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6 questions on the minds of NFL fans as the season begins

Flickr - Mike Morbeck

By Bart “Gunn” Weber –

The NFL season is finally here and at this point in the season there are always more questions than answers on the minds of fans. Here are six of the biggest questions heading into the 2017 season.

 

1. Will the Raiders be the class of the AFC?

The Raiders hype train couldn’t be speeding down the tracks any faster. After a spectacular season came crashing to a halt in 2016 in the wake of Derek Carr’s injury, Raider Nation is primed and ready to make a championship run and usurp the top seed away from Brady’s men. Can they do it?

I have no idea.

Their schedule is tough but manageable. They play the NFC & AFC East divisions with their hardest games all at home against the Patriots, Cowboys and Giants. Opening the season at Tennessee will be a tough challenge and measuring stick game. If they want to send a message to the league they need to come out strong against an upstart team that everyone is pegging to make the playoffs.

Bottom line is the Raiders will go as far as Carr takes them. I don’t feel their defense improved all that much from last season so it will be on the offense to carry the weight of the expectations. If Marshawn can be “Beast Mode” on more time and the wide receivers stay consistent, then this team will put up a lot of points. If Carr regresses and they can’t find their chemistry in the run game, and the defense cant stop anyone, then that high speed train will crash and burn in a fiery wreckage. And I’ll be there with the popcorn and soda.

2. Can Marcus Mariota elevate his game and lead the Titans to the playoffs?

Not many QBs have come out of the University of Oregon and been amazing, let alone highly successful. Mariota has a chance to do that. He has already shown he has that “it” factor that can make him elite, he just needs to improve upon the little nuances of the position in the NFL to take it to the next level. Armed with elite speed, vision and accuracy, Mariota also has improved weapons all around him, an offensive line that are road-graders, and a running game that would make Jim Brown blush.

Playing the AFC North and the NFC West, Tennessee will have many winnable games and a road schedule that could be the envy of the league. The defense is young and inexperienced so the success of the season hinges on whether Mariota can make that leap up to the next tier of quarterbacks. If he can improve upon mistakes he made last year and mature enough to to become a true leader, then this team will win their division and be playing in January. A massive home opener against the Raiders should be a clear signal of whether Tennessee is going to be a legitimate contender in 2017.

3. Can Atlanta avoid the curse of the Superbowl loser and make it back to the playoffs?

Its well known that the Superbowl loser usually takes a big hit the next season. The emotion that goes into getting to the big game then losing it is so heavy, it takes its toll even if the players don’t fully realize it. Throw in the way Atlanta lost to New England and its a fair question to ask.

Atlanta does have many things going for it though to suggest a meltdown, a la Carolina last season, is not in their future. First, their offense is still very much explosive and it still has Matt Ryan leading it. I am not a Steve Sarkisian supporter at all; I think he built a reputation on the back of Pete Carroll with elite teams and has since proven to be a mediocre coach at best. I worry there will be some drop-off in production from the offensive side, but they were so good last season that regression was inevitable anyway. This team is built to put up points and has the guys and offensive line to do it.

It’s their defense, however, that is going to keep the Falcons in play for another division title. Dan Quinn has built, in short order, a nasty defense that likes to take the ball away with guys like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Vic Beasley. It’s a fun unit to watch and one that added more youth and fresh legs to the depth of the overall unit.

The schedule is gonna be tough, no doubt. They have games at Seattle and New England and home games versus the Packers and Cowboys just to name a few; and the back end is littered with division games that are always intense. This team showed last season it was resilient enough to finally get over the playoff curse but are they mentally tough enough to make another deep playoff run? Stay tuned.

4. What are the Chargers doing in LA and does anyone care?

I know a lot of people don’t care even right now that they are in LA, but hear me out. LA is a fickle city! They like winners, no matter what. SC was on top of the food chain for so long, but as soon as they hit rock bottom the Coliseum was at half capacity.

Bottom line is that every Chargers faithful is a believer this season and feels they can put together at least one more strong season before Rivers calls it quits. If they get out to a 3-1 or 4-2 start, then LA folk who just love football will make it a point to head out to Carson to watch the show.

Rivers will always sling it. He can’t help himself. Now, with a defense that has play-makers on every level and an offense that has improved itself over the past year, the Chargers have enough skill to put up a winning season and with luck may even make a push for the playoffs. But only time will tell whether anyone will be there to see it happen.

5. Can Aaron Rodgers get over the hump and make it back to the Superbowl?

Green Bay has been to two of the past three NFC title games but has not been able to take that final step and get to the Superbowl. The window for Rodgers’ greatness is closing soon and so is the window for this regime in Green Bay. No one denies what Aaron Rodgers is: He is arguably the best quarterback in the league and arguably one of the best of this or any generation. He has a ring to his name but for him to truly cement his place it feels like he needs to add another.

This isn’t about Favre either. More about separating himself from lesser quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Eli Manning. Rodgers needs to lead his team back to the big game before the window for this offense completely shuts closed and the sun sets on one of my favorite players.

6. Can AP really get back to being the AP of old?

Of all the storylines this season I am definitely most interested in seeing what this man (bear-pig) does. The consensus top fantasy running back for nearly a decade, AP dominated the league and carried the Vikings to the playoffs when they had nothing else but him.

Life has a way of snapping even the most beloved and dedicated athlete back to reality and its been a long time since AP had that invincible aura about him, to anyone outside Minnesota.

It also needs to be pointed out that he never had this type of offense around him, nor an MVP caliber quarterback playing beside him. No defense will be able to stack “eight in the box” against New Orleans this season, allowing AP the time to be patient to find his lanes and attack them. If he truly is completely healed from his knee injuries then this season is more a test more about his mental fortitude than his physical toughness and abilities.

Can he get his head back into the game and dominate as he did for so many seasons?

I, for one, cannot wait to find out.

 

 

 

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