5 Burning Questions Before the NFL Kicks Off the New Season (Including Tom Brady and “Deflategate”)
Before the NFL returns for the first game of the football season in a few days, some lingering questions still need to be addressed. Spectators are still wondering how scandals like “Deflategate,” “bad” Super Bowl judgment calls and coach replacements will affect future games. Three sports announcers (NBC’s Chris Collingsworth, ESPN’s Herm Edwards and CBS’s Phil Simms) tackle the questions to provide a clear line of sight to the answers.
How will the aftermath of “Deflategate” affect the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots?
The NFL hit quarterback Tom Brady with a four-game suspension after determining he was “at least generally aware” that air was let out of balls prior to the AFC Championship game, making them more to his liking. But on September 3, U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman ruled in favor of Brady by dismissing the NFL’s (and by extension Commissioner Roger Goodell’s) decision to force their own “brand of industrial justice.” This means that, effective immediately, Brady can kick off the NFL with his fellow teammates.
However, the NFL is seeking to appeal the decision to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, a process that could take months. So by next year, Brady could still find himself temporarily suspended from playing if another federal judge rules in favor of the NFL.
But there is a silver lining. For now “Tom Brady is going to be motivated for this football season in a way that he has never been—and he’s one of the most motivated players I’ve ever been around,” says NBC’s Cris Collinsworth.
ESPN’s Herm Edwards praises the leadership of team owner Robert Kraft in “sending a message to everyone that, ‘Hey, we understand what people are feeling about our team, so it’s us against the NFL,’ and obviously, that’s going to bring that team together.” Edwards adds that, regardless of when Brady starts, as long as the Patriots emerge from the first four games with a 2-2 record, “they’ll still be able to win the division.” After all, New England started 2-2 last season and then won 10 of the next 11 games.
Can the Seattle Seahawks bounce back from one of the most second-guessed Super Bowl calls in history?
Trailing 28-24 with 26 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX last February, the Seahawks were second and goal from the 1-yard line. Instead of giving the ball to reliable running back Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch, as many armchair quarterbacks would have done to clinch a second straight title, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass that was intercepted by New England cornerback Malcolm Butler. Game over. “Obviously, because of the stage it was on, people are still talking about that,” Edwards says. “But this is a team that deals with emotions very well. They still have their nucleus of football players and Jimmy Graham [the tight end acquired from the New Orleans Saints] all of a sudden becomes a big player in this offense.”
Collinsworth says Lynch and Wilson “are a little bit magical together,” and with Graham now on the roster, “that should be a dynamic mix down around the red zone, too.” On the other side of the ball, the Seattle defense, led by cornerback Richard Sherman, is the stingiest in the NFL, averaging the fewest points allowed for three straight seasons. “Certainly, Seattle is going to be fired up,” Collinsworth says, “because of the way they lost in one of the most horrific fashions we’ve ever seen.”
What impact can new head coach Rex Ryan have on the Buffalo Bills?
The beleaguered Bills haven’t been to the playoffs in 15 years, the NFL’s longest active drought. Owner Terry Pegula, who bought the team last October, hired Ryan in January after the charismatic coach was fired by the New York Jets. “He’s walking into a place where they need a guy who can get them excited about the opportunity they have,” Edwards says.
The foundation is there: Ryan inherits a defense that ranked fourth overall in 2014. “There’s a real buzz in Buffalo right now,” Collinsworth says. “They had a great defense last year and there’s an excitement level that hasn’t been there probably since the Jim Kelly era [in the 1980s and ’90s].”
The Bills added running back LeSean McCoy and guard Richie Incognito to bolster the offense. “It’s just a matter of the quarterback now,” Edwards says. At press time, EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor and Matt Cassel were battling for a position that Edwards says is not designed “to try to win games but to manage the offense.” The goal, he adds, is “to play good defense and win that way.”
Which teams made the best off-season moves?
To answer that question, all you have to do is follow the money. Ndamukong Suh’s $114 million contract with Miami is one of the biggest free-agent signings in NFL history, and the Dolphins are betting that the four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle will be worth the dough. While CBS’s Phil Simms knows that Suh’s reputation as a dirty player is “a little worrisome”—Suh has been fined nine times (totaling over $286,000) in his five seasons in the NFL—he believes that the former Detroit Lions star will be a huge motivational asset. “He is definitely a disrupter, and his statistics don’t match his value to a football team,” Simms says, but he cites Suh’s intensity, run stopping and pass rushing, which should elevate the entire defense of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been more successful recently, racking up back-to-back 10-6 seasons, but they still decided to shake up their core, picking up three new players at the most important positions: quarterback (Sam Bradford), running back (DeMarco Murray, last year’s league rushing champion) and middle linebacker (Kiko Alonso).
Knee injuries have limited Bradford, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, to just seven games over the last two years. “He is a gifted thrower. It’s just natural and easy for him,” the NFL Network’s Kurt Warner says of Bradford, who passed for more than 3,500 yards in both 2010 and 2012. “Philadelphia gets the upgrade here if this guy stays healthy and develops into the player that matches his skill set.” –Written by Tom Worgo
Is this the year the Green Bay Packers get back to the Super Bowl?
A mishandled onside kick in the NFC Championship game in January denied the Pack their first trip to the Super Bowl since they won it all in 2011. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who earned his second MVP award last season, returns with a supporting cast that includes running back Eddie Lacy and wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Rodgers was hobbled by a calf injury during last season’s playoff run, but “if his mobility and his escapability are back,” Collinsworth says, “it’s entirely possible there’s no stopping that team.” One key ingredient will be locking down home-field advantage for the playoffs. Green Bay was 9-0 at Lambeau Field last season (including the postseason), and Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception at home since 2012. “It’s very difficult,” Edwards says, “to beat Green Bay in Green Bay.”
NFL Kickoff: Pittsburgh Steelers vs New England Patriots, Thursday, September 10, 8:30/7:30c, NBC