2015 NFL Preview: 5 Stories to Watch

footballThe NFL is going through a time that it has never been through before as they continue to grow and the microscope continues to focus in.

The NFL is the North American juggernaut of sports with the super Bowl being the biggest one day sporting event in North America and TV ratings continuing to grow year by year.

They have their own TV network that continues to grow in popularity while their NFL Films division produces more and more stories every year.

The excitement for the season and for big games seems to get bigger every year and the fantasy football industry never stops growing.

In short the NFL is the model to how every major professional sports league in North America wants to be.

The only problem is that when anything gets this big the focus from outside gets that much more intense.

The league has become a part of North American culture and when anything is that engrained in the culture they become a lightning rod for debate and intense scrutiny.

The league as a whole is expected to step up to a certain standard and not just by those who follow the league but by people who don’t even watch football.

The new focus from the world around football has exposed the league in recent years as the issues that have been happening of decades are now becoming public knowledge.

Everything started when the knowledge of concussions came out as former players began showing signs of major brain damage.

The issues that have arisen from repeated concussions brought the reality of the danger of football to light.

CTE became common knowledge for those involved in football and former players began looking for the compensation to deal with these issues.

With lawsuits that claimed that the league knew about the dangers and never told the players.

That lawsuit was settled out of court but the damage had been done as the league that had been so protected was exposed.

The dangers of the game was only the start though as everyone knew that there were dangers but many did not realize just how serious it was.

It was just the start though as the league continued to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.

After that issue another quickly emerged regarding the use of bounties in the New Orleans Saints locker room.

Coaches had reportedly offered money to their players to take out the opposing stars, a violation of NFL rules.

The result was massive suspensions handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell that included suspending head coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season.

The suspensions did not go over well with the NFLPA as they claimed that the evidence was not enough to justify the suspensions and that Goodell had abused his power.football-sidebar

Some of the suspensions were reduced but overall many stood up when they went to an arbitrator.

There was the Ray Rice issues last offseason when a video was released of Rice carrying his unconscious girlfriend out of an elevator after he apparently knocked her out.

The league took that information and suspended Rice for two games of the season until a video from inside the elevator emerged showing Rice hitting his girlfriend.

The new information led to an indefinite suspension and a new domestic violence policy, the suspension was reversed and Rice was reinstated but has yet to find a team after being released by the Ravens.

This off-season has not been different as Tom Brady continues to fight his 4-game suspension after deflated balls were found in the AFC championship game.

The issue is once again about Goodell and his power to suspend players at will without much repercussion.

The league continues to run damage control every off-season as new issues arise and players continue to get in trouble.

While players get in trouble the league’s response is scrutinized and they go through yet another PR nightmare.

As the new season approaches the league is doing their annual sigh of relief as the talk can turn to football rather than all of the off-field issues they have dealt with in the past months.

It is becoming a tradition that the season marks a time for the league to get away from the negative press, at least for the most part, and begin talking about the play on the field.

As much as these stories will not go away completely it is time to put the focus on football and the 32 teams trying to make history by becoming the next Super Bowl champion.

The league may have to deal with off-field questions from now until forever but at least until February most of the talk can be turned to the league and the competition as a new season is set to begin.

sb-50

In 1967 the football landscape was a completely different world than it is today as two leagues were looking to survive. Neither the National Football League nor the American Football League were that successful but neither were tanking either. The NFL had thought they had cornered the market on American football until the AFL came to be and shocked everyone. The league was a new look and a new attitude as the old way of doing things was thrown out. The pass game was born in the AFL and new TV rules were created with new broadcast rights signed by the league. The AFL was a threat to the more traditional NFL and the NFL was always a tough opponent to face for the AFL. There was a real rivalry between the two leagues and in 1967 they made a decision to finally determine who had the most talent. That came in the form of the AFL-NFL championship game where the best team in the AFL would take on the best team in the NFL to determine the best in football. In the first game in 1967 the Green Bay Packers of the NFL beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. The Packers had taken the first game between the new and the traditional, they also took the second the next year. That game led to the merger of both leagues into what is now the NFL and began the growth that the league has enjoyed for so many years. The first ever Super Bowl sold a total of 61,946 tickets at the LA Coliseum and was watched by an estimated 51.18 million people on TV. The league has come a long way since then as last year’s Super Bowl XLIX sold a total of 70,288 tickets at University of Phoenix Stadium and was watched by an estimated 168 million people. The game went from being a nice event to becoming an unofficial national holiday. The Super Bowl is one of the largest single day sporting events in the world and has become bigger than anyone involved in Super I could have thought. This year the NFL will celebrate that evolution from a small grudge fulfilling game to a major event that draws people from football and beyond. Super Bowl 50 is what everyone is aiming for this year and as the season progresses the history of the league will be on full display. The 2015 season will be a celebration of where the league has come from and how far they are ready to go. Nowhere is that better expressed than the home of Super 50 as the league travels to a legendary franchises home in San Francisco, technically Santa Clara, where one of the most recently built stadiums will host as teams try to enter the records books of the winner of the 50th Super Bowl.

