An NFL offseason disrupted by a labor dispute shouldn’t derail the Green Bay Packers’ chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions, Troy Aikman says, although Jimmy Johnson warns that the trappings of success and heightened expectations after winning it all may prove more disruptive than any lockout.
Those were some of the observations made by the NFL on FOX studio analyst team Wednesday, as Aikman, Johnson and Michael Strahan offered their takes on the upcoming 2011 season and what fans and viewers can expect.
The Super Bowl XLV champs open the regular season next Thursday against the New Orleans Saints, and Aikman doesn’t think the truncated offseason will hurt Green Bay’s chances of winning another Lombardi Trophy.
“I don’t think that it does. I think maybe in some ways it might be an advantage for them,” Aikman said on a national conference call with fellow FOX NFL SUNDAY analysts Johnson and Strahan. The three were joined by FOX Sports media group co-president Eric Shanks and chairman David Hill.
The Packers, Aikman said, were spared from what would typically be a longer postseason, with public appearances and other demands that come with winning an NFL championship.
Johnson looked back at his experiences winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys (1992, Super Bowl XXVII; ’93, Super Bowl XXVIIII) and recalled how the distractions that came with success made it extremely challenging to repeat as a champion.
“The downfall of successful organizations is that it’s about the individual and not the team and organization,” Johnson said. “You know the pitfalls before you go into the season, and hopefully you can avoid that.
“Everybody says, ‘What about me? Give me more money. Give me more accolades. Give me more publicity. Give me more of everything.’ That hurts the team concept.”
Strahan was asked about the perception that Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a “dirty player” — the reigning NFL defensive rookie of the year has been fined $20,000 this preseason for an aggressive hit on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
“I don’t think Suh is a dirty player at all,” Strahan said. “He’s talented, he’s aggressive and he’s had some penalties, but that doesn’t make him dirty. He’s just a guy that sets the tone for not only the defense, but for that team.
“Before, a lot of teams looked at Detroit as just a team to get in and get out, without anybody getting hurt and get your victory, and now you know you’re in for a fight. A guy like Suh is one of the reasons for that.”
Johnson and Aikman, like Strahan, look for the Lions to be a much-improved team this season, thanks in part to Suh anchoring the defensive line.
“With Suh, you’ve got the quickness on top of the size and speed, and that’s why he rushes the passer so well from the inside position,” Johnson said. “As far as Detroit overall, I think that’s a pretty pick this year, especially with a healthy quarterback in Matt Stafford.”
Said Aikman, “I’ve liked them the last two years.”
The FOX NFL SUNDAY team also likes the talent and depth within the entire NFC South.
“The division is so competitive,” Johnson said. “The Saints and the Falcons both will be extremely strong.”
Why? Those teams, as well as others that retained the entire coaching staff and return veteran quarterbacks, will have an advantage over teams that underwent a great deal of change during the lockout-disrupted offseason — particularly during the early part of the schedule, Johnson said.
“Veteran teams, especially the Saints and the Falcons, will be much better,” he said. “It’s a two-team race in the NFC South as far as I’m concerned.”
At least two rookie quarterbacks, Dalton and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, could start in Week 1, and Aikman said the challenges they face are greater now than when he entered the NFL in 1989, as the No. 1 overall pick of the Cowboys coming out of UCLA.
“Playing quarterback today is harder than it’s ever been. Yet we’re seeing more young quarterbacks having success than ever before,” Aikman said. “When I came into the league in 1989, the only guy who had any measurable success as a rookie was Dan Marino.
“Since that time, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez all had success. The bar is so high for these young quarterbacks because teams are being asked to make a decision on whether a player can become a franchise quarterback much sooner in their careers than they ever had to make them before.”
And what about veteran quarterback Peyton Manning, the Colts’ most dominant player who has missed the entire preseason after undergoing surgery May 23 for a neck injury?
Aikman thinks Manning, who has never missed a regular-season or postseason NFL start since entering the league in 1999, will be ready to go in Week 1 when the Colts open the 2011 season on Sept. 11 against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.
“Knowing Peyton, my guess is he’ll play Week 1,” Aikman said. “I don’t know that anybody ever expects Peyton Manning not to come out and play at an awfully high level.”
The Colts say they will have veteran Kerry Collins ready to go if Manning — who signed a new five-year, $90 million contract with Indianapolis in July and was activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list this week — cannot.
Aikman fully expects Manning to start.
“I think the consecutive-game streak, as much as he has accomplished, is probably more meaningful to him than anything outside of winning a Super Bowl,” he said. “So I would guess he’ll play, and I think he’ll play really well.”