- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Not only does the West Coast offense of Browns president Mike Holmgren and rookie coach Pat Shurmur fit quarterback Colt McCoy to a T, but Cleveland has the power backs (Peyton Hillis, Montario Hardesty, Owen Marecic) to bleed some long drives. What's more, the Browns have only one 2010 winning team (Indy) on their schedule before December. Don't be surprised to see them in the division race on Thanksgiving—and maybe even leading it.
Struggles in Carolina
It's tempting to say the 49ers will have the hardest first year under a new coach. But Jim Harbaugh can Scotch-tape an offense together for QB Alex Smith, who is at least in a scheme he knows. Ron Rivera's Panthers are being built right, with defense and a ground game, but a team isn't going to sniff .500 with a rookie quarterback in a new system—especially because Cam Newton has had just seven weeks to prepare for an early stretch that has Dom Capers, Gregg Williams and Jim Haslett game-planning him and Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and John Abraham rushing him.
The new kickoff rule: forgotten by December
Last year, when kickoffs were from the 30-yard line, the average kick landed at the 5½. Stands to reason that this year, with kicks moved up to the 35, the average would be near the goal line. In 2010, 16% of all kicks resulted in touchbacks. This season I doubt it'll be much more than 35%—and maybe significantly less, if teams take some risks to avoid starting at their own 20.
Green Bay's repeat bid
Only one team since 1998 (New England, 2003 and '04) has won back-to-back Super Bowls. The odds are, something will derail the Packers. But they're young, they've got a premier tight end (Jermichael Finley) back after missing most of '10, and they've got a quarterback who is outnumbering Brett Favre in his first few years as a starter. What's not to like?
Labor peace—except for drug testing
The NFL and the union agreed to testing for human growth hormone as part of the new CBA. But the players now are questioning the means and validity of such testing. If the union fights too hard, it will be seen as turning a blind eye to the use of HGH. And De Smith thought the drama was over.
The next TV negotiations