2014 NFL Preview: 5 to Watch

466663629-1Another season is almost hear in the NFL and once again all teams begin with an even scale looking to make their way to Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX. The league will look to go through another season as the most popular league in North America but it is a tougher battle every year. The NFL is far above most other leagues in the region but with a number of issues over the last few years giving them a black eye. The league continues to fight back from the image issues they are beginning to have that have made them less of a family friendly league than they used to be. It all started when the effects of concussions came to light and an increase in Dementia and CTE in retired players was exposed. These issues led to retired players living a difficult life filled with depression and lingering concussion issues. That danger of concussion caused an immediate drop in the number of registrations for minor football for fear over head injuries. The NFL took action immediately when they established the Heads Up Program where they began certifying minor league coaches on proper hitting techniques. Still concussions remain a major issue in the league and they continue to have a major impact on careers and teams despite the new focus on trying to prevent the hits. The concussion is just a part of the issues that the NFL continues to deal with as they head into a new season. Another major issue that is increasingly becoming a concern and a reason for many families to not watch the league is the actions of players off of the field. Players continue to get into trouble during their time not on the football field. Over the last few seasons more and more players have been arrested and been suspended for actions outside of football. These are the people who are supposed to be the heroes for young children and people for them to be looked up to. The players have fallen far short of that standard in recent years and this offseason was no different. With Josh Gordon being arrested for DWI and Ray Rice being arrested and charged with third degree aggravated assault for an incident where he knocked his fiancée unconscious in a New Jersey casino. Gordon could receive a full year suspension for failing an NFL drug test before his incident, his case isn’t made a lot stronger with the DWI, while Rice received a two-game suspension for his arrest. The difference in punishment has been the centre of debate for the entire offseason as one seemed like a much more grievous crime than the other and yet the lesser crime may receive a larger suspension. The NFL continues to try to work out a balance between upholding their image and being involved in a player’s personal life especially when the police are already involved. It is a delicate balancing act and one that is beginning to take full focus on the league in their quest to remain a family friendly league. It is becoming increasingly harder for families to look at these players as role models with a continued move for players to be arrested. The league continues to fight the battle against the off-field issues that have plagued them for the last few years but compared to many years this offseason was an easier one. After the limited issues in the offseason the league is moving on to a new season hoping to make their way through relatively issue free as they try to come back from the issues of the past.

The New QB Crop

johnny-manzielIn the NFL the quarterback is king and to be successful every team must have a QB that can control the offence and lead the team. To find that quarterback teams many times look to the draft where they can find a young QB that will be the foundation for a successful offence for years to come. In 2012 three teams found exactly that in what has gone down as one of the best quarterback drafts of all time. Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, and Russell Wilson all came out of that draft and are all currently starters for their teams. After 2012 every team is looking to the draft to find that next star in the draft and trying to get their next quarterback. This year is no different as a new crop of quarterbacks will enter the NFL looking to give the class of 2012 a run for their money. A total of 14 quarterbacks were taken in the 2014 NFL draft but not all will be competing to start right away. Instead there are a number of very big college names that will be looking to take the starting role on their teams. In all there are three quarterbacks who all at one point were favourites for the Heisman Trophy. There is Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota who was a big reason for Louisville’s success last year. He seemed like one of the most NFL ready quarterbacks in the draft but did not have the hype attached to him that other quarterbacks did. Bridgewater looks to be on the fast track to the starting role and will look to prove that he is the most NFL ready QB from the 2014 draft. There is also the heir apparent to one of the 2012 quarterbacks in Blake Bortles, who took over for Griffin at Baylor, who could be the solution to the Jaguars quarterback woes. Bortles is not the fast and doesn’t have the strongest arm out of the 2014 draft but he is very good at everything. One of the more well-rounded quarterbacks from the draft Bortles seemed to have won the starting job in training camp and hopes to show that his balanced attack is perfect for the NFL. Then there is the man who everyone is talking about in Johnny Manziel who had the biggest hype out of anyone in the draft. Still he fell to below where most thought he might go when the Browns traded for a second first round draft pick at 22nd overall. The hype surrounding Manziel may have helped him win a starting job as his unique ability that has been compared to Brett Favre will be put to the test. The 2014 crop of quarterbacks is here and ready to become the new best quarterback crop in the NFL.

Buffalo Purchase

Oakland Raiders v Buffalo BillsThe Buffalo Bills are a team that has never been the most valuable team in the NFL and are not playing in the best stadium. They are in a city that marks the second smallest in the NFL, the first being community owned Green Bay. By all accounts the Bills seem like one of the least desirable teams to purchase for an owner with average attendance in a small and old stadium. Along with that the Bills have not been very good in the past few years, which only hurts their value. Yet with all of this stacked against them the Bills have become one of the hottest commodities in the NFL. This spring tragedy struck the Bills when longtime owner and one of the main figureheads in the creation of the AFL, Ralph Wilson passed away. It had been said many times before that when Wilson did eventually pass his family did not want to keep the Bills and that they would look to sell soon afterwards. That is what transpired this summer when the Wilson’s went about collecting bids from potential owners to buy the Bills. The only stipulation was that the Bills had to stay in Buffalo although that was more as a result of the lease agreement on Ralph Wilson Stadium. The lease agreement is set to go until 2022, with the option to buy out the last three years of the agreement. So with the team needing to stay in Buffalo, the league’s second smallest market, it could have been a slow bidding process. Then came a group from Toronto, Ontario, Canada that could become one of the larger markets in the league with a population of 2.6 million. The group consisted of Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, and Toronto FC owners Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, National broadcaster Rogers, and Rockstar Bon Jovi. The bid submitted by this group had many wondering if they could find a way to move the team to Toronto after the Bills had already played in Toronto and many Torontonians claim the Bills as their team. That bid brought out other potential owners who would try to keep the team in Buffalo. Donald Trump submitted his own bid, although his ownership of multiple casinos could hurt his chances, while Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula submitted his own bid in what could be the most realistic chance of winning. With these three fighting for ownership of the Bills all of a sudden the ownership debate over one of the smallest market teams in the NFL is becoming a serious race with plenty of implications. It will be something to watch all year as the Bills continue to navigate the negotiations as a legendary AFL franchise is up for sale and there will be plenty of eyes watching the purchase of the Buffalo Bills.

