It’s the eve of another NFL season, and we’re coming off an off-season that wasn’t short on storylines and drama by any stretch of the imagination. Without further ado, here are my picks for the five NFL storylines that I am most excited to follow this season:
- Appreciating the twilight of Drew Brees and Tom Brady’s careers
Tom Brady turned 41 this offseason and Drew Brees turned 39. It’s an indisputable fact that two of greatest Quarterbacks of all time are in the twilights of their career. There is only a little time left to watch and appreciate just how great both of them have been year in and year out, regardless of the talent around them. When both of them retire they will likely hold the top two spots for every significant passing record in the history of the league. Too often players decide to hang on to long and keep playing even when they are shells of their former selves (sorry not sorry, Peyton Manning), that very well may happen to Brady and Brees, but there’s nothing to suggest it’s going to happen just yet. Regardless of if the signs are there or not, their mere age tells us that there isn’t much time left to watch two of the greatest QBs who ever played the game do what they do best. So sit back and enjoy it while you still can.
- Which Cowboys team shows up
It’s hard to imagine any team in league history finishing with a winning record, but still having as disappointing of a season as the Dallas Cowboys had last year. Fresh off of a 13-3 campaign in 2016 that ended in a number one seed and a thrilling upset loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers with 3 seconds left, expectations were high for Dallas. Dak Prescott was the reigning Rookie of the Year and was expected to take another leap forward regardless of the Ezekiel Elliot suspension looming over the team, Dez Bryant was supposed to become the player he was just a few years earlier again, and Cowboys fans hoped that 2017 was going to be the year that Sean Lee finally played all 16 games. None of those things happened, and as soon as the Elliot suspension hit the Cowboys completely collapsed. The offseason wasn’t much kinder as David Irving was suspended 4 games, Jason Witten retired, and Dez Bryant was cut. Heading into the 2018 season, despite the catastrophe that was 2017, fans have some reason for optimism. Kris Richard coming from Seattle is perhaps the biggest as he comes to coach a young and talented secondary. The defense has looked fantastic all camp, particularly Randy Gregory who is fresh off a season long suspension. Dez Bryant being long gone should mean less passes being forced to receivers for no reason and allow Dak to make better decisions. Elliot is back in full force with no suspension hanging over his head, and Prescott should be able to learn from his mistakes last year. It remains to be seen which version of the Cowboys shows up, the 2016 team that saw them win 13 games or the 2016 team that looked completely lost. They have all of the talent needed to recapture some of the 2016 promise, but first they need to stay out of their own way.
- The end of The Legion of Boom
Seattle created what should have been one of the great dynasties in NFL history under Pete Carroll. From 2012 up until 2016, Seattle made the playoffs and won at least one playoff game very year. They reached the NFC Championship game three times, winning two of them, and winning a Super Bowl against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in 2013. Those teams were largely built around the Legion of Boom, one of the greatest defenses and secondaries in NFL history. Seattle sported the most feared defense in the league every season during that 2012-2016 stretch and it featured perennial Pro-Bowl players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Cam Chancellor,. Following a 9-7 finish last year that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time since 2011, Seattle decided to clean house on the defense side of the ball and fully commit to building around Pro-Bowl Quarterback Russell Wilson. Sherman was released and negotiated his own contract with the Seahawks’ biggest rival, the San Francisco 49ers. Chancellor and defensive-tackle Cliff Avril both retired, defensive-end Michael Bennett was traded to the defending Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles, and Thomas , the lone remaining member of the Legion of Boom, held out all of training and the regular season after trying hard to force a trade to the Dallas Cowboys. Seattle looks like it’s going to be an absolute mess this year, and that’s a shame because from 2012-2016 no team in the NFL was more fun to watch week in and week out for their defense like Seattle was. It’ll be interesting to see if Seattle’s decision to commit to the offensive side of the ball and build solely around Wilson pays off in the long-run, but right now it seems like a head scratching decision.
- The return of Andrew Luck
From 2012-2016 few Quarterbacks in the NFL were as consistently incredible with as little help as Andrew Luck was. The heir to Peyton Manning in Indianapolis lived up to his incredible draft hype despite a horrific offense line and a General Manager who did nothing to surround him with any talent. Unfortunately, that all led to Luck suffering a shoulder injury in 2016 and missing all of 2017. This year, Andrew Luck is back and he has a new Head Coach and General Manager who have made a commitment to protecting him. There’s a lot of variables here, with a new coach and new system, but there’s no denying Luck has the talent to return to his pre injury form if he’s healthy. The Colts made a smart decision drafting two offensive linemen with two of their top three picks, and it’s a decision that should help to keep Luck healthy. The Colts roster still is devoid of a lot of talent at the skill positions and has little to no depth at every position other than Quarterback, but Luck was a total game changer pre-injury and well on his way to becoming an elite QB in the NFL. It should be fascinating to see this season if he’s able to return to that form.
- Jon Gruden’s Raiders
There’s already been a ton written about Jon Gruden’s return to Oakland, at this point it’s pretty exhausting. But at the same time it is undeniably fascinating. The Raiders, who will be moving to Las Vegas soon, just made the ultimate gamble by hiring Gruden to coach. Anyone looking to criticize or makes jokes at the Raiders won’t be short on ammunition. Gruden hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2008, and hasn’t won a playoff game since he won the Super Bowl in 2002. A Super Bowl that he won against an Oakland Raiders team that he coached the previous year, who were largely thought to have not changed any of their signs or calls from when Gruden coached them. That being said the idea of Jon Gruden is tantalizing, he is a Super Bowl winning coach who previously coached Oakland to great success over a decade and a half ago. The Raiders have a decent amount of talent, especially on offense. But they are also a team in desperate need of leadership and a coach who can develop their talent. Early returns from training camp and the pre-season has been mixed at best with Gruden cutting Martavis Bryant after trading a 3rd round pick for him and trading all world linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. Ultimately, Gruden will be judged on the field as the world watches how the former Super Bowl winning coach turned broadcaster turned coach again guides Oakland and develops the talent that they have on-field.