pats-nfl

The NFL is represented by commissioner Roger Goodell who is selected by the group of NFL owners to make decisions that are in the league’s best interest. For a while Goodell was one of the only popular commissioners in North American sports. Then things started to change when he started to deal with major issues facing the league. The Bounty Scandal with the New Orleans Saints was the first major turn as suspensions handed out were not popular with the New Orleans fans or organization. Then came the Ray Rice situation where Goodell suspended Rice for two games before changing his mind and handing down an indefinite suspension. That suspension was overturned as Rice cannot be suspended twice for the same thing. Now he may have lost his staunchest supporter in New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Through all of the decisions the players have turned on Goodell saying he has too much power to suspend as the NFLPA has openly stated that they want an independent person brought in to make those decisions. The owners have stood by for the most part but many are beginning to turn on him as well, except for Kraft who has consistently stood by the man he put in the commissioner’s chair. That was until this year when Goodell ruled on a situation involving the Patriots and the deflating of balls during the AFC championship game. When Goodell decided that the Patriots should be punished and starting quarterback Tom Brady should be suspended for four games. The suspension came after an investigation determined that equipment manager emails and text messages showed that they deflated balls on the orders of Brady. When Brady was asked to participate in the investigation he resisted and destroyed his phone that may or may not have had text messages on it linking him to the situation. For that the league suspended him and Goodell lost one of his best supporters in Kraft who has backed his quarterback in stating that the league does not have the evidence to justify the suspensions. The battle continues in court with Brady suing the league for the suspension and an agreement is trying to be reached. It is the latest in the many chapters of decisions made by Goodell that have come under fire recently. The problem with this decision though is that it is not the first time that the Patriots have been caught skirting the rules and destroying a phone when someone is trying to get information about the situation is very suspicious. Goodell continues to make the tough decisions in the NFL and he continues to lose supporters as the Pats have now entered the enemy side of the ledger.

jameis-mariota

Last year the talk from most football fans looking ahead was who was going to go first in the NFL draft in 2015. Was it going to be Jameis Winston who came through Florida State’s pro style system and won a Heisman and a National Championship but had made numerous stupid decisions off of the field? Or was it going to be Marcus Mariota who had been the picture of poise on and off of the field but came in a spread system in Oregon? The answer was given when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers elected to ignore the off-field issues of Winston and make him the top pick in the draft. It didn’t take long for the Tennessee Titans to scoop up Mariota with the second overall pick in the draft. Both teams have been in desperate need of a quarterback over the last few years and they found what they hope to be their answers in these two young NCAA stars. As both players begin their pro careers on different teams in two different conferences will forever be linked. It happens time and time again as two players get linked for nothing other than the debate between the two of them and forever are compared to each other. There are plenty of questions when it comes to both quarterbacks as the issues that they had when they came out of the NCAA still remain. For Winston it was mainly about his off-field issues as he had been accused of sexual assault and was suspended one game for yelling an obscene phrase on camps. He had dealt with issues throughout his college career that led a lot of analysts and teams to wonder if he was mature enough to play in the NFL. When he got the money that comes with the professional side of the sport was it going to lead to more off-field issues and keep Winston from performing. Meanwhile Mariota was a product of the spread offence that relies on spread and the athletic ability of its quarterback. Mariota was great as a part of this system but when he entered the NFL and was told to call plays and make adjustments on the line would he be able to do it. It had already been seen so often as a number of spread quarterbacks have entered the league to mixed success. As the season moves on these questions will be answered and in the end the Bucs will be criticized or applauded. They either should have seen the issues with Winston or they were great for giving him a chance to prove his maturity and it paid off. Beyond this season both quarterbacks will be linked though as their careers will now run side by side and don’t expect the comparisons to stop.

