On Friday, July 18, 2014, the Buffalo Bills were the first National Football League team to report to this season's training camp. By Friday, July 25, 2014 all teams will have started training camp in preparation for the upcoming season. The Bills will have to try to fill the void left by LB Kiko Alonso (torn ACL while working out in early July), who has been lost for the season. Gone also, is dynamic WR Stevie Johnson, who is now with San Francisco. Quarterback E.J. Manuel will be counted on to take that next step toward becoming the Bills' first legitimate franchise QB since Jim Kelly.
Of course, Buffalo is not the only team facing issues. In Dallas, the questions continue. Can Tony Romo finally do more than pile up ultimately meaningless stats ? Speaking of meaningless stats, longtime Dallas sackmaster Demarcus Ware, is no longer with the team after nine seasons of putting up what might possibly be Hall of Fame numbers. Ware has taken his act to Denver. Much like Romo, Ware had some ultra-impressive stats, but in big games, and big moments, his effectiveness was highly questionable. Despite much hype, and intermittent Super Bowl talk, the Cowboys have finished 8-8 for three straight seasons.
How about those Denver Broncos ? Can they get over that soul-squashing 43-8 Super Bowl XLVIII beatdown ? The Seattle Seahawks largely exposed the Broncos on both sides of the ball. Peyton Manning, who never has been great in big games, buckled under relentless defensive pressure. The Denver defense had no answer for the power running of Marshawn Lynch, nor the elusiveness of Seattle QB Russell Wilson. Of course, being that the teams are in different conferences, the Broncos need not concern themselves with Seattle, unless they were to meet in another Super Bowl.
The Seattle Seahawks may have concerns of their own. The defending Super Bowl champs have lost WR Golden Tate to the Detroit Lions, and there has been talk of a holdout from starting running back Marshawn "Beastmode" Lynch, who wants a new contract. On the defensive side of the ball, Super Bowl MVP LB Malcolm Smith will be back, as wil All-World CB Richard Sherman, to anchor the NFL's most dominant defense. The Seahawks are still a quality team, but getting to that elusive second straight Super Bowl might prove to be quite a challenge, if Lynch is not in the proper frame of mind. Their division, the NFC West, which is also home to the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, and Arizona Cardinals, is the toughest division in the NFL.
The San Francisco 49ers must play bigger in big games. In Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens, they came up short on the last play of the game, when WR Michael Crabtree could not get off the line of scrimmage. Last season, the culprit was again Crabtree, as he was again unable to make the big on the final play of the game. Seattle CB Richard Sherman has taunted Michael Crabtree unmercifully over the past few seasons. Some fans don't like Sherman, and consider him a "poor sport." Bottom line is, a huge part of this game is mental, and Sherman has, and maintains that edge. Also, with the way the NFL keeps tweaking the rules in order to promote more offense, if a WR is unable to get open, perhaps he really is "mediocre", as Sherman refers to Crabtree. It is make or break time for Crabtree. Also, the 49ers need to decide if they want to be a Super Bowl contender, or just a "playoff team."
The two teams looking to have major "bounceback" seasons, are the Pittsburgh Steelers, and New York Giants. The two teams play a similar style of football, and in the last 8 seasons, have collectively appeared in five Super Bowls, notching four victories. Last season saw both teams miss the playoffs. The two QB's, Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh, and Eli Manning of New York, will be under heavy scrutiny. Each has two championship rings, and one more would probably cement a place in Canton, OH. Both Ben and Eli are proven winners who have made a career of coming thru in big moments. They may not have the impressive overall stats which are prized by so many Fantasy football participants, but the success is undeniable. Last season, both QBs were rather disappointing. Both teams have a history of a power running game. That aspect of the game has been rather dicey for both teams recently, as has the stout defense upon which both franchises take so much pride.
This is only the beginning. There will be much more to come, as new players try to mesh with new teams, established teams try to maintain the edge, and newly successful teams like the Carolina Panthers, look to carry their newly established identity, into the 2014 season. How about RGIII in Washington, under a new system ? How will Eli Mainning do, with a new offensive coordinator now in place. Is Darelle Revis the answer for the New England Patriots defensive backfield ? In Miami, can QB Ryan Tannehill and WR Mike Wallace finally get on the same page ? In Philadelphia, can QB Nick Foles continue to progress ? This is only a small sampling of the upcoming drama. This is what makes the NFL so exciting. Stay tuned. There are many more updates to come, as the teams go from training camp, to preseason games, to the opening of the 2014 regular season on Thursday, Sep 4, 2014, when the Green Bay Packers will take on the Seahawks in Seattle.