*The Olympics are a nice distraction, but the real big sports story of August? That’s got to be the return of NFL football.
No lockout talk this year, just plain, pure football to entertain us through the winter. With that in mind, here are the five big storylines to watch as we start up the fall football season.
THE ROOKIE QUARTERBACK CROP – With all the attention paid to Robert Griffin III in Washington (seen a Subway advertisement recently?) it’s easy to forget that he was the second quarterback picked in the draft, right after fellow wunderkind Andrew Luck. Neither of them have much talent around them on the offensive side, but at least Griffin’s team has a little bit of life on the other side of the ball. Count on 4-6 wins for Griffin and 2-4 for Luck. The Colts are a hollow shell of a franchise for the moment.
CAN THE SAINTS MARCH? – If you were looking for dysfunction this offseason, N’Awlins was the place to be. The bounty scandal got their best defensive player (Jonathan Vilma) head coach (Sean Payton) and second-in-command (Joe Vitt) canned for all or parts of the 2012 season, and the franchise went through a messy contract battle with all-world quarterback Drew Brees. They’ve still got some talent, but these wounds are going to cut deep. This smells like an 8-8, treading-water season on the Bayou.
A SUPERBOWL HANGOVER? – The Giants return their fearsome defensive line, Eli Manning, and the excellent wide receiver duo of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks; the Patriots still boast Tom Brady, a frightening amount of receiving talent (Rob Gronkowski , Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd) and two high-impact rookies (Chandler Jones, Dontae Hightower) on the defense. Both will be right there at the finish line in January.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The Giants are the kings of New York, the Jets are just the kings of chaos. Their training camp in the idyllic upstate town of Cortland has resembled The Warriors and Antonio Cromartie recently claimed he was the second-best wide receiver on the team. Cromartie is, of course, a cornerback. It might be a long year for the other New York team.
THE CATS RISE – If you’re looking for teams on the rise, start with the teams named after fearsome felines. The Lions finally shook off years of mediocrity with to make a playoff appearance in 2011, and the Carolina Panthers have the meteoric Cam Newton using his arm (and legs) to bring them up to respectability. Look for the Lions to go deeper into the playoffs this year, and for the Panthers to sniff at a spot.