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Ten burning questions: Repeat Giants, Luck or RG3, Mile High Manning?

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Luck wil be put to the test in his rookie season for the Colts. (US Presswire)  
Luck wil be put to the test in his rookie season for the Colts. (US Presswire)  

With NFL training camps opening this week, the time seems right to ask what we're going to see, when we're going to see it and what it'll look like.

Or something like that.

Anyway, there's a lot of unresolved material sitting out there as training camps unwind -- including these 10 questions that most persons want answered sooner rather than later.

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Which, of course, is why we're here.

1. What are the chances of a New York Giants' repeat?

Slim to none. First of all, they weren't the best team in the NFC last year. Green Bay was, with San Francisco a close second. Furthermore, the Giants barely qualified for the playoffs, making it the last day of the season. That's not to knock these guys. No question, they were the best team in the playoffs and built a tsunami of momentum that carried them to their second Super Bowl in four years. But seven weeks earlier they were floundering so badly that irate fans were calling for Tom Coughlin's firing. That's how quickly the Giants turned around their season. Anyway, the last time they were in this position the Giants produced the best record in the NFC, then lost their opening playoff game. Hey, it happens. Winning a Super Bowl virtually guarantees a Lombardi Lockout the next season, and you can look it up. Only one team (New England 2003-04) repeated as Super Bowl champion the past 13 years after three did it the previous 10. Worse, of the past 13 Super Bowl winners (not counting the Giants), five didn't qualify for the playoffs the following year and another five didn't win a postseason contest.

2. Who has more immediate success -- Andrew Luck or RG3?

Andrew Luck is the more ready of the two to step in and take over a pro huddle. He was trained in a pro-style offense at Stanford, and he thrived in it. But he doesn't have the experience around him that Griffin does in Washington. Nor does he have a head coach like Mike Shanahan, who loves to develop young quarterbacks. Still, I say Luck has more immediate success for two reasons: 1) His background in a pro-style offense and 2) the schedule. Five of Washington's first eight opponents are playoff teams, including the defending Super Bowl champions, and three of Griffin's first four starts are on the road. Now compare that to what's ahead for Luck: Three of his first four games are at home and only one of the Colts' first nine opponents made last year's playoffs -- with only two of those nine producing winning records. Then there's this: Luck's favorite receiver at Stanford, tight end Coby Fleener, is one of his targets in Indianapolis. If you're looking for the early edge -- and we are -- Luck has it.

3. How much better are the Denver Broncos with Peyton Manning?

Some people make them immediate Super Bowl contenders. I don't, and here's why: First of all, I don't know what the Broncos get from Peyton Manning. He's a significant upgrade from Tim Tebow, but that's assuming that Manning is the player he was in, say, 2009-10. The guy hasn't played since January, 2011, and he's 36. Worse, he's coming off four neck surgeries. Second, the Broncos aren't exactly a juggernaut. They were 8-8 last year, thanks to unpredictable finishes aided and abetted by Mr. Tebow. The Broncos were more like a 5-11 team, but Tebow's late-game heroics pushed them to .500 and the top of the division. If Manning is OK and can take a hit, the club should win the AFC West. But that's the other thing: When Manning was in Indianapolis his teams were better than these Broncos ... and they still lost five of their last six to San Diego. Last time I checked the Chargers were in the same division as Manning. We'll all have a better read on this after the first three games, or after Manning takes on Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Houston. The Steelers ranked first in team defense, Houston was second and Atlanta 12th, with the Steelers first vs. the pass and the Texans third. Trust me, there are easier ways to return to the field.

4. Do the Saints make the playoffs?

Probably. And they could win their division ... though they won't. Atlanta will. That doesn't mean Bountygate has eviscerated the Saints because it hasn't. There's still a raft of talent there. Plus, they have Drew Brees and a schedule that should make them 3-0 out of the gate (Washington, at Carolina, Kansas City). Moreover, they might be on a mission -- namely, to stick it to Roger Goodell and the NFL. That happened in 2007 when the New England Patriots were caught in Spygate after the opening game of the season. Taking the us-vs.-them approach, coach Bill Belichick swung the hammer at everyone in his path -- and won the next 17 games, not stopping until he was upset in the Super Bowl. The league's action against New England pulled the club together. The same thing could happen in New Orleans, with the Saints determined to become the first team to play in a Super Bowl it's hosting. Do I think it'll happen? No. Losing Sean Payton was an enormous setback. Do I think it's possible? Hey, Tim Tebow's arm beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. Anything's possible.

