With training camps opening this week, it is the year of the question for NFL teams.
What will camp look like?
How will no offseason impact their rosters?
Can they get past the hurdles of a different NFL training camp, one with a lot less hitting and no preseason games?
Those questions impact all teams. But each of the 32 teams has at least one major question that will impact them individually. The bad teams have a lot more questions than the good ones, but they all have something major.
So as camps ready to open, here is the major question facing all 32 teams has they prepare for what should be a 2020 season unlike any we've seen before.
Is the offensive line fixed?
Matt Ryan took a beating last season, and that came after the Falcons made improving the line a priority in 2019. It didn't work. They lost rookie first-round guard Chris Lindstrom in Week 1, and he played just four games. They also started another rookie at right tackle in Kaleb McGary. Ryan was sacked 48 times and got hit a bunch more. They hope a year of experience will help Lindstrom and McGary on the right side. Rookie Matt Hennessy could take James Carpenter's spot at left guard. Ryan needs to be protected better.
Is the defense improved?
They sure have made a lot of defensive additions this year, both in free agency and in the draft, so you would have to think it's a unit ready to make a big leap forward after finishing last in the league in 2019 in yards allowed. In free agency, they added defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and linebackers D'Vondre Campbell and Devon Kennard. In the draft, they took linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons and also landed two power players for the inside of their defensive line. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has to get this unit into the mid-teens this season in the rankings or he could be in trouble.
How does Lamar Jackson build on his MVP season?
The scary thing for opposing defenses is that Jackson is just scratching the surface as a passer. Yes, he had a good season throwing the football in 2019, but he can be much better – especially as the young receivers improve. If that happens this season, look for Jackson's passing numbers to rise in a big way.
Will Josh Allen make big strides this season?
Allen had moments last season – Thanksgiving Day against Dallas being one of those – where he looked like a star in the making. But he was far too inconsistent. He has to improve his completion percentage, and the addition of receiver Stefon Diggs will help that become a reality. Allen had mechanical flaws coming into the league, and they still show up. But he's spent time this offseason working to improve them, which I think will show a more accurate passer in 2020. I think he will have his first Pro Bowl-like season.
Will the defense be improved?
The Panthers were 31st in scoring defense last season and teams ran for 143.5 yards per game against them. That is awful. They added some young players on defense, loading up in the draft, with the idea they can help improve those numbers. They are going back to a 4-3 defense this year as well. The addition of first-round defensive tackle Derrick Brown will help the front. The secondary is the biggest concern, especially on the corners. Look for the Panthers to play a lot of high-scoring games early if Teddy Bridgewater is what they think he can be on offense.
Who starts at quarterback, Nick Foles or Mitch Trubisky?
I would be shocked if it isn't Foles. They traded to get him from the Jaguars and the coaching staff is said to love him. The key coaches – head coach Matt Nagy, coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo – have all worked with Foles in the past. Trubisky hasn't played well in his time with the Bears, so he has to up his game in a big way to fend off Foles in my estimation.
Can Joe Burrow be good enough as a rookie to get this team to push for a playoff spot?
I don't know if the Bengals will be in the postseason this year, especially with the way the offseason has gone, but they will be much improved and I think an 8-8 season is possible. The division is a challenge, but this is a team on the rise and I think Burrow will be a star. He will be good right from the get-go. Look for Burrow to impress as a rookie, and this will be a playoff team in 2021.
Can Kevin Stefanski get Baker Mayfield back on track after a disappointing 2019?
I am a big believer in Stefanski as a coach. He has the right makeup to turn this team around. I think it starts with Mayfield. He didn't play well last season after impressing as a rookie, but I think he will get back on track this season. The offensive line was a mess last year, and the Browns have addressed the tackle position in the offseason. Mayfield will have more time, which will help his numbers go up. Stefanski will be a good thing for Mayfield.
What type of difference will Mike McCarthy make for this team?
McCarthy is a smart, offensive-minded coach who will have benefited from the year off. McCarthy's offense became stale in Green Bay, but a year away will help him evolve from that standpoint. I think that will be a good thing for quarterback Dak Prescott. He is playing on the franchise tag, so he has to have a big season in terms of determining financial success down the road. McCarthy and Prescott will be a good thing for the Cowboys.
What can Denver expect from Drew Lock, who is now the full-time starter?
Lock went 4-1 as a starter during his rookie season, and flashed big-time ability. It looks like John Elway might have finally found his quarterback. Lock threw seven touchdown passes and three interceptions last season, which is a preview of what to expect this season. He is a gunslinger who will take shots, which he can get away with because of his big arm. With an improved receiving group, the Broncos will push for a playoff spot because of Lock.
Is Matthew Stafford, coming off a back injury, still capable of taking a team to the playoffs?
