- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
And so the NFL's 92nd season, one that many feared might not happen at all, is upon us. After an off-season-less off-season and a news-packed August, here's what will stand out over the next five months.
The spotlight on Michael Vick
No NFL player has more pressure on him. In consecutive years Andy Reid has traded away starting quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb, clearing the way for Vick. Then in August the Eagles signed him to a contract extension with $40 million in guaranteed money, even though Vick struggled badly in the last three games of 2010. There's a durability question too: Vick has played a 16-game season just once since being drafted 10 years ago. "I'm not going to take unnecessary hits," says Vick, who was sacked 34 times and had 100 rushing attempts last season. "But playing quarterback, you're going to get hit."
Peyton Manning's status
Facing the possibility that their All-Pro QB could miss significant time because of the slow progress of his recovery from July neck surgery, the Colts spent $4 million to take Kerry Collins off his rocking chair. Indy has a rugged first four games—at division rival Houston, home to improved Cleveland and stalwart Pittsburgh, at rising Tampa Bay—and in Manning's absence the Colts could dig a hole they won't be able to get out of.
Destiny's darlings: Detroit
Much has to go right for the Lions, such as QB Matthew Stafford (who has missed 19 of 32 NFL games to injury) staying healthy. But the starting defensive front tormented teams in the preseason—end Cliff Avril sacked Tom Brady twice on Aug. 27—and is going to be tough to rein in. Unless injuries ravage the Lions, I'll be surprised if they don't finish north of .500 for the first time since 2000.
The Patriots' postseason problems
New England has won 35 games in the last three years—and has not won a playoff game in that span. The core of a team that last won a Super Bowl in 2004 is rusting. Will the newcomers—receiver Chad Ochocinco, guard Brian Waters and pass rushers Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis—be the tonic for what ails the Pats in January? Or has Bill Belichick lost his Midas roster touch?
Success in Cleveland