Editor's note: Jelisa Castrodale is taking her own particular look at all 32 NFL teams as they head into training camps. Part II is here.
Five and a half months have passed since Ahmad Bradshaw left his buttprint in the Lucas Oil end zone, giving the New York Giants a 21-17 Super Bowl lead. The Giants held on for 57 seconds and another season ended with commemorative T-shirts in one locker room, excuses in the other, and an angry supermodel somewhere in the luxury boxes.
So after being pigskin-starved since the beginning of February, Football Christmas is almost here! NFL training camps are either already open Buffalo's rookies reported (July 9) and until July 29 (for Oakland and anyone on the Cowboys who hasn't assaulted his own mom).
Here is a look at key issues for each team as they pack up their training gear and teddy bears and head to camp. We've waited long enough, let's get to it.
Kevin Kolb and John Skelton will face off for the starting quarterback slot and both options are so terrible, it's like trying to decide on a favorite skin rash. What's more remarkable than Kolb somehow trading his 58.5 percent completion percentage in Philly (where he had 11 TDs and 14 INTs in three seasons) for a $65 million deal in Arizona is that, statistically, Matt Leinart looks better than either of them. That sound you just heard was coach Ken Whisenhunt dry heaving.
What do Barney Fife's gun and the Falcons' postseasons have in common? They can't get past one round. (If you're, like, 74 years old, you just laughed so hard).
Under first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, the Ravens were again a top-three defense, holding opponents to 16.6 points and 288.9 yards per game. Pagano has now inherited the collection of leftovers and ligaments that used to be the Indianapolis Colts, so it will be interesting to see how Baltimore's consistently run-stuffing defense changes — or doesn't — under newly promoted defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Also, Dean Pees is both a name and a complete sentence.
Despite signing defensive end Mario Williams, locking down No. 1 receiver/end zone charades player Stevie Jones and hiring a new quarterbacks coach to bring some consistency to Ryan Fitzpatrick's right arm, going into camp, the Buffalo media is focusing on the fact that no one on the team has been arrested since 2009. No, really.
The Panthers hope to build on the promise Cam Newton showed as Rookie of the Year, where he and a recharged Steve Smith put the Cats at fifth in the league in points scored and seventh in yards. Also, the team changed their logo in the offseason, trading the old Panthers for one that is "more aggressive and contemporary," graphic designer talk for "we shaved its eyebrows off." That's obviously worth an extra two wins.
Brian Urlacher said that this season — and this roster — gives the Bears the "best chance (they've) had to win it" in his 12 years wearing a stylized C over his ears. Earl Bennett says they're the best team in the NFC North, which are big words coming from a dude who has 17 career starts.
The Bengals would like to remind everyone they haven't had an arrest this week, either.
Cleveland is coming off a 4-12 season, when it ranked 29th in offense, 30th in points scored (13.6) and 29th in yards per game (288). The only Browns-related offensive play I remember is the one where Pittsburgh's James Harrison used Colt McCoy as a lawn dart. So who will be the starting QB at the end of camp: McCoy or this year's winner of the Chris Weinke award, 28-year-old rookie Brandon Weeden? (My money's on B-Weed. Also, if you pass me your money, I won't use the phrase 'B-Weed' again).
A month ago, Dez Bryant was expected to slip past Miles Austin and become the team's top receiver. Owner Jerry Jones said that Bryant "certainly is different as far as his maturity … than when he got here," which proves Jerry shouldn't add "soothsayer" to his LinkedIn profile.
Instead, they might lose Bryant to a Goodell-mandated time out, after already losing Laurent Robinson — last season's unexpected success story — to Jacksonville. I'm imagining Jerry sitting in his office, pressing both sides of his forehead in an attempt to move some part of his face into an expression of concern.
When asked who's the better fantasy option, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald suggested that owners should snag Detroit's Calvin Johnson instead of him. "Megatron and Matthew Stafford have a great connection up there in Detroit," Fitzgerald said, noting Arizona had "some questions right now." He's right: Stafford passed for more than 5,000 yards last season, which led to a career year from Johnso — hey, seriously, can someone go check on Ken Whisenhunt?
Green Bay Packers
More accurately, the G-een –ay Packe-s, since they don't have an RB. On top of that, their defense couldn't stop a pass from a drunken Kardashian, but does that matter? Not unless Aaron Rodgers arm snaps off, not when he has a bazillion receiving options and is coming off a 45 TD, 6 INT season that set a record for single-season passer rating (122.5).
A 5-11 season, last in the league in total offense and passing offense, and Blaine Gabbert sprawled at the bottom of most statistical categories: Have the Jags considered removing their logo's eyebrows?
The last time this many Colts left the city at once, a fleet of Mayflower trucks were involved (SORRY BALTIMORE). Day One at camp will just involve new coach Chuck Pagano passing out Sharpies and a roll of "Hello, My Name Is …" stickers. Andrew Luck will get two: one for himself and one for that stack of comparisons to Peyton's rookie season.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are a Matt Cassel injury from adding "The Brady Quinn Era" to their team history. After releasing Tyler Palko, third on the depth chart is a Joe Montana jersey they bought on eBay. GENTLY USED!
We'll be back next week to cover Miami through Washington and — aw, hell, Whisenhunt just shaved his own eyebrows off.
PFT: Tom Brady, who turns 36 in August, says he has "never felt better throwing the football" and his confidence is peaking.
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