We're just weeks away from meaningful NFL games being back in our lives. Truly, it's the greatest part of the sports calendar. Almost every team has its dreams still intact as we make our way through the preseason. Unfortunately, many of those hopes will be shattered in the coming weeks, especially given how many quarterback questions there are around the league. With only so much time to prepare for the 2016 season, here are 32 pictures — one for each squad — that will reveal everything to look out for this year. (All betting lines referenced are courtesy of Bovada.com.)
The Cardinals should be rock solid once again next season, but there's a catch: The schedule looks daunting. Based on last season's records, Arizona has the seventh-hardest slate in 2016. A bit of regression will likely be on the table for the Cardinals, who will be left grasping at the rest of the competition in the NFC.
Julio Jones is one of the betting favorites to lead the NFL in receiving yards next year, which doesn't really tell the whole story. There's a chance he becomes the first receiver in NFL history to go for 2,000 yards in a single season -- if Matt Ryan can play up to Jones' level. Assuming they're on the same page, Jones will be on fire.
The Ravens haven't missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2004-05. Unless they can figure out a way to get better at every position immediately — yes, that includes Baltimore's "elite" QB — that streak should come to a depressing halt in 2016. Poor Joe Flacco.
It seems like respectability is just out of reach in Buffalo lately. There's no reason to expect Tyrod Taylor to play up to the gaudy numbers on his contract, and that's fine. Buffalo can decline his option for 2017 if he plays poorly this year. Of course, Rex Ryan could start to feel the pressure if (or when) that scenario plays out.
If dominance is boring, Panthers fans should get ready for a serious case of ennui. What else is there to expect from Carolina next year other than more of the awesomeness that is Cam Newton? Four of the five players in NFL history to repeat as MVP were quarterbacks; can Newton become the fifth signal-caller to accomplish that impressive feat?
Jay Cutler had one of the best seasons of his career in 2015, then watched as the Bears changed everything around him this offseason. His offensive coordinator is gone. Martellus Bennett is gone. Matt Forte is gone. That's the perfect recipe for Cutler to try to win games by himself in 2016, bringing back a little bit of the old Jay we loved to ridicule.
The Bengals' outlook this season is pretty simple: Win a playoff game, and Marvin Lewis probably keeps his job. Another year without a postseason victory, and he's gone. Cincinnati has the talent to make the playoffs; from there, it could be a 50/50 shot in the opening round.
Yes, yes you do.
The Cowboys have a superstar on their hands with Ezekiel Elliott, who should get used to signing autographs and being swarmed by fans. If he lives up to expectations — and we think he will — Dallas should have one of the best offenses in the league in 2016.
The fall from championship glory will be painful for Mark Sanchez and the Broncos. Denver's defense will keep the team from slipping too far, to be sure. But the offense is going to be atrocious, no matter who takes the snaps.
No, Calvin Johnson's not coming back. In fact, that's the problem for Detroit. This season will be about trying to outrun the ghost of Megatron, knowing full well that he had plenty of football left in him but decided to walk away from the game rather than keep playing for the Lions. You know, just like another all-time great who wore blue and silver.
Green Bay Packers
Mike McCarthy is back to calling the plays for the Packers, which means all is right in Green Bay. Assuming Aaron Rodgers is healthy (and that the receiving corps doesn't fall apart), the Packers should have one of the league's best offenses once again. Maybe Rodgers will even make a run at 5,000 yards through the air.
Oddsmakers have the Texans as an even bet to make or miss the playoffs, which means they don't have enough faith in JJ Watt. After an offseason spent recovering from various ailments, we expect Watt and new teammate Brock Osweiler to help lead the Texans into the postseason for just the fourth time in franchise history.
Put your "Civil War general" Andrew Luck memes away, because the Colts QB is due for a major resurgence in 2016. He got paid, he's healthy, and he can't have any worse luck than he did last year. The Colts should give Luck plenty to smile about, as they're favored to win the AFC South.
There's room for optimism in Jacksonville, as the Jaguars had a solid draft and were aggressive in free agency. Until Blake Bortles can get his tendency to throw the ball to the other team under control, however, there's a clear ceiling on this squad. Jacksonville hasn't finished with more than eight wins since 2007; that streak will continue this season.
Kansas City Chiefs
No one wants to be a "game manager." Short of being a bust or a bum, it's one of the worst labels you can give a quarterback. It's also the perfect description for Alex Smith. That was just enough to get the Chiefs to the postseason last year; in 2016, there's no way Smith leads his team to 11 straight victories once again. Look at the face Smith's making in this picture. That's the face Chiefs fans will make by the middle of the season when they realize they still have eight weeks left of watching Smith.
Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff's first preseason game didn't go so well. While it is just preseason, and just one week at that, there's a decent chance Case Keenum gets the starting job for the regular season. Coach Jeff Fisher says he's not here to go 7-9; of the 72 rookie QBs to start more than half of their teams games (since the merger), 50 finished the season with a sub-.500 record.
