Hopes high for many NFL teams as camps open
Training camp is under way around the NFL and every team believes it has a chance to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The New York Giants proved for the second time in five years you don't have to dominate in the regular season to win the Super Bowl. Just get into the postseason and play your best football in January. The Green Bay Packers learned that lesson the hard way after going 15-1 and getting knocked out in the divisional round.
The next six weeks will provide a reality check for several teams. They'll answer position battles, roster questions and learn if they can be legitimate contenders.
There was plenty of change during the offseason, though things were back to normal and teams held their minicamps, Organized Team Activities and workout programs, unlike last year when labor problems ruled the day. Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow switched uniforms. Chad Ochocinco switched his name back to Johnson. Several teams switched coaches.
Let's examine six of the top questions going into training camp:
HOW DO THE BOUNTY SUSPENSIONS AFFECT THE SAINTS?
Coach Sean Payton was banished for the season along with linebacker Jonathan Vilma, leaving the New Orleans Saints short-handed in the wake of the bounty scandal. The Saints are coming off a 13-3 season and have a happy Drew Brees back in the fold after he signed a five-year, $100 million deal that gives him the highest average annual pay in league history. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt will run the team until he begins serving a six-game suspension at the start of the regular season. There will be an adjustment period in the preseason, but the Saints should be in good shape with Brees running the offense and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo calling the signals on defense.
DOES PEYTON MANNING PICK UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF IN INDIANAPOLIS?
The Denver Broncos are counting heavily on Manning to play like the 10-time Pro Bowl QB he was during his 13 seasons with the Colts after giving him a $96 million contract. But the four-time NFL MVP missed all of last season following four neck operations. Manning not only was one of the greatest QBs of all time before his injury, he also was the second-most durable. Manning started 227 consecutive games, including the postseason, from 1998-2010. Health aside, Manning's biggest adjustment will be getting his timing down with his new receivers and building a rapport with the rest of the offense.
WILL THE NEW YORK GIANTS FINALLY AVOID A SUPER BOWL HANGOVER?
If the Giants hope to repeat, they'll have to do something they've never done the season after winning the Super Bowl. That is, win a playoff game. The Giants failed to reach the playoffs the year after winning their first two Super Bowls in 1986 and 1990. After winning it in 2007, they followed that up with a 12-4 season but lost to the Eagles in the divisional round. The Giants have holes on offense. They lost their starting right tackle and tight end, need a backup running back and depth at wide receiver. But they do have Eli Manning, and he's coming off his best statistical season. They also have a strong defense that flourished in the playoffs after allowing 400 points in the regular season.
CAN THE DREAM TEAM BECOME A DYNASTY?
Last year, Vince Young anointed the Philadelphia Eagles a ''Dream Team.'' They failed miserably to live up to the hype, going 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Now Michael Vick raised eyebrows with an outrageous comment, saying the Eagles can develop into a ''dynasty.'' Those are bold words from a QB who has two career playoff wins. Moreover, the Eagles haven't won a playoff game since 2008 and the franchise hasn't won a championship since 1960. The term ''dynasty'' is reserved for teams that win multiple Super Bowls with the same core of players in a short period. The Eagles obviously have a long way to go before they can ever be mentioned in the same class with Terry Bradshaw's Steelers, Joe Montana's 49ers or Tom Brady's Patriots.
WHAT WILL TIM TEBOW'S IMPACT BE ON THE JETS?
From the second the New York Jets acquired Tebow from Denver, people have wondered if he can coexist with Mark Sanchez. There's sure to be a QB controversy on Broadway at some point this season. The Jets' plan for Tebow should become more clear during training camp and the preseason. There's speculation he'll replace Sanchez in the red zone or just enter the game in a variation of the wildcat formation. Perhaps they'll use a bulked-up Tebow on special teams as the punt protector. He may also get a few carries out of the backfield. Whatever the plan, and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano may hold off on showing most of it until the games actually count, the spotlight will be on Tebow this summer.
WHO WILL SIGN DONOVAN McNABB OR T.O.?
It seems like forever ago that McNabb and Terrell Owens were feuding less than a year after leading the Eagles to a NFC title. The former friends-turned-enemies have more in common these days. They're two of the most accomplished players on the unemployment line. McNabb's career has fizzled since the six-time Pro Bowl QB was traded from Philadelphia to Washington in 2010. He was cut by the Redskins and Vikings the last two years and finds himself looking for a job as a backup. If a starter goes down in camp, McNabb may get a call. Meanwhile, the 38-year-old Owens is hoping to prove he's still a capable receiver after missing all of last season recovering from knee surgery. Owens was released by the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League in May.