The Name Change

washington-redskinsIt has been one of the major storylines that has continued on from the end of last year as the Washington Redskins continue to fight a change to their name. The backlash only really took shape at the end of last year, although there have been many asking for them to change the name for years. Throughout the summer the voices only got louder and as Washington owner Dan Snyder continued to resist the movement only got bigger. The argument that Snyder continues to use is that the name no longer has that negative connotation. Instead he claims that it has taken on a new meaning to mean a football player. He claims that the history of the franchise has helped to change the connotation of the term and that to change the name would be to ruin the brand that the football team have built since 1932. Yet the argument doesn’t make the most sense as the name is a racist term directed at Native Americans. No amount of football can erase the fact that the nickname of the team came at a far less sensitive time when it came to Native American relations. Now with sensitivities towards these type of terms changing it is simply time to move on from an outdated nickname. That was truly expressed this summer when Washington lost their trademark on the nickname. The United States Patent & Trademark Office claimed that nobody can have a patent or trademark on a racist name. The USPTO claimed that the nickname was “disparaging to Native Americans” and therefore could not be trademarked. What that means for Washington is that they no longer have exclusive rights to the nickname. Therefore anyone could sell merchandise with the nickname on it without fear of prosecution. That will hurt the pockets of the team as cheaper merchandise can be sold by anyone. Many hope that this will finally convince Snyder to change the name as there is no better way to hurt someone than through the pocket-book. Snyder seems to be firmly planted in his position of not changing the nickname but there are more and more voices coming out against the name and eventually the pressure could force the NFL to strongly suggest a name change. By this time Snyder has already lost the PR battle and no matter if he changes the name or not he will not be on the winning side. It will not be changed this year as the Washington Redskins remain but there is no doubt that this controversy is not going away and will only get worse as time passes this season.

The Decline of the RB

eddie-lacyThe NFL has been progressing towards a pass first league for years now but only recently it has truly taken hold. Quarterbacks are the feature of every team in the NFL, save maybe Minnesota, while wide receivers are becoming some of the biggest and most valuable stars. As the league continues to become a passing league one of the most important positions since the NFL began is falling back. Running backs have long been the feature of the NFL and had been some of the highest paid athletes in the NFL. Everyone needed a running back if they wanted to compete in the NFL because good running backs could control the game and keep the ball for long periods of time. It wasn’t about quick bursts, even though they were very exciting, as instead it was about clock management and ball control. That changes as better quarterbacks entered the league and began an arms race that valued quick strike offences that could put up points fast despite not controlling the ball and taking time off of the clock. It became about putting up more points faster than the other team and the best way to do that was through the air. So running backs took a backseat and this year they reached a point never before seen. In the 2014 NFL draft the first running back was taken with the 52nd overall pick. That was the longest time for a running back to be taken in the history of the NFL draft. It followed a pattern as the 2013 NFL draft was the first where a running back was not taken in the first round. The running back position in the NFL has taken plenty of hits in the last few years and they continue to be a position that is necessary but not featured. There are a number of running backs in the NFL that are still considered feature backs but they are getting fewer. Now the role of the running back has been much more specialised with tandem backfield becoming the rage with one back taking the first two snaps and a third down running back. The handful of feature backs are still fighting the battle though and trying to prove that running backs can still lead their teams. Players like Adrian Peterson, Jamal Charles, Eddie Lacy, and LeSean McCoy are the only feature backs left in the NFL and all will go out in the 2014 season trying to represent their position to the best of their abilities as they hope to show that there is still a place for running backs in this pass happy league.

The New Bad Guys

shermanThe NFL has seen plenty of different roles played by teams in the past as every team tries to find their identity. There are the loveable losers, and the teams that just seem to do things right where nobody really hates them. Then there are the big successful teams that peple either love or hate because they are consistently successful. One of the constants in the NFL though has been at least one team that nobody but their own fans likes. They are the bad boys of the NFL, a team that has confidence that borderlines on cockiness. They are the team that plays on or over the edge of dirty and talks constantly. To add to all of this they are also a team that wins so when you look for something to get back at them there is not a lot to say. This role was filled by the Oakland Raiders for years as they consisted of a bunch of cast-offs that formed one of the best teams in the NFL history. They were dominant and they knew it and they let everyone else know it as well. They were considered one of the dirtiest teams in the league but knew how to get away with it and did it to help them win. Now a new team has stepped in as the bad boys of the NFL and this year they are the defending Super Bowl Champions. The Seattle Seahawks have become that team that nobody except their own fan base likes and for the players on the team that is exactly what they want. With the loudest crowd in the NFL behind them at Centurylink Field the Seahawks need nothing else. Led by the man that may be the most hated man in the NFL, Richard Sherman, the Seahawks have an attitude about them that rubs everyone the wrong way. To make it even harder on all of the haters the Seahawks continue to be one of the best teams in the league and enter the 2014 season as the best team in the league. The fact that they are the champions means they will come in to the season with even more confidence than usual and teams will want to beat them even more but it won’t be an easy task. It is always hard to repeat as a champion but the Seahawks are still one of the best teams in the league and they will once again be a great team with plenty of confidence and plenty of reason to talk as they continue to be the most hated team in football.

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