LOS ANGELES — Unless you’re still in the theater watching Transformers 4 because that movie is 1800 hours long, or worse yet got traded by the Red Sox, you’re aware that NFL Training Camps started last weekend across the league in Cortland, New York, Oxnard, California and everywhere in between. Rookies are learning playbooks and carrying pads, while veterans are sharpening skills and honing in on what they hope is an upcoming season filled with good health and victorious Sundays. New coaches are finally realizing their dreams of sleeping less than four hours a night and never seeing their families, and us the fans are beginning the early stages of scouting for our upcoming eight fantasy football leagues. Ah, yes, football is back and not a moment too soon. This Sunday marks the officially opening of the 2014 NFL season with the festivities at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This year’s class is another star-studded affair with Michael Strahan and Andre Reed highlighting the honorees, and of course, the game between the Giants and Bills Sunday night kicks off football every Sunday from now until February.
So with all that in mind, here’s the latest 8 Things To Look For: NFL Preseason Week 1:
1.) Get Ready For JFFTV — If you’ve noticed a theme in your football programing in the last week, you’re not alone. The Browns haven’t got this much coverage since Jim Brown’s days and why not, between Josh Gordon and Brian Hoyer, they’re actually interesting. Though I’ll be the first to admit, a quarterback battle on a team coming off a 4-12 season isn’t exactly the most appetizing meal, but when one of those quarterbacks is Johnny Manziel all bets are off. Johnny makes headlines whenever he speaks or leaves his house. First it was saying he’s not going to change, then it was his biggest challenge is the playbook, then he threw a couple interceptions in practice, then he got spotted on his off day at a bar. He can’t win. His coach and owner have gone out of their way to praise Brian Hoyer which leads you to believe JFF will start the year holding the clipboard. But why then did the Browns draft him? There was the story about the team being shocked his partying was as ramped up as it was between draft day and camp kickoff. Do none of them have Twitter or Instagram accounts? Look, my position on the kid is well known, but I’ll be excited when actual football is actually being played and we all can judge the kid on what really counts: what goes on between the lines on game day. Until then, hope you got your popcorn ready because we’re going to have a front row seat to EVERYTHING he does for the foreseeable future.
2.) Don’t Listen To Anything Anyone Says — If you’ve heard all the player and coach interviews recently a theme has probably been observed: everyone is awesome, we are going to the Super Bowl. Brandon Marshall told Michael Irvin at Bears camp this week that Jay Cutler could win the 2014 NFL MVP. Now Irvin probably believed this because he was the one who said last year Dez Bryant would be MVP, but that aside, Marshall has seen Jay Cutler play football, right? Cutler is the man who’s thrown at least 14 interceptions in a year five times, including a league-leading 26 in 2009. I know he’s Marshall’s boy but take step back, 15. Do you trust Cutler to win a big game for you? Fourth quarter, two minutes to go, down by six? Didn’t think so. The Bears have seriously high expectations this season predicated on their explosive offense. They are a chic Super Bowl pick. I’ve heard that Las Vegas types are putting serious cashola on them as well. But it all hinges on Cutler. All of it. That should make Bears fans very nervous.
3.) Vampire Injury Biting Back — Sure, “True Blood” is going off the air soon, but vampires are still cool, right? OK, forget it … Regardless, in consecutive days the league lost running backs Vick Ballard (Colts) and Kendall Hunter (49ers) to season-ending Achilles’ and ACL tears, and Giants back David Wilson got concussed again. Texans receiver Andre Johnson strained his hamstring this week and on and on. No quarterbacks have gone down yet, thanks goodness, and while injuries are part of the game, every year a handful of stars go down and the domino effect is palpable. You hate to see anyone go down this time of year, especially, but it makes you appreciate how hard everyone works and just how precious our time in this game is.
4.) Hard Knocks with the Atlanta Falcons — Yearly, it’s the best show on television, and “Hard Knocks” returns next week down in Flowery Branch as the Falcons will be this summer’s featured team. What’s funny is that owner Arthur Blank and head coach Mike Smith volunteered for the gig. Atlanta didn’t fall under the new league-mandated guidelines with having made the playoffs in the last two seasons, but I’m guessing Blank wanted to ramp up the team’s profile and put a little pressure on his talented group of veterans in wake of a disastrous 4-12 2013 campaign. I think this will be a fun season of “Hard Knocks.” There are players we all know and are familiar with in Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Steven Jackson, and inevitably a few with personalities we never knew existed will emerge. That’s the beauty of the show; you go in not caring and come out invested in a whole new group of guys.