Everything Ryan Tannehill does this season will be examined, dissected, analyzed and broken down from a thousand different angles. There are no more excuses for one of the highest-paid QBs in the game. He has a new coach, Adam Gase, who has a track record of helping quarterbacks develop. Miami added help on the offensive line when Laremy Tunsil slipped in the draft. It's now or never for Tannehill to start earning that extension.
No, this isn't a Seattle Seahawks photo accidentally placed in the Vikings' spot. Minnesota's going to turn to Adrian Peterson to save the day in 2016, because we know by now that Teddy Bridgewater, isn't going to win you many games. He's a solid quarterback, but nothing special. Defenses will continue to gameplan accordingly — perhaps even more so this season — resulting in a ton of pain for the 31-year-old running back. This could finally be the season that AD takes a step back.
New England Patriots
It's pretty easy to predict what the Patriots will do this season. Bill Belichick will work his magic on both sides of the ball, getting New England through Tom Brady's suspension with a 2-2 record at absolute worst. Then, Brady will come back, angry at the world and looking for vengeance. Belichick will unleash his QB, and the NFL will wish it had never heard of deflating footballs.
New Orleans Saints
Here, we see Drew Brees in his natural habitat: Reaching all the way back to chuck a bomb as far downfield as humanly possible. The Saints QB could earn one more big contract with a big season that shows he's not done yet; with all of the weaknesses on the Saints' roster, Brees should have ample opportunity to show what he has left in the tank.
New York Giants
Eli Manning must be Odell Beckham Jr.'s biggest fan. ODB's ascent kept Manning relevant and prevented him from spiraling permanently into the worst version of himself — the guy who throws interceptions, scrambles right into the arms of waiting pass rushers, and ends up moping on the sideline. Manning will look for Beckham first and last in his reads, especially if Victor Cruz continues to battle injuries.
New York Jets
All of the green and white surrounding Fitzpatrick as he gets sacked in this picture makes for a fitting analogy. The Jets are genuinely considering carrying four quarterbacks onto the regular-season roster, which has to be a real vote of confidence for Fitzpatrick. Every time he makes a bad play in 2016, he'll be looking over his shoulder to see if his replacement is on the way.
The Raiders could very well continue their upward trajectory this season — Bovada has them favored to win nine games for the first time since their Super Bowl appearance in 2002 — and it probably won't matter. The possibility of moving to Las Vegas, or Los Angeles, or anywhere that isn't Oakland will define the Raiders' season.
Yeah, Carson Wentz is important for Philadelphia. More than Wentz, though, this season is about scouring the Eagles of any and all traces of the Chip Kelly regime. Doug Pederson's best quality? He's not Chip Kelly. Wentz's best quality? He wasn't drafted by Chip Kelly. Good luck, Niners!
Like the Falcons' Jones, Antonio Brown stands an actual chance of passing 2,000 yards receiving this year. And if there's one QB who's cocky enough to make such a milestone his mission, it's Ben Roethlisberger. Steelers games will be must-see TV this season (for non-division-rivals, anyway).
San Diego Chargers
San Diego's stadium saga feels much different than the one in Oakland. The Chargers seem like they genuinely want to stay; whether a deal to build a new stadium is feasible remains the stumbling block. A big season from the Chargers could help sway public opinion, but that's also potentially a lot of pressure for a football team to bear — and poor Philip Rivers has his work cut out in San Diego as it is.
San Francisco 49ers
Either Blaine Gabbert starts the season for the Niners, casting their entire season into the kind of haze that comes with having Gabbert as your starting QB, or Colin Kaepernick somehow wins the starting nod from Chip Kelly, then the prospect of Gabbert taking the job looms over the entire season. Either way, this won't be a fun year in San Francisco.
For a guy with a Super Bowl ring, Russell Wilson sure has a ton of critics. I get it; he relied on Seattle's Legion of Boom and Marshawn Lynch over the past few years. With Lynch retired, though, Wilson has to step up big for the Seahawks this year. I think he will, stiff-arming the doubters in the process.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Between Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, and Jameis Winston, the Bucs have a ton of offensive talent. They also hit the reset button on their rebuild by firing Lovie Smith after a season of progress (and six wins, matching Tampa Bay's total from the past two seasons combined) in 2015. The defense is a mess, and the coaching staff is a question mark. The Bucs will need to get up and down the field on offense to have much of a chance this season. It should be fun.
Why a picture of a small fan? It's all about baby steps in Tennessee for QB Marcus Mariota. The Titans decided that continuity in coaching was the best way to maximize Mariota's development, so they made interim coach Mike Mularkey the full-time leader of this team. Then Tennessee went out and rebuilt the offense around Mariota, hoping to give him an elite run game and a top-notch offensive line so that he can concentrate on making the right decisions on every play.
We'll obviously keep an eye on Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense, but Josh Norman is going to be the real star of the show in D.C. next season — especially as he goes up against Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant a total of four times in the regular season. Here's hoping the media has their microphones ready.