Friday, August 29, 2014

NFL preview: A quest to be champion

With the start of the regular season beginning this week, teams look to be crowned as the leauge best

Following Flacco — Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Ravens look to their leader Joe Flacco to repeat as champions. Photo credit: Keith Allison

Following Flacco — Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Ravens look to their leader Joe Flacco to repeat as champions. Photo credit: Keith Allison

It is that time of year again. The days of summer are drawing to a close, and the days until the start of football season can be counted on one hand. With the preseason in the books, we examine the main storylines heading into this Thursday’s season opener.

Injuries
Jeremy Maclin, Dennis Pitta, Bryan Bulaga, Dustin Keller, Danario Alexander — these are just a few key players who have been lost to season ending injuries throughout training camps and the preseason. Injuries have been a big story in the last few months, and they have caused a grim outlook for the 2013 season for several teams.

The defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens lost tight end Dennis Pitta, likely for the season. They must figure out how to replace the production of Joe Flacco’s top two targets in Pitta and Anquan Boldin, who is now in San Francisco.

The Green Bay Packers offensive line woes continue, as they lost left tackle Bryan Bulaga for the season. The Eagles and Chargers lost their top receivers in Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, which will set back the offense of both teams.

QB Controversies
With the season opener drawing near, teams are finalizing their rosters and preparing the 53 men that will suit up this weekend. There are a handful of teams, however, who have yet to name a starting quarterback.

The New York Jets highly publicized QB battle is still ongoing. Frequently criticized veteran Mark Sanchez has been neck-and-neck with rookie Geno Smith all preseason, and neither has established himself as the starter.

Oakland Raider Matt Flynn entered the preseason with expectations of starting, but Terrelle Pryor has been breathing down his neck in recent weeks. Flynn is the more traditional pocket passer, but Pryor excels as both a passer and a scrambler, which would prove beneficial behind the Raiders weak offensive line.

A few other battles, such as the battle between Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, have already been decided, but could easily be reversed during the regular season.

New Faces, New Places
As is the case every year, star players leave their teams and find new homes through NFL free agency.

On the offensive side of the ball, running backs Steven Jackson and Reggie Bush have new teams.

Jackson left St. Louis, the team he has called home for his entire career, and joined the Falcons. He will replace Michael Turner as the team’s starting running back. Bush left the Dolphins and signed with the Lions, and he figures to be a key part of that offense as a dual threat, as he can run with the ball as well as catch passes out of the
backfield.

Several receivers have also found new homes. Mike Wallace left the Steelers and headed south to join the Dolphins. With tight end Dustin Keller lost for the season, Wallace may see even more balls headed his way this year.

Longtime Patriots receiver Wes Welker left New England in free agency and signed with the Denver Broncos. The Patriots subsequently added former Rams receiver Danny Amendola to fill the void left by Welker in the slot.

On the defensive side of the ball, Darrelle Revis was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arguably the best cover cornerback in the NFL, Revis will be a key part of the Bucs secondary.

Because paperwork was not in on time for pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, he was released from the Broncos and now is a Baltimore Raven. Dumervil will be a key part of the Ravens newly revamped defense.

Predictions
My choices for the NFC Super Bowl representative came down to two NFC West teams — the 49ers and the Seahawks.

The Seahawks have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, and I believe that they will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. I would not be surprised at all if the 49ers and Seahawks are the two teams that play in the NFC Championship Game.

On the other hand, I found it considerably more difficult to choose an AFC Super Bowl team. The Patriots are a favorite, but I do not yet trust their receiving corps enough to put my faith in them. While this may surprise some people, the Ravens are an improved group defensively, even without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

However, their lack of proven pass catchers could be a problem. So, I settled on the Broncos. Peyton Manning still has enough left in the tank to lead a very good offense to the Super Bowl.

Ultimately, I think the Seahawks will defeat the Broncos in the Super Bowl and be crowned NFL champions.

Injuries to key players, quarterback battles and new faces will keep fans wondering for a few more days. But with the season opener Thursday, fans will begin to have questions answered and will be able to say, “It’s time for some football.”

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