5.) How Will Holdout Affect Beast Mode — Marshawn Lynch proved last week he’s not only ’bout that action, boss, but he’s also ’bout that paper, boss. The Seahawks running back phoned into NFL Network to announce his hold out and returned Thursday with little bustle. Michael Silver reported Seattle tacked on a few more Skittles onto his existing contract for this season, $1.5 million to be exact, which is always nice. And while Money Lynch was the biggest name who held out this Training Camp others such as Lions all-world DT Ndamukong Suh and Chiefs QB Alex Smith want a new deals before the season kicks of in early September. Many thought Andre Johnson was going to skip Texans training camp but he showed and promptly injured his hammy. How will surrounding contract issues affect these guys? That’s always the question when it appears their main offseason focus has been their wallet and not their body. I’m guessing it’ll be minimal but you never know.
6.) Who’s Awesome/Who’s Trash — Did you hear the one on Monday where Nick Foles is garbage because he came from a rich family and neighborhood and doesn’t scream at his teammates like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? Look, I like Buzz Bissinger as much as the next “Friday Night Lights” fan but seriously, Buzz, I think your leather pants are too tight on this one. It’s amazing to me a guy coming off one of the greatest statistical seasons in some time (8-2, 2,981 yards, 27 TD, 2 INT) could be criticized for not being a leader or having what it takes to be an elite quarterback in this league, but all it takes is a keyboard to take someone down, and that’s what Buzz did this week. This also plays into a larger preseason theme of declaring a player a superstar or on the cut list when no games have been played.
7.) Revis Island Taking Reservations for Weekend Getaways — The first English settlement of Martha’s Vineyard came in 1642 by Thomas Mayhew and since then the island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts has become a playground for the affluent. This fall, however, a new inhabitant will take over the 87.5 square mile paradise island and plant his flag: Darrelle Revis. By all accounts, the Patriots new defensive back has been terrorizing New England practices this July. He even had the gall to intercept Tom Brady not once but twice! In one day! How dare he?! Revis has proven thus far to be the real deal, which is good news for a Patriots secondary that couldn’t stop me and three friends in recent years. If he is locking down half the field this fall, coupled with a healthy Vince Wilfork and Jarod Mayo, New England will be back to being a force defensively.
8.) I Still Have No Idea Who I’m Keeping In Fantasy — I know my fantasy team is always on your mind, but it’s a serious problem I’m having right now and I know I’m not alone. Surely I can’t be the only one who is pacing like Scrooge McDuck trying to decide on two keepers among six legit possibilities, and then after having done a fantasy mock draft factoring in who I think everyone else in my league is going to keep, pacing even more because I can’t decide if I should take Dez Bryant or Brandon Marshall or Jimmy Graham or Julio Jones with the third overall pick?! Right? Bueller? OK, fine. Screw you guys. Never mind. I got this. (no, I don’t. help.)
LOS ANGELES — It’s amazing how quickly five months flies by when the only thing you look forward to is each passing Sunday. That’s life in the National. Football. League. But seriously, weren’t we just talking about how the Texans and Falcons were ready to make The Leap and become real championship contenders? And how miserable the weather was going to be for Super Bowl XLVIII? And how if Peyton Manning had anything left in the tank after a remarkable comeback season? And if this and then that, and then that and if this? No? Just me?
If we learned anything the last 22-plus NFL weeks it’s that week-to-week, and sometimes day-to-day, we really don’t know anything. Yeah, we all thought the Seahawks and Broncos and Patriots and 49ers would be good, and lo and behold they were the final four teams standing. But what about the Chargers? Nope. Philip Rivers couldn’t find the ocean from the beach in 2012. Redskins? That unraveled in a hurry. Same in Houston and Atlanta. Cam Newton impressed, Andrew Luck became the Comeback Kid, and Nick Foles morphed from “Point Break 2” extra into an MVP candidate.
