By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
Mid-August. Training camp is pretty much over. Each of the NFL’s 32 teams are at least one game into their preseason schedules. And what do we know?
To sort of quote the eminently quotable Jim Mora, former Colts and Saints head coach, “diddley poo.”
OK, that’s not entirely true. We know that Brett Favre is still a manically insecure narcissist/self-promoter/attention hog/drama queen; take your pick. We know that Jets coach Rex Ryan is still the same loud mouth boor he became famous for being last season, only possibly even more so. We know that there is a massive labor impasse between players and owners on the horizon and that this upcoming season may be the last NFL action we see for a while. And we know that right now, most likely for the only time all year, each and every one of those 32 teams thinks it has some sort of a chance to do something worthwhile.
That’s about it. Speculation runs rampant this time of year because of how little is gleaned during the preseason outside of who is injured, who is pissed off about his contract and which ESPN reporter is going to pitch a tent on Favre’s front lawn (the safe money is on Ed Werder). Two years ago at this time, one could probably count the amount of people who thought the Arizona Cardinals would be in the Super Bowl on one hand. And its highly unlikely that too many folks outside the French Quarter had the Saints winning it all as of last August 16.
And that’s what’s great about the preseason – the uncertainty of it all. It’s fun to speculate. It’s fun to try to figure out who may be a darkhorse team and who may be overrated and who has the best chance to surprise us. So-called experts like Mark Schlereth and Merrill Hoge and Mike Golic know about as much as you or I do (or perhaps even less considering the aggregate stupidity of that trio). We watch those camp tours by Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen on SportsCenter in which players come on the buses and talk about how great everything and everyone is before heading out to embark on a season that could just as easily wind up 4-12 as 12-4. There’s nothing more exciting than the unpredictable and this is the most unpredictable time of the year.
- The Raiders: Um, yeah, you read that right. For the first time since they reached the Super Bowl in 2002, Oaktown looks like a team that may be able to do some damage thanks to an unusually decent draft in which the focus was on defense, some continuity at head coach, a new quarterback (Jason Campbell) who seems to know how to play and the jettisoning of all-time draft bust/cough syrup addict JaMarcus Russell. Ancient owner Al Davis even compared Campbell to two-time Raider Super Bowl winner Jim Plunkett, though it’s hard to put too much stock in that claim considering Davis was eating dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon at the time.
- The Giants: It’s pretty hard to fly under the radar in New York, but thanks to the non-stop blustering of anyone and everyone involved with the Jets, the G-Men are doing just that. About the most controversial thing going on in their camp regards who will win the starting running back job, Brandon Jacobs or Ahmad Bradshaw. And there’s not really anywhere to go but up after their brutal collapse last season’s 5-0 start.
- The Dolphins: After a horrific start to their ‘09 season, Miami found its way and was in the mix for a playoff berth all year, just one year removed from their ascension to AFC East champs following a 1-15 mark in ‘07. This year, they look very deep on both sides of the line of scrimmage, have a rifle-armed young quarterback with a year of experience under his belt in Chad Henne and imported immensely talented (if not fairly knuckleheaded) wideout Brandon Marshall to jump start their offense. Oh yeah, and Bill Parcells and his personal marionette Tony Sparano are still in charge, too.
- The Broncos: From 6-0 to out of the playoffs and one-time, boy wonder coach Josh McDaniels found himself on the hotseat at the end of last year thanks to such a blatant Mike Shanahan impression. So far this year, in edition to drafting Tim Tebow in the first round to be the third-stringer (although early reports suggest the guy right in front of him – Cleveland castoff Brady Quinn – is even worse than he was last season for the Browns), the Broncos have already lost their top defensive player – pass rusher Elvis Dumervil – for the season and are missing the top two running backs on their depth chart – second-year stud Knowshon Moreno and career injured reserve resident Corell Buckhalter – indefinitely. Don’t blame McDaniels if he’s feeling a little light-headed due to something other than the high altitude in Denver.
- The Redskins: Speaking of Shanahan, as has been mentioned in this space before, he’s won exactly one playoff game in the 11 years since John Elway retired, yet for whatever reason, is still considered one of the top level, elite coaches in the game. The Redskins and their reckless front office gave him the keys to the car in the offseason, then went out and acquired another underachiever in Donovan McNabb to be their quarterback. There are some teams and some folks in the NFL that just don’t get it. Shanahan and the ‘Skins fit into this category perfectly which means that their relationship should be a match made in overrated, no accountability heaven.
-The Jets: I guess this particular entry on the list is entirely subjective. If you enjoy being endlessly subjected by practically every sports media outlet there is to over the top chest-thumping, wildly outrageous shit talking and more obnoxious ego than any other organization/coach/group of players in the league combined, then the Jets are probably trendy. If all that makes your skin crawl, as it does mine, they probably aren’t.
This one goes out to both fantasy football nerds like me as well as any aspiring sports management types. Patriots receiver Randy Moss is entering the final year of the contract extension he signed after his record breaking, 2007 season and is currently planning on representing himself when the time comes to negotiate his next one. He’s 33, has 250 catches in three seasons with the Pats and is coming off a season in which he caught 83 balls for 1,264 yards and 13 TDs , all while routinely being accused of dogging it and/or being checked out by the spiteful local football press. The Pats are in a bit of transition going into this season, making any kind of continuity from past seasons even more crucial to their success than it otherwise may be. With Tom Brady now a full season-plus removed from his knee injury and Moss in line for a new deal, whether it’s with the Pats or any other team, it would hardly be surprising if the two of them combine to create another magical connection. It says here that they will. So take note during your drafts, fellow geeks. And figure out some creative pitches, all you agent wannabes. Moss should be near, if not at, the top of your list of priorities.