For fans of the NFL, the offseason can be particularly brutal. Once the stadium lights are shut off and the cameras have gone, we mourn the end of a season, feeling the first symptoms of withdrawal. We commence the countdown of months, days and hours until the first kickoff of the next season. In the process, we satiate our need by watching replays of the games from the past, build our warboards for the draft and above all, realize we no longer have an excuse not the clean out the garage. We might follow players on Twitter and Facebook just to keep that connection. Read and re-read reports from the Combine, the draft and training camp.
In less than twenty-four hours, the party in Arlington, Texas will begin. Opening day of the 2012 NFL season will be ushered in with the trumpets from heaven and a chorus of angels in the splendor that is known as Cowboy Stadium. With the first kickoff, flashes of light will erupt, as if the very stars from the galaxy came down to bear witness. And fans, in jubilant proclamation will shout out, "it's here, it's finally here."
Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a bit, but you have to admit, Mariah Carey has one heck of a voice.
NFL 2012 will be a bittersweet season for me. As a Steelers fan, I will miss the smile of Hines Ward as he gets up from a play. And to no longer hear James Farrior name be mentioned and missing Aaron Smith on the line. Time marches on though and with that positives advance. Which diamond in the rough will shine this year? What play will leave me pondering? Of course, my ponderings aren't limited to just the Steelers.
The New York Giants come into this season defending their crown and are the team to beat this year. The watch is on to see how long they can go before they are defeated and who will be the team to do it this year. My recommendation is lose a game early, get it over and done with and get rid of that one distraction. Giants seem to do better when they're the underdog, the team that might not be perfect to garner the attention of the media. The David against the Goliath in a division where their nemesis have been perceived as trying to by championships. They quietly got the work done last season. Can they do it again this season though?
And on the other side of the coin, you have the Dallas Cowboys, who are faced with their own distractions. There's no doubt that quarterback Tony Romo is frustrated with the questions about the window of opportunity closing. And of course there will be the attention paid to wide receiver Dez Bryant, unfortunately more for what he's doing off the field than on it. Have the Cowboys front office done enough to beef up their defense to help the team get over that hurdle?
Focus has been on the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, mostly due to the hold out of Maurice Jones-Drew. It's not likely that the attention will lift anytime soon as we watch to see how last season's top rusher will perform. If his numbers drop, chances are great that analysts will point to the hold out as the reason. Still, in a way, I'm pulling for the Jags to have a decent season. I like coach Mike Mularkey. I believe, given time, he can acquire the talent to get the team to the playoffs. But it's easier to pull the trigger than it is to have patience to grow a team.
One wonders what the direction of the Oakland Raiders will be now that Al Davis is no longer with us. It was always believed that the late owner was holding the team back with his hands-on approach in ownership. I'd like to see Terrelle Pryor get his shot and do well. Pryor made his name as the number one prospect coming out of Jeannette High School. I like to see kids that graduated from the same school I went to, make good. Pryor is no exception. Still, one can't argue that the Raiders have no talent. It's just a matter of finding the right magic to make it work.
If there is any team that is facing distractions this season, it will definitely be the Saints. No one will argue that they, as a team will be under a microscope with both the press and the fans, watching to see how they rebound from the scandal and if "bountygate" was the reason for their past success. They have two options, shoot everyone the bird and come out with a "we'll show you" attitude or succumb to the pressure. I'll say it's the former. Quarterback Drew Brees is nothing but a passionate and consumate leader who has the ability to rally his troops in the face of adversity.
One thing I do know, that as with each season it will be electrifying and disappointing on the road to the playoffs. The days of manicured nails and quiet Sunday afternoons are now gone until February. And if one is disappointed that the window of opportunity to clean out the garage has gone, well, there's always the bye.