It was a year of surprises and unknowns and it ended in the most unpredictable way possible; Seattle and it’s #1 defense thrashing Peyton Manning’s record-breaking Denver offense. Go figure.
Lucky for you, I told you all what to expect in the big game; now let’s go see what actually happened. And like Phil Connors, I think I was really close on this one.
1.) “Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will talk about how cold it is at MetLife Stadium.” — I was too busy slicing three different kinds of cheese so I didn’t hear the top of the broadcast, but I’m sure one of those two mentioned the weather. It would’ve been journalistically negligent to not to.
2.) “It won’t actually be that cold.” — Gametime temperature was 49 degrees! Joe Namath didn’t even need that ’70s pimp mink coat he was wearing. But, come on. HE’S JOE NAMATH. #RollTide
3.) “Roger Goodell will be shown sitting outside among the “real” “fans” because he is a “one-of-the-guys” type of commish.” — Fox really made us wait for this one, but when the 3rd quarter hit, BAM! There was good ‘ole Rog sitting among the peeps in the stands like the regular guy he is. Looked great, too.
4.) The opera chick singing the National Anthem will take for-eva to belt it out.” — Again, I nailed this one, but this woman I’ve never heard of sure sounded good.
5.) “Fox will try and get a close-up of Knowshon Moreno crying in pre-game.”
6.) “They will fail.” — I may have missed it, but Knowshon didn’t cry in pre-game did he? Because I’m sure he was crying postgame after that beatdown.
7.) “Most of the commercials will be terrible.” — OK, maybe I was a bit off here. I enjoyed several of the spots. In no particular order:
8.) “Except Bud Light. They always hit home runs.” — That three-and-a-half minute mini-movie with some guy named Ian Rapoport (not to be confused with @Rapsheet) was really awesome. Also loved the “24” promo, the “Transformers 4” trailer and the Full House spot. Kind of an underwhelming commercials year.
9.) “You’ll have no idea what songs Bruno Mars is singing. That’s because no one can name any song that he sings.”— Bruno Mars is a cross between Little Richard, Michael Jackson and James Brown, and I think that’s a good thing. He did a good job with the time he had to work with and willll probably be a gigantic star now, which means my mom will know who he is.
10.) “The Red Hot Chili Peppers will rock out and may literally actually have their cocks out.” — Shirtless sorta counts, right? And I love how we’re having an air guitar controversy. Seriously, people.
11.) “The Broncos will be winning at halftime.” — OK, so I can’t get all of these right.
12.) “Peyton Manning will throw an interception in the game.” — Can I interest you in TWO interceptions?!
13.) “It will not be to Richard Sherman.” — Um, nailed it!
14.) “Joe Buck will make a joke tossing it down to Erin Andrews about Richard Sherman’s rant two weeks ago.” — So sad this didn’t happen. But hey, nice jacket, Erin.
15.) “Pam Oliver’s weave will look absolutely ridiculous.” — Believe it or not, Pam didn’t look half bad on Sunday.
16.) “Darren Rovell will tweet about the amount of buffalo wings consumed during Super Bowl parties.” — So Rovell tweeted about the food overall consumed on Super Sunday but specifically about wings. Has to be the upset of Sunday. Thought that was a lock.
17.) “You will all threaten to unfollow him but not actually go through with it.” — Alas, I’m still following him, too.
18.) “It will be mentioned roughly 3.5 times how Marshawn Lynch now has an endorsement deal with Skittles.” — It was awesome when Lynch was picking up Skittles off the turf and eating them after he scored. What a legend, boss.
19.) “And how Beast Mode wasn’t exactly an active participant in talking to the media this week.” — He’s just ’bout that action, boss.
20.) “Not that it matters because Lynch is going to run for 125 yards at 2 touchdowns.” — Lynch finished with only 39 yards on 15 carries, which surprised the hell out of me; thought he’d dominate in this game.
21.) “We all will be reminded that Wes Welker dropped a potential Super Bowl-clinching pass two years ago.” — Surprisingly, this didn’t come up.
