum in the offseason for a lot of money. That’s … good? I think?
Bears: How will Mitch Trubisky progress in Year 2? Is anyone that interested outside Chicago?
Giants: I like that they drafted RB Saquon Barkley. I still don’t know if their offensive line can block.
Redskins: On one hand, hooray for bringing in Alex Smith! On the other hand, ugh, they brought in Alex Smith.
Colts: Andrew Luck should be back in uniform after missing all of 2017. Indy’s defense still can’t stop anybody.
Bengals: it’s Cincinnati. This team has talent that will surely go to waste again.
Jets: They got the quarterback they wanted in Sam Darnold. He’s still a project and there’s no guarantee he’ll even play this season. 2019 will be a more exciting season.
Currently a Mobile Editor at Yahoo, Saraf spent 5.5 years (Oct. 2010 - Feb. 2016) working for FOX Sports as an NFL Editor and Writer. Prior to that, Saraf worked for CBS Interactive for 4.5 years (May 2006 - Oct. 2010) as a Staff Editor.