He won't be this team's problem. Stafford was outstanding before injuring his back last season, with some even saying he was in the MVP conversation at the time. He threw 19 touchdown passes in eight games before the back injury ended his season. If he can be all the way healed from the injury, and stay on the field, he will put up big numbers again.
Can a defense that was run over in the NFC title game improve to get this team to a Super Bowl?
The last time we saw the Packers defense, the 49ers ran through it for 285 rushing yards in the 37-20 San Francisco victory in the NFC Championship Game. That defense finished ranked 18th last season, and the run defense gave up 120.1 yards per game on the ground. That has to be better this season. They are not a big defense, which shows up in the run game. Mike Pettine uses a lot of exotic fronts, which can free up pass rushers but also expose the Packers in the run game. The inside linebackers also have to be better.
Do they have enough around Deshaun Watson to win another division title?
The division is wide open, and Watson is good enough to carry this team. But trading away top weapon DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals won't help. The offensive line has to be better in front of Watson as well. The defense has major issues, such as the pass rush, and that unit has to be better. Watson is good, but I think he will need to be even better to get this team back to the playoffs.
What does Philip Rivers have left and how will he respond behind a good offensive line?
There are some who think Rivers is done. I don't believe that. Rivers played behind a bad line with the Chargers the past few seasons, and it showed up in his turnovers. I think the Colts front is just what he needs. They are stout and will keep him upright. Look for Rivers to lead the Colts to the division title.
Is Gardner Minshew really the long-term answer?
Nobody knows. The Jaguars don't even know. But they are willing to find out, which is why they traded Nick Foles to the Bears. It's Minshew's job now. He did some really good things as a rookie sixth-round pick, but he has to be better inside the pocket. He is a guy who puts in the work, so I expect he will be. The offense around him also has to play better. By midseason, we will know if he's the long-term answer. If not, Trevor Lawrence could be the guy for the future.
How will they handle the challenge of repeating?
If any team can handle the challenge, the Chiefs can. They bring back almost the entire roster and Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league. Coach Andy Reid also has the right mindset to keep this thing going, something he did as coach of the Eagles. The Chiefs are the favorites again to win it all. Repeating is tough, but they have a real shot.
Will the move to Las Vegas impact a young Raiders team?
Without the offseason, it certainly will be a challenge for coach Jon Gruden and his staff. If they had an offseason, getting acclimated to the move, it might not be such a big deal. But the first time players will be in Vegas as a team will be this week when they report to camp. Moves are always challenging for players and staff, but even more so this season because of COVID-19. Gruden's coaching will be challenged under these circumstances.
Can a revamping of the coaching staff get this team back to a Super Bowl-type level of play?
Give head coach Sean McVay credit for making changes. He could have easily kept the status quo with his staff, but he made changes to the all three of the coordinator positions. Kevin O'Connell takes over as the offensive coordinator with Brendan Staley taking over as defensive coordinator and John Bonamego as the special-teams coordinator. Considering the Rams are a year and half away from playing in the Super Bowl, that's major change. McVay deserves credit for taking the chance, but the focus is clearly on these decisions in 2020.
Los Angeles Chargers
How long can Tyrod Taylor keep the job before rookie Justin Herbert takes over?
With no offseason, I would imagine Taylor will keep the starting quarterback job a lot longer than the Chargers might have expected when they picked Herbert sixth overall this year. Coach Anthony Lynn is a big believer in Taylor, and has said so for much of the offseason. The Chargers have talent to push for a playoff spot, which is why Taylor may hold onto the job late into the season. Herbert is the future, but he might spend much of the year watching.
How long before Tua Tagovailoa takes over as the starting quarterback?
With no offseason work, it could take a little longer than expected. Ryan Fitzpatrick will open as the starter, but if Tagovailoa is healthy, I would expect him to take over in October at some point. The sooner Miami gets on with him as the starter, the better off it will be for the long run. The Dolphins drafted him the first round to be their franchise guy. Letting him sit on the bench for an entire season would just delay the process.
Can the defense, which has undergone some change, play up to coach Mike Zimmer's standards?
The Vikings are in a youth movement on defense. Gone are 30-something players in defensive tackle Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes. They played a major part in helping the Vikings become a good defense and a postseason team under Zimmer. There is a change at coordinator as well with George Edwards out and Adam Zimmer, the coach's son, and Andre Patterson in as co-coordinators. They still have a star in pass rusher Danielle Hunter, but this is a team that needs more help up front to complement him.
Who will be the quarterback, Cam Newton or Jarrett Stidham?
Since Tom Brady left to sign with the Bucs, all we heard was how much the Patriots liked Stidham, their second-year player. But then they went out and signed Newton last month, so how much did they really like him? Even so, Stidham has an edge in that he knows the offense. But I will be shocked if it's not Newton under center on opening day. He has MVP talent and he's healthy again. This should be his team.
