Four Major Questions (and Answers) This NFL Season
by Trevor Whenham - 07/07/2007
NFL training camps are just around the corner, so many players will be working very hard in the weight rooms and studying their playbooks so that they are ready to make the team. Sports bettors need to get into shape for the regular season, too. If you assume that we can just hit the ground running in Week 1 without doing any advance work and just start picking winners then you are in for a long and expensive season. Don't worry, though - you don't have to pump iron or run sprints. It's your mind that needs to be in shape, not your body.
Over the next couple of months there are all sorts of questions that you need to ask yourself and come up with an answer that you are comfortable with. You won't come up with all the right answers, and many of the theories you build will quickly be proven wrong, but I firmly believe that you are much better off having done your research and come to conclusions, even if they are incorrect, then you are trying to figure things out on the fly. That way you have a solid base to start from when doing your handicapping and you have a consistent framework to start from.
The NFL offseason is always full of news, but this year seems to be especially packed with stories to chew on. With so many stories getting attention from the media the last few months, the headlines are as good a place to start our offseason training program as any. Here, then, are four questions you need to ponder if you want to have a good season betting on the NFL:
Can New England live up to the hype? - The Patriots get way more of their share of attention. They are the Yankees of the NFL - it's practically impossible to read an article that doesn't mention them. That reality has been magnified this year because the team has ditched its low-key, low cost approach to building a winner and has made some serious splashes this offseason. With the addition of the very solid Adalius Thomas the Pats' decent linebacking corps just became very good. The Randy Moss addition is risky, but the potential upside is massive. Because of those changes, and because they are the Patriots, the public is going to love this team this year. The challenge will be to figure out if the extra attention will push the spreads too high.
The team has some pretty big questions they have to answer. They are likely to at least start the season without holdout cornerback Asante Samuel, and will have to find a way to replace his defensive studliness. Lawrence Maroney has to prove that he can physically hold up to the pounding he will take as the featured back. The receiving corps is full of promise, but it has a lot to prove. Guys like Kelley Washington, and obviously Moss, have to show that they can live up to their huge potential. If the team can come together then this season could be something very special for them. If they don't then they will spend the season burning up millions of dollars in bettors' money.
Can Michael Vick keep his mind on the game? - Pacman Jones has had a worse offseason, but I can't think of a true superstar that has ever had a more disastrous winter and spring than the Atlanta pivot. He ended last season by giving fans the finger in New Orleans, then trumped that by getting caught with a suspicious water bottle in Miami in January. The wheels really fell of in April, though, when in one week he skipped an appearance on Capitol Hill and got implicated in a messy dog fighting scandal. He's handled the messes he has created with the grace of a sumo wrestler in a ballet. He's been evasive, defensive and generally immature.
He didn't exactly have a stellar all-round season last year, and he has to get used to a new coach and a new system this season. If he can't get his mind on the game and show a level of professionalism and commitment that has largely eluded him so far in his career, or if his legal problems escalate, this year could really get ugly for the Falcons. Joey Harrington as backup does nothing to build my confidence.
How will the Bears be on defense? - The Bears have achieved, and overachieved, a lot the last couple of years largely because of their potent defenses. The strength on that side of the ball has been that they have built a strong unit and they have been able to keep it largely intact. They haven't lost anyone that they hadn't planned on losing.
This year we will have to see how the team will respond to their first two major losses of the current era. Tank Johnson may be one of the bigger morons on the planet, but he's also a pretty talented defensive tackle. Now that the Bears have cut him loose they go into the season with some depth, but not a lot of proven talent to replace him. Dusty Dvoracek out of Oklahoma is the likely replacement, but the second year player missed all of last year with a foot injury, so his success is far from guaranteed. Perhaps more significantly, linebacker Lance Briggs is sitting out and it could get even uglier than it already is. A team that relies so heavily on their linebackers will have to find a way to make due without one of the top linebackers in the league. The defense will have to find ways to overcome these setbacks, because they certainly can't rely on their offense to make up for any shortcomings.
Can Alex Smith thrive? - There were a lot of big coaching changes this offseason, but none of the departures may prove to be more costly than the loss of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator in San Francisco. The new San Diego head coach was only with the Niners for one year, but Smith grew in leaps and bounds under his tutelage and showed tremendous promise. With the moments of solid offense and a generally strong defense San Francisco showed that they are a team on the rise.
If Smith regresses this year, or even if he doesn't improve, then all that momentum could be lost. Smith is self-admittedly not a quick study, and he's faced with learning his third offensive system in three years on the job. He was solid last year because of his relationship with Turner, and because of his understanding of the system. The good thing is that Jim Hostler, the QB coach last season, is the new offensive coordinator. The bad thing is that Hostler is combining the downfield passing system of Turner with a West Coast system that Smith wasn't as successful with in his rookie year. If you're like me then you want to believe in the Niners, but the question is whether Smith will justify my faith.