22.) “Pete Carroll will be shown roughly 27 times chomping away on a poor piece of gum.” — It was awesome watching Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” this week for all the Carroll cutaways during the game; hands down the happiest guy in the league. Always jumping and yelling and smiling. Also easy to do when your team is running away with the title.
23.) “He’ll be smiling the entire time because now that Dick Clark has passed away, Carroll is the world’s oldest teenager.” — Carroll is 62 years old and hands down lives younger than you or me.
24.) “It’ll be mentioned that Peyton Manning is old and Russell Wilson is not.” — Their 13-year age difference is pretty remarkable, all jokes aside.
25.) “And that Wilson used to play baseball.” — I really just wanna know if he’s gonna cut his hair now.
26.) “And that he loves Jesus.” — Speaking of Hova, did you see Wilson sitting courtside with Jay-Z and Beyonce Monday at the Nets game? Yeah you did. Throw the Roc up, Russell! Get that Cano money!
27.) “And that Manning loves Papa John’s.
28.) And getting them checks.” — Manning not appearing in a Super Bowl commerical has another huge upset.
29.) “There will be roughly 37 promos for some awful new Fox show that will get canceled after 4 episodes.” — No new Fox show this winter? Really?! I feel cheated.
30.) “The ‘celebrities-at-the-game’ montage will be hilarious because they all will look freezing cold and completely miserable.” — This montage was great because everyone was shown inside a box! No one wanted to brave the elements?!My favorite was David Beckham, who had a fantastic white sweater on but was sitting by himself, looking at his phone, which prompted a friend of mine to say that was like me. Apparently I’m on my phone a lot. Who knew.
31.) “We’ll all be warm and full from eating tons of delicious food in the comfort of our homes.” — I’m still eating leftovers four days later!
32.) “Julius Thomas will catch a touchdown pass.” — I think we all expected the Broncos to score more than a single touchdown.
33.) “We’ll hear more than a few times how much the Broncos defense misses Von Miller.” — Was Von Miller mentioned during the broadcast? That was pretty shocking to me.
34.) “Legion of Boom will be said 17 different times.” — I think I have Richard Sherman’s screaming “L-O-B!!” burned in my brain at this point.
35.) “Troy Aikman will express his discontent for the bravado at which Seattle plays defense.” — Don’t think this happened but I’m sure Aikman was complaining somewhere, sometime about Sherman and his crew. Let it go, Troy.
36.) “We will be reminded that Seattle’s fans are called the ’12th Man.'” — BUT DID YOU HEAR HOW LOUD THE 12TH MAN WAS ON SUNDAY!!?!
37.) “The coin toss will come up heads.” — I think this was right? I still can’t believe Joe Namath’s coat. What a legend.
38.) “The Gatorade doused on the winning head coach will be yellow.” — Thanks to the second bathing I got this one. Yellow is always the safest choice.
39.) “The first points of the game will be a field goal.” — Do I get some credit if the second points of the game where a field goal?! Two of the last three Super Bowls Tom Brady and Peyton Manning called for safeties result in the first points of the game. Unreal.
40.) “You will all wish you were at my house for the game.” — We had a GREAT time at Trojan Manor. In fact, I still have some leftovers if you’re in the LA area this week.
41.) “But don’t worry, I’ll be live-tweeting the festivities.” — Hope you enjoyed my tweets as much as I did.
42.) “Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger will be mentioned.” — I thought this might be the case because when these two faced off in Super Bowl 43 it was the last time there was such an age discrepancy. I was wrong.
43.) “So will Madonna. Just cause.” — Eh, shot in the dark.
44.) “There will be a special teams touchdown.” — Oh boy did I nail this one. Really proud of this prediction. Well done, Percy Harvin. Whatever the Seahawks paid you this year was worth it.
45.) “And at least two missed field goals.” — OK, so I missed on this one.
46.) “There will be some kind of precipitation in the second half.” — It appeared that Bruno Mars was getting slightly misted on when he was out there doing his best Little Richard impression, so that counts.
47.) “A big defensive play will be made late in the 4th quarter to all but determine the outcome.” — Turns out the big defensive play in the game came much sooner, and it’s play-maker, Malcolm Smith, was named the game’s MVP.
48.) “The Seahawks will win the game, 23-20.” — So I was a little off.