How do they get past their damaging playoff losses from the past few years, including last year at home to the Vikings?
It seems to be the same old story every summer. The agony of postseason failure has been something the Saints have been forced to overcome each of the past three seasons. Now they will try again after a tough home loss to the Vikings last January. The talent is there and coach Sean Payton is outstanding at getting his team to move forward. They will again push for a Super Bowl this season, but with Drew Brees up in the years, time is running out to get past the postseason heartache.
Who is first-year coach Joe Judge and what can the Giants fans expect from him?
Judge comes to the Giants after spending the past eight seasons with the Patriots, mostly as a special-teams coach, although he also worked with the receivers. At 38, he will bring the Patriots' no-nonsense ways to the Giants. It's hard to emulate Bill Belichick, and many of his former assistants who have tried have failed. So Judge will be faced with that challenge. He does have some young talent to build around, particularly with second-year quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley. Not having an offseason didn't help Judge, so this will be a tough transition for him.
Can coach Adam Gase get Sam Darnold playing up to expectations?
Gase has taken a ton of criticism since taking over last season as the Jets coach, some of it from his own players. But he knows how to get quarterbacks to play well. Darnold missed time last season with mono, which limited his growth. This will be a big year for both Darnold and Gase. The pressure is on both to show improvement. No matter how players might complain about Gase, his success is directly tied to improving Darnold.
Can Carson Wentz stay healthy?
Wentz actually played all 16 games last season, but was then knocked from the playoff loss to the Seahawks with a concussion. That means he technically hasn't finished the past three seasons. That's not a good look. When he's on the field, he's been good for the Eagles. He led them to the playoffs last season despite having a ton of injuries around him on offense. This is a big year for Wentz to show he is capable of playing and finishing an entire season.
What will Ben Roethlisberger play like after sitting out much of last season with an elbow injury?
Roethlisberger played just three games last season after undergoing season-ending elbow surgery. He appears to be back throwing the football well again, and he looks to be in shape. If he is close to being the same quarterback he was before the injury, the Steelers should push for a division title. The defense is loaded with talent and played well last season, so it's all about Roethlisberger's health when it comes to this team's chances.
San Francisco 49ers
Will the Super Bowl loser hangover impact their season?
With the talent on this roster, and a great coach in Kyle Shanahan, it would be easy to say no. But history tells us that won't be the case. Super Bowl losers have struggled, so it's to be expected. But if quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo can take the next step in his development, that might not be the case. This is still a talent-heavy roster that is capable of making another Super Bowl push.
Can the defense get back to its dominating ways from the Super Bowl years?
For the first time in the Pete Carroll era, the defense had major issues last season. It allowed 381.5 yards per game, the worst of the Carroll era. It was also a defense that produced little in terms of pressure, with just 28 team sacks. And that was with Jadeveon Clowney, who is still a free agent. They did make a bold move to trade two first-round picks Saturday to land safety Jamal Adams from the Jets. That's a steep price to pay for a safety. He will help near the line of scrimmage for sure. But the biggest issue last season was the pass rush, which means young players will have to step up in a big way this season if the defense is going to improve. One of those is 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier. He has to improve the pass rush. They still have some talent with Bobby Wagner, but this defense needs the youth to step up in a big way.
With all the talent on offense, and a lot on defense, is the secondary good enough to get this team to a Super Bowl?
We know Tom Brady and the loaded offense will score a lot of points for Bruce Arians. We also know the front seven on defense will be good. But what about the secondary? There are a lot of young players back there, and many took their turn getting torched last season. Tampa Bay finished 30th in the league in pass defense. Some young players flashed as the season went along – players like corner Jamel Dean – but this is the unit that will ultimately decide how far the Bucs go in 2020. Can they improve into the mid-teens in the passing rankings?
Was last season's run to the AFC title game a building block or an aberration?
When teams run the ball to get to a title game, even with a good runner like Derrick Henry, one has to question the staying power of it. Yes, Ryan Tannehill did some good things, but he didn't throw for over 100 yards in two of the playoff victories. In a passing league, that's not sustainable. They re-signed both Tannehill and Henry to new deals, so they must believe the formula is there to return to the postseason. Just remember, the 2017 Jaguars went to the title game with a running game and good defense. They haven't been the same since.
Washington Football Team
Is Dwayne Haskins ready to be the full-time starter?
Haskins struggled as a rookie in 2019, and new coach Ron Rivera said Haskins will go into camp competing with Kyle Allen to be the starter. Haskins threw seven touchdown passes and seven picks last season, but he did so on an offense that was limited in terms of talent around him. With a new coaching staff, Haskins will be given every chance to win the job. He has trimmed down this offseason to better help his chances, but he has to show he's ready for the NFL game or he will start to hear the dreaded bust word after two seasons, which really isn't fair to him.