Story lines and players to watch in the NFL
Five MVP candidates
Tom Brady, Patriots QB
Brady’s a two-time MVP, and a case could have been made for his third last season, when he directed the Patriots to the Super Bowl after leading the AFC in completion percentage (65.6), yards (5,235), TDs (39), and passer rating (105.6).
Drew Brees, Saints QB
It won’t be enough that Brees, who threw for an NFL-record 5,476 yards and league-leading 46 TDs, replicates his performance of last year.
He’ll earn his new five-year, $100 million contract as a coach on the field while Sean Payton serves his one-year suspension for the Saints’ bounty scandal.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers QB
Rodgers may be the best player in the game today. He set an NFL record with a 122.5 passer rating last season, with 45 TDs and just six interceptions, and most important, led the Packers to a 15-1 record.
Michael Vick, Eagles QB
The Eagles missed the playoffs for the first time in four years. This season, it’s going to be up to Vick, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract in 2011, to revive the franchise.
Eli Manning, Giants QB
Has any two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP been more overshadowed by others than Manning? Older brother Peyton dominated the headlines in his move from Indianapolis to Denver. The daily chaos with the Jets and Tebowmania fill the back pages of the New York tabloids. All Eli does is win.
Three quarterbacks to watch
Peyton Manning, Broncos
It still looks a little strange seeing Manning in the orange and blue of the Broncos. Manning, who ranks third all time in career completions (4,682), yards (54,828) and TDs (399) and is fourth in wins (141), will have to guide the Broncos through a minefield of an early schedule, beginning with games against Pittsburgh, at Atlanta, at New England, at Cincinnati and home with San Diego.
Robert Griffin III, Washington
Griffin represents coach Mike Shanahan’s last shot at proving he can win something without John Elway. Shanahan went 1-4 in the postseason at Denver after Elway’s retirement following the 1998 season, and he’s just 11-21 in two seasons at Washington. Griffin, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, is the toast of Washington right now, but Shanahan covered his bases in the event Griffin’s scrambling results in an injury and selected Kirk Cousins in the fourth round.
Tim Tebow, Jets
The biggest question surrounding Tebow is how the Jets will use him as the complement to four-year starter Mark Sanchez. Will it be in goal-line and short-yardage situations? Will it be in the Wildcat formation that new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano introduced to the NFL a few years ago at Miami?
Three sure things
Andrew Luck, Colts QB
Luck was the most clear-cut, no doubt-about-it first overall pick since John Elway in 1983 (also by the Colts, but that’s another story). So far in the preseason, he’s done little to question Indianapolis’ decision to let go of Peyton Manning and put the future in Luck’s hands. “He’s got great knowledge about the offense,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “He digests a ton, has great command of the huddle, knows what to do with the football. The guy is just way ahead of the curve right now for a rookie quarterback.”
Cam Newton, Panthers QB
There were plenty of questions about whether Newton was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 or if he was a product of the system at Auburn. Wonder no longer: Newton threw for 4,051 yards and ran for 706 (with 14 TDs) and lifted the Panthers from a two-win team to a 6-10 team in his first year.
It’s only a matter of time before Dallas owner Jerry Jones will be fielding questions about the status of coach Jason Garrett. The Cowboys begin with two on the road, including an almost unwinnable game when they visit the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the annual prime-time kickoff opener on Wednesday.
Five rookies to watch
Justin Blackmon, Jaguars WR
The guy just can’t stay out of trouble off the field, much like his former Oklahoma State teammate Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys.
Blackmon, the fifth pick in the draft, has a ton of talent, but he was arrested on an aggravated DUI charge in mid-June, his second DUI charge since October 2010.
Dontari Poe, Chiefs NT
There’s not much question that Poe has the measurables to play in the NFL, but the 11th overall pick in the draft did not dominate in college at Memphis, a non-BCS school.
Janoris Jenkins, Rams CB
St. Louis appeared to be taking a chance when they selected Jenkins with a second-round pick obtained in the Robert Griffin trade.
Jenkins had a history of arrests while at Florida before finishing his college career at North Alabama. But he’s won a starting job.
Bruce Irvin, Seahawks DE
Eyebrows were raised when Seattle reached for Irvin, an undersized pass rusher with character issues, in the first round. Irvin did not make an impact in the first two preseason games, often getting smothered by much bigger offensive tackles. He’ll play on passing downs for the Seahawks, who ranked 22nd in the league with 33 sacks last year.
Michael Egnew, Dolphins TE
Did you see offensive coordinator Mike Sherman chew out Egnew on “Hard Knocks” for not knowing the offense? He was ready to cut him after the first preseason game. Will Egnew follow in the footsteps of failed Missouri tight ends Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker? Or those of Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow?
Randy Covitz, Kansas City Star