The only down side of being such a fan of football is that the offseason can seem to last forever. The good news is that we are now in the middle of July which means that training camp is approaching. Here is a list of 10 hot topics that will surely be discussed throughout the football world heading into the upcoming season.
The New England Patriots
Wes Welker is now a Denver Bronco, Rob Gronkowski's health is uncertain and Aaron Hernandez looks to be "out of the picture" for a long time. Can Danny Amendola put up anywhere near the production that Welker achieved? Can Chandler Jones improve and be a force getting to the quarterback in year 2? There are question marks everywhere with this team, but combine the fact that they still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick with a division that is not very strong and you will most likely see the Patriots in the postseason again.
Andrew Luck, RG III, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill all played very well in their rookie seasons. Now that Defensive Coordinators have had an entire offseason to game plan against them, will these phenoms be able to improve upon their 2012 seasons or will they be victims of the dreaded sophomore slump?
Defending the Read/Option
In addition to RG III and Russell Wilson, players such as Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick also thrived in the read/option in 2012. Will NFL defenses catch up this year? If so, how will these quarterbacks respond?
Robert Griffin's Knee
All indications are that RG III's torn ACL has recovered nicely and that he will be ready for opening day. Assuming that is true, will Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan change his play calling to protect RG III from risk of further injury? No doubt RG III can sling it but his running ability really puts defenses on its toes so dialing back on the running plays will obviously help the opposing defense out. Tough call for Shanahan.
The Baltimore Ravens
Ray Lewis has retired and Ed Reed is in Houston. That is a huge leadership void for the Ravens. Anquan Boldin is also in San Francisco. But Joe Flacco is getting better each year, Ray Rice is a dual threat and Ozzie Newsome always seems to find good players to fit in the Ravens' system. It's always extremely hard to repeat but in a relatively weak AFC, the Ravens will be in the mix come January.
Is this "Next Year" for the Dallas Cowboys?
Every year for the past several years, we hear about how talented the Cowboys are and how some insiders are picking them to reach the Super Bowl. By the end of the year, those insiders are disappointed and then come July we're back to the same old discussion again. After giving Tony Romo a six year extension this offseason, it appears that the Cowboys are in it for the long-haul with Romo. Eventually, he is going to have come through when the season is on the line, otherwise, it will be the same old song and dance.
The NFC West
In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. As a result, the NFC West became a national punchline. Three years later and the NFC West just might be the best division in football. The Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers both made the postseason last year and expectations are high. Coach Jeff Fisher is entering year 2 with the St Louis Rams so you know they will be tough. Even the Cardinals improved by getting Carson Palmer to play quarterback. In 2010, 7-9 won the division; this year it may take 13-3.
Are the Indianapolis Colts for Real?
After going 2-14 in 2011, #1 pick Andrew Luck lead the Colts to an 11-5 record in 2012 which was a tremendous accomplishment. Can they improve on that in 2013? It will be difficult to win the division with the Houston Texans to contend with, but as we have seen in recent years, just getting into the playoffs is all it takes to get to the Super Bowl.
The Denver Broncos
Many wondered how Peyton Manning would handle being in a new environment after over a decade with the Indianapolis Colts and missing the entire 2012 season due to injury. Well, he nearly had an MVP season (if it hadn't been for Adrian Peterson) and the Broncos finished with a 13-3 record. But even after such a great season, the year ended in disappointing fashion with their overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs. Can the Broncos bounce back? Getting Wes Welker in free agency will help the offense, but how will the defense stack up with Elvis Dumervil now in Baltimore?
The Return of Sean Payton
The New Orleans Saints made the playoffs in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Then the Bounty-gate scandal hit and head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season. At the time that the suspension was announced, conventional wisdom was that the Saints would be just fine without Payton. After all, they still had Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles. But as the season unfolded, it was clear that something was missing withouy Payton there. I am looking forward to see how the Saints come out of the gate this season with their leader back.