After five months of bargaining, politically entrenched drama, and premonitions of nationwide crime sprees, the NFL lockout has come to an end officially on July 25th. The agreement between the NFL Players Association and the league owners ends four and a half months of uncertainty from fans and players alike. The deal could not have come at a better time with the preseason fast approaching. No one can say definitively how close we actually were to not having a 2011-12 season, but there are several intriguing questions that will play our when the season begins. We look at some of those questions now.
How will Cam Newton fare as a pro?
Without a doubt, Cam Newton is the rookie with the most pressure to shoulder this season. With all the athletic ability and intangibles that the former Auburn quarterback possesses, questions linger as to whether this year’s first overall pick by the Carolina Panthers can excel at the next level. Newton had a phenomenal year with 30 touchdowns and a 182.0 rating leading the Tigers to the National Championship, but his accuracy was less than stellar and he was sacked 23 times in 14 games. His leadership capabilities and character have come under fire as well, particularly in a now infamously scathing scouting report in Pro Football Weekly. He’s been portrayed as being insincere and someone with an “Me first” attitude, which is deadly in a veteran locker room. Because of complete lack of faith the Panthers have shown in Jimmy Clausen and the inconsistency of five year veteran Matt Moore, Newton can see action much sooner than any rookie quarterback should. Amazing physical prowess aside, Newton can find his career stifled by competing against the complex schemes of NFL defenses this early.
Will any team take a chance on Randy Moss or Terrell Owens?
In a very rare occurrence, two future Hall of Fame wide receivers will struggle to find homes this upcoming season. Moss had a turbulent 2010 season when he was traded by the New England Patriots after Week 4 to the Minnesota Vikings, who then dispatched him to the waiver wire less than a month later. He didn’t fare any better with his latest team the Tennessee Titans, totaling only 6 catches for 80 yards and no touchdowns. Owens however had a fairly productive season last year in his first season with the Cincinnati Bengals, leading the team with 983 passing yards and 9 touchdowns. Both Moss and Owens have been labeled throughout their careers as exceptionally talented malcontents, but with their production in steady decline clubs are naturally hesitant to take on the risk of a potentially toxic locker room presence. Despite T.O’s season being a rare highlight for the 10′ Bengals, he is coming off of ACL surgery and will be 38 this year which makes him a major question mark. Moss seems to have the better prospects of being signed after only being a year removed from leading the league in touchdown catches. He is reported to be in great shape and seems to be humbled how dismal last season turned out. Look for a team to roll the dice on the 5-time All-Pro to bolster their receiving corps.
Will Arian Foster cement himself as a star?
With one of the greatest breakthrough performances in recent NFL history, Foster dismantled the perennial AFC South juggernaut Indianapolis Colts by running for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns on opening day. For an encore Foster made Houston Texas fans (and fantasy owners) downright ecstatic with his league leading 1,616 rushing yards last season. The 24-year old Foster has the downfield speed and agility to become an legitimate star this year, but whether he can repeat the magic of his ’10 season is uncertain. Success for a running back is fleeting primarily because of the wear and tear they endure throughout the season. Out of the top five rushers in the 2009 season only two (Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones Drew) remained in the top five the following season. Foster will not be able to catch opposing defenses off guard the way he did a year ago, and the linebacking corps on all teams will be paying him extra attention on every snap. He will have a very productive season and a Pro Bowl invite waiting for him, but do not expect Foster to repeat as rushing champ.
Will concussions play a major role again this season?
One of the reasons that disagreements between the Players Association and the owners emerged was the proposed plan to expand the season from 16 to 18 games. Owners supported the change because of the increased revenue but representative of players expressed concern over safety throughout an already brutal schedule. Last year concussions were a focal point of talks, a condition known to cause brain damage, memory loss, and dementia. In the 2010 season the amount of reported concussions were bumped up by 21 percent, a statistic the league tried to quell by changing the acceptable methods for tackling. No longer is helmet to helmet contact or the “launching” of one’s body into another player legal, rules that for the most part players had no issue adhering to when they were enacted in the first part of the season. The new rules in no way guarantee the complete safety, after all physical harm is an unwavering part of the game. However now that players know what kind of hits will make their wallets lighter with fines they will make more of an effort avoiding them.
Will The Green Bay Packers repeat as Super Bowl Champions?
Conventional wisdom and recent history says that the Packers will not hoist the Lombardi Trophy this year, as the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots were the last team to win back to back Super Bowls. But to count Green Bay out would be unwise because of their young and talented defense and one of the elite quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers experiencing the prime of his career. Last year’s starter in the backfield Ryan Grant is recovering from ankle surgery and should be healthy enough to make their running game an even deeper threat along with James Starks. The defensive nucleus of Clay Matthews, A.J Hawk, and B.J Raji is one of the most dominant in the league and veteran cornerback Charles Woodson will return with his big game capability. Their schedule on paper is one of the more easier ones in the league facing only three playoff teams from the year before, meaning they will most likely improve on their 10-6 mark from last season. Head coach Mike Mccarthy has the complete respect of the team and they love playing for him, he will not allow them to become arrogant over their recent success. If the principal roles are healthy, the Packers have the tools to become the next NFL dynasty.
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