PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The crisp, clean fall air. Hours and hours of every Sunday spent just sitting, watching football. It’s the best time of the year, but it’s not here yet. First, we have to get through training camp and preseason, which is, I guess, better than nothing.
Not that you need it, but here are ten of the top story lines to get pumped up for the upcoming NFL season.
10. The Parity
The beauty of the NFL, unlike the NBA for example, is the parity and unpredictably among teams from season-to-season. Will teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans rebound from miserable seasons? Can teams like the Carolina Panthers and San Diego Chargers build upon successful 2013 campaigns? While there a few clear favorites and a couple monumental underdogs, essentially every team has a shot—or at least hope.
9. Can Gronk Stay Healthy?
Rob Gronkowski was cleared to play on Wednesday. Gronk has missed 14 games over the last two seasons, undergoing two surgeries. The Patriots offense is obviously significantly better with the talented tight end on the field, but the question is, can he stay healthy?
8. Bill O’Brien, Jadeveon Clowney In Houston
After two successful seasons in one of the most difficult situations ever at Penn State, Bill O’Brien begins his first season as an NFL head coach in Houston. The Texans have talent and although they won a league worst two games last season, they have hope (see: No. 10) and intrigue heading into 2014. Adding first overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney to along with J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing on last year’s seventh ranked NFL defense, the Texans could surprise some folks.
7. Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning threw 55 touchdown passes last season, breaking Tom Brady’s all-time single season record, in addition to throwing for a league record 5,477 yards. Denver won 13 games, went to the Super Bowl, but lost. Manning was 37 years old. Now, he’s 38. Can he really keep this up? While the Broncos lost running back Knowshon Moreno and receiver Eric Decker on offense, they added Emmanuel Sanders and rookie wideout, Cody Latimer.
6. Young Quarterbacks
We will continue to monitor the progress of the emerging (2011 or 2012 draft class) NFL quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and Andrew Luck. Did I miss any?
5. Chip Kelly’s Second NFL Season
The Eagles went from 4-12 in 2012 to 10-6 in 2013, under then first-year coach Chip Kelly. Kelly lead the Eagles to an NFC East division title and a home playoff game (26-24 loss to the Saints) in his first season. Critics want to see Kelly prove that his fast-paced, unconventional offense and new-school philosophies can work consistently. While Philadelphia believes in their new coach, the fifth most influential person in the NFL still has his doubters. Kelly, Foles, and the Eagles look to build on their 2013 success.
4. DeSean Jackson In Washington
After the best season of his career (82 catches, 1,332 yards, and nine touchdowns) the Eagles flat out cut the 27-year-old electrifying wide receiver for various reasons. Jackson is believed to have been a problem in the Eagles locker room and even a possible gang affiliation was speculated. Jackson signed with the Eagles division rival, Washington, shortly after being released. Jackson makes his return to Philly in week 3.
3. Seahawks Defend Title, Percy Havin Back
Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Marhsawn Lynch, and the Seattle Seahawks look to defend their Super Bowl title. There hasn’t been a repeat Super Bowl champ since the Patriots did it in 2003 and 2004. While Seattle had the best defense in the NFL last season, their offense ranked just 18th. However, speedy skilled player Percy Harvin returns for a potential full season after tallying 87 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win over the Broncos.
2. Michael Sam Saga
With the 249th pick in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams selected Michael Sam, making him the first openly active gay NFL player ever. Whether you are sick of the story or not, you can’t ignore its significance. Will Sam make the roster? Will he have an impact on the field? What kind of distraction will he be, if any at all, in St. Louis?
1. Johnny Manziel
When will he take his first NFL snap? When will he start his first NFL game? The Cleveland Browns drafted “Johnny Football” with the 22nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft and expect him to turn the franchise around. The polarizing Manziel is one of the most electrifying athletes of our time and he hasn’t even played an NFL game yet.
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