NFL Preview: Phenoms and vets share warpath

The League’s top established quarterbacks dominated the regular season last year, but rookies showed a ton of promise as Indianapolis, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington made the postseason with young signal-callers. Quarterbacks will again be the focal point of the League this season as Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady lead some of Super Bowl favorites. Meanwhile, Baltimore will attempt to defend its world championship without longtime defensive stalwart Ray Lewis, among other departed Ravens. Here is the League preview outside the Falcon’s NFC South.



Last season saw Washington earn a division title for the first time since 1999. Rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris teamed up to produce the League’s top rushing attack. RGIII had ACL surgery on Jan. 9 and the success of this season will rely on his recovery as he is set to start on Monday Night against the Eagles.

The Dallas Cowboys’ annual rollercoaster ended in a 28-18 loss at Washington the final week of the season. The game could have won Dallas the division, but instead resulted in three Tony Romo interceptions. Monte Kiffin takes over at Defensive Coordinator and will adapt the 4-3 look.

The Giants missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record after winning the Super Bowl the previous season. Eli Manning will head the offense with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz stretching the field at receiver.

The Eagles finished 4-12 last season and after 14 seasons, cut ties with head coach Andy Reid. In comes former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, and quarterback Michael Vick appears to have the starting job locked down heading into the season offense this season. LeSean McCoy seems ready to thrive this season in the new fast-paced Kelly playbook.



In Chicago, Lovie Smith was fired from the Bears after a 10-6 season. New Bears head coach Marc Trestman previously spent the past five years coaching in Canada. The Bears signed tight end Martellus Bennett who will give quarterback Jay Cutler another target.

The Detroit Lions finished 4-12 last year. They ranked third in total offense, and 13th in total defense, but turnovers and poor execution plagued them. Calvin Johnson set an NFL record with 122 receptions and 1,964 yards, but scored just five touchdowns.

The Green Bay Packers went 5-1 in the division last year and the addition of running back Eddie Lacy will boost their running game. Lacy will complement quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who comes off his second straight season of posting the League’s best passer rating (108.0).

Adrian Peterson paced the Vikings into the playoffs with 2,097 yards rushing and was named the MVP last year. Christian Ponder was 300 for 483 passing for 2,935 yards and 18 touchdowns. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh set a League record with 10 50-plus yard field goals.



The Carolina Panthers haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 and have only made it once since 2005. Cam Newton is the key to the getting back to the postseason and the third-year quarterback helped the team improve to 7-9 last season. Carolina took defensive tackles with their first two picks of the draft with Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.

Tampa Bay was not bad in head coach Greg Schiano’s first season, going 7-9 including four straight at one point. The Bucs were dead last in passing defense but first in rushing defense. They looked to improve the pass defense by taking cornerback Johnathan Banks with their first pick.Tampa Bay has only made the playoffs twice since 2002.

Behind Drew Brees’s arm, New Orleans led the League in passing last season, but did not make the postseason. The defense struggled mightily in finishing near the bottom in many major categories. Head coach Sean Payton is back and brings defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in. Payton was 62-34 in New Orleans before being suspended for all of 2012.



San Francisco added receiver Anquan Boldin after Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles during OTA’s after an 1,105-yard receiving season last year. Ted Ginn, Randy Moss and Alex Smith were some of the team’s departures, but they added players like Nnamdi Asomugha and Glenn Dorsey.

The Seattle Seahawks might have been the most well-rounded team a year ago. The defense was ranked fourth in the League and first in total points allowed. As a rookie, quarterback Russell Wilson established himself as one of the League’s rising stars. He will have  Sidney Rice and Golden Tate returning as targets.

The Cardinals were 4-0 to start the season but lost 11 of their last 12. Arizona gutted its coaching staff and Bruce Arians steps in as the new head coach. Carson Palmer was acquired to handle the quarterback duties.

Former first overall pick Sam Bradford will have rookie Tavon Austin to spark big plays. Chris Long led a defense that posted 52 sacks last season. Replacing running back Steven Jackson will have to be a collective effort.



Rex Ryan continues to sit on the Jets hot seat and rookie quarterback Geno Smith won the starting job week 1 by default. Cornerback Darrelle Revis was traded to Tampa Bay. Brian VanGorder was added as linebackers coach under new defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. Marty Mornhinweg is the new offensive coordinator.

In New England, Danny Amendola will try to replace Wes Welker, who averaged 112 catches the past six seasons. The loss of tight end Aaron Hernandez to off-the-field issues was devastating. The Patriots other star tight end, Rob Gronkowski, is on the PUP list entering the preseason and scored 11 touchdowns in 11 games last season.

The Dolphins were possibly the most active team during free agency this season. They added receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Dustin Keller and three defensive starters (Phillip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe, Brent Grimes).

The Bills shocked everyone when they drafted E.J. Manuel over Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib. Former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone takes the head coaching duties and the Bills will try to end a 13-year playoff drought.



In the AFC North, defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore parted with key guys as Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retired, and Bernard Pollard and Brendan Ayenbadejo were not re-signed. However, Baltimore was able to re-sign quarterback Joe Flacco and add defensive end Elvis Dumervil.

The Bengals made the playoffs for a second straight year and, with Baltimore seemingly plateauing, Cincinnati may be the favorite in the division. They added former Steelers linebacker James Harrison to one of the best defenses in the League that is lead by Geno Atkins.

The Steelers added Jarvis Jones to fill Harrison’s vacancy and look to rookie Le’Veon Bell to upgrade the running game. Landry Jones was drafted to back up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as the Steelers are trying to bounce back from an 8-8 season.

The Browns had an offseason makeover and will hope offensive coordinator Norv Turner and head coach Rob Chudzinski can make Brandon Weeden into a franchise quarterback. Cleveland traded former starting quarterback Colt McCoy to San Francisco and signed outside linebacker Paul Kruger to aid the pass rush.



The division sent the Texans and Colts to the playoffs last year. The Texans ride the running ability of Arian Foster and the defense of J.J. Watt. After a mediocre first nine years as a franchise, the Texans have won 22 games the past two seasons. However, Houston has not yet made the conference championship game.

After a one-year dip post-Peyton Manning, the Colts won 11 games last season behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will have nine potential starters that were added in free agency.

Jacksonville sunk to 2-14 last year, a franchise-worst season. With the second pick this year they drafted left tackle Luke Joeckel, who will try to improve the offensive line. Mike Mularkey enters his second year as Head Coach with an unproven quarterback situation and a defense that was among the League’s worst last year.

Titans quarterback Jake Locker will also see an improvement on his offensive line and has guards Andy Levitre and Alabama All-American Chance Warmack in the trenches. Tennessee has not made the postseason since 2008 and last season’s six wins was its fewest since 2005.



Denver returns as the team to beat in the AFC West and possibly the conference. Peyton Manning has Wes Welker to work with along with rookie running back Monte Ball. Last year’s 13-3 record was its best in the regular season since 2005.

The Kansas City Chiefs did not win an AFC game last season and went 2-14. New head coach Andy Reid will be running things, and former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith will be a big improvement at quarterback. The Chiefs used this year’s No. 1 overall pick on left tackle Eric Fisher.

The Oakland Raiders will turn to Matt Flynn to handle the quarterback position, who will work with rookie backup Tyler Wilson. The Radiers have not had a winning record nor have they made the playoffs since 2002.

Ex-Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy steps in as San Diego’s head coach this year. Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates comeback to lead the offense. They added former Patriot running back Danny Woodhead in the offseason and drafted linebacker Manti Te’o.



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