5. Who is the Jets' starting quarterback in Week 17?

Mark Sanchez now has more pressure with Tim Tebow behind him. (US Presswire)  
Mark Sanchez now has more pressure with Tim Tebow behind him. (US Presswire)  
Barring injury, Mark Sanchez. The Jets can't afford a quarterback controversy, but they're interested in getting something more out of Sanchez than they did last season. So they bring in Tim Tebow to help with an assortment of packages, including red zone material, and I get it. Opponents will have to defend the guy, which means more time each week planning on when and how the Jets employ him. But the Jets shouldn't look at Tebow as a backup quarterback; they should envision him as weapon with a unique skill set that offensive coordinator Tony Sparano can spring on opponents -- much as the Jets used Brad Smith in Sanchez's rookie season. Let's face it: Sanchez is a better passer than Tebow; Tebow is a better runner than Sanchez. That allows for wiggle room in game-planning, but it doesn't mean Sanchez's job is threatened. Maybe the Jets want it to appear that way, I don't know. What I do know is that Sanchez operates best when under pressure, as in the playoffs, and if he believes the heat is on now ... well, maybe he responds.

6. Can the Philadelphia Eagles become the team they were not in 2011?

Yes. And they will. The Eagles made the mistake a year ago of trying to win with an all-star cast pulled from every corner of the NFL, forgetting that football is a team sport played by individuals who pull together ... not apart. When free agents signed megabuck deals that Eagles' veterans believed should've been earmarked for them, the team ceased to become a team, and so much for chemistry. Result: The Eagles couldn't pull things together until it was too late. But they showed me something by winning their last four and beating the Giants at MetLife Stadium with Vince Young as their quarterback. That is the team I believe we see this year. The organization wised up in the offseason, taking care of its own players and keeping its core intact, and now it seems ready for the takeoff predicted a year ago. I don't know that the Eagles "have a chance to develop a dynasty," as Michael Vick predicted, but I believe they're the best team in the NFC East and could be one of the best teams anywhere.

7. Has Seattle found its quarterback in Matt Flynn?

I'm going to have to pass on this one until I see what happens in camp and early this season. Coach Pete Carroll believes he has the right guy, but he thought the same thing two years ago when he traded for Charlie Whitehurst. I don't care that Tarvaris Jackson goes into camp taking the first-team reps; he should. He's the incumbent. But the Seahawks didn't pay Matt Flynn the big bucks in the hopes that he could wrest the job away from Jackson. They're sure he can. And he will. Now the question: What do they get in return? Ah, that's why they play the games, people. You can't help but like what you've seen from Flynn, but his resume includes two NFL starts. So this is what you call a leap of faith, and, I know, GM John Schneider has a background with the guy in Green Bay and believes in him. Still, Flynn must prove he belongs.

8. How does the loss of Terrell Suggs cramp Baltimore?

The guy was last season's Defensive Player of the Year, so that should answer the question. Suggs' loss handicaps a defense that will try to replace him with Paul Kruger on one side and rookie Courtney Upshaw on the other -- with Sergio Kindle a long shot to make a contribution. Without Terrell Suggs, the Ravens not only subtract 14 sacks and a league-high seven forced fumbles; they lose a leader whose voice mattered in the locker room and on the field. Suggs insists he'll return this season, but let's see. All I know is the guy was a nightmare for pass blockers and a critical element to a defense that made Baltimore such a difficult out. Now he's gone. Without him, I can't see how the Ravens repeat in the AFC North.

9. How much does Randy Moss have left?

Coach Jim Harbaugh says he's the 49ers' best receiver right now, and let's think about that for a minute. Either that's an indictment of the receivers he has, it's a signal for others to pay attention to the example Moss is trying to set or it's a pat on the back for a guy who needs it at this stage of his career. Moss hasn't played in over a year, is 35 and wasn't a factor the last time we saw him suit up. I know, he's driven to prove something and all that, but putting him in the same locker room with Michael Crabtree seems like a risk not worth taking. I mean, dating back to 2005 tell me what Moss did when Tom Brady wasn't his quarterback. I'll spare you the trouble: Squat. He didn't make an impact in Oakland, Minnesota or Tennessee. Well, this just in: Alex Smith is no Tom Brady. I like Smith, like his game and think he's the perfect fit for San Francisco. But he may not be the perfect fit for Randy Moss -- and if that happens it won't just be Smith who suffers; it'll be the chemistry that drove this club to the playoffs.

10. Will the loss of star linebacker Mario Williams keep Houston from making the playoffs again?

No. Simple reason: Because it didn't keep the Texans from getting there a year ago. Mario Williams bowed out after the fifth game, and Houston was 7-3 the rest of the way. More important, it got there without Williams, without Andre Johnson (he missed nine games), without starting quarterback Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart and WITH a rookie third-stringer calling the plays. Houston is a Super Bowl contender, mostly because Schaub is back and showing no lingering effects from a Lisfranc injury that sidelined him the last six games. If Houston can win its division with T.J. Yates throwing passes, imagine what happens when Schaub returns. That's why the Texans are on the short list to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII.

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