chip-kelly

The NFL is a league where people don’t like to rock the boat as many of the coaches or executives try to do things the old way. So when someone comes in to the league and tries to do things differently the talk immediately turns to worry. Worry about whether or not it can work and whether or not anybody can pull off trying to change the way everything is done. Often these people do not last long in the NFL as one mistake or bad season is enough to let the innovative thinker go. Some do last and change the league forever like Bill Walsh who brought the West Coast offence to the NFL or Buddy Ryan with the 46 Defence. These are far and few between though as the NFL loves to cling on to old ways and take down those who want to change the way things have been done. This is what was facing Chip Kelly when he entered the NFL as the Philadelphia Eagles head coach. Kelly made his name at Oregon where he established the Track U moniker for the Ducks where he took the spread offence and sped it up to run more offensive plays than anyone in football. After taking Oregon to new heights the Eagles gave him a chance to take that philosophy and translate to the NFL game. He continues to run more plays than anyone in the NFL on offence bringing a tweaked version of the spread to the league for the first time. Like anyone else trying something new there have been detractors that say that it will never work as NFL players aren’t built for that system. You need small speed guys that often don’t last against the punishing size of many defences. Kelly hasn’t wavered though and through two seasons has made the Eagles a better team. He has not been happy with the results though and so he took his new system to another level and once again it has caused plenty of discussion. He took complete control of the Eagles this off-season becoming the head of football operations. With the new power he went to work overhauling the team as he traded away QB Nick Foles, RB LeSean McCoy, and WR Jeremy Maclin who all marked the best players in their position for years. In their place Kelly signed DeMarco Murray adding him to a group that includes the shifty Darren Sproles, the powerful Ryan Mathews, and the burner from Oregon Kenjon Barner. He also signed Miles Austin and drafted promising receiver Nelson Agholor while trading for Sam Bradford as their new starter. The roster overhaul has raised the brows of many and this year Kelly will be under a bigger microscope than ever before as he continues to try to establish his new way of creating a champion.

connor-cook

Every year at some point in time the talk of the league turns from what is happening right now to what will happen in the future. Usually that happens when teams begin to fall in the standings and find their playoff hopes dashed pretty quickly. With those hopes comes the debate that is as old as the NFL Draft, who is the prize at the end of the year that the worst team in the league will get? Nobody wants to be in that conversation and it is often a good prize for a bad season. This year will be no different as the debate has already begun about who will be the best player available in the draft. For many that is a simple answer as Connor Cook is the type of player that so many teams are looking for. Cook was considered the third best quarterback in the 2015 draft and likely would have been taken behind Winston and Mariota. Instead he decided to take his last year of eligibility at Michigan State which is sure to be a big boost for the future NFLer. He has everything that NFL teams want in a quarterback as his arm strength and accuracy along with his perfect NFL size has gotten a lot of scouts excited at the prospect of adding him to their roster. Another season at the helm of Michigan State, a team that could make an impact this year, will only help the young QB as he tries to develop a few more tools before the 2016 draft. He is not the most athletic quarterback in the NCAA and brings back the memories of the old pocket passer rather than the new read option quarterbacks. For many that is a good thing as they are looking for those pocket passers especially with the mixed results from read-option quarterbacks in the past. So as the season begins teams will all be looking to find their chemistry and earn a spot in the playoffs but in case they don’t there is a prize at the end of the tunnel. Then again there is an entire season to go and any other quarterback or any other player may emerge as the easy choice at the top of the draft. If Cook can have a successful season he will be the one but every NFL team will be watching closely. Any mistakes or missteps and teams will know as the criticism truly begins now with no other major QB candidates blocking the way giving Cook his time in the spotlight, as long as he can excel with the spotlight on him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 168 other followers

%d bloggers like this: