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Top NFL story lines

How long until Jets coach Rex Ryan says something incredibly stupid?

He might already have. He was quoted last week saying, "I just know what I believe in my heart, and that's that this is going to be our year.'' He sounds like he's already making plans to take his team to meet President Obama at the White House.

That's all well and good. You want your coach to come with a dose of swagger. But didn't ol' Rex say pretty much the same thing last year? And the year before that? Pretty soon, you cry "Super Bowl'' enough and folks stop listening. What is seen as bravado comes off more like desperation.

Now it is true that the Jets have come within a few plays of making the Super Bowl each of the past two seasons. And they made some interesting moves in the offseason, most notably picking up receiver Plaxico Burress. The defense remains as good as any in the NFL, and quarterback Mark Sanchez, who already has more postseason victories than Joe Namath, is another year older.

The Jets are good. Real good. And maybe this is their year. But Ryan's act is starting to get a little old. Eventually, you have to cover the checks that your mouth is writing.

The Dolphins aren't seriously interested in Brett Favre, are they?

Let's hope not. This actually might have made sense a year ago, when Favre, who turns 42 in October, was coming off a productive season in which he led the Vikings to the NFC title game. But last season, he looked old, worn down, broken. Most of all, he looked finished.

What is interesting is there are even rumors floating around that the Dolphins would have interest in Favre. What it says is they don't have a quarterback and they will use the preseason to find one. They tried to pry Kyle Orton away from Denver, but the Broncos realize they can't turn over the keys to Tim Tebow quite yet. Right now, the best Miami has is Chad Henne, who was booed by fans — during workouts!

Henne was 1-7 at home last season, so you can understand the home crowd's frustration. The Dolphins added an offensive weapon in former Heisman winner Reggie Bush. But Henne is going to have to get better in a hurry if the Dolphins are going to improve on consecutive 7-9 seasons.

Which new coach has the best chance at success?

There are eight new coaches in the NFL this season if you count Minnesota's Leslie Frazier and Dallas' Jason Garrett, who had the "interim'' tags removed from their titles after coaching at the end of last season. Those two might have a slight advantage over the six brand new coaches who didn't have a chance to get to know their personnel in the offseason because of the lockout.

Garrett led the Cowboys to a 5-3 record in the second half while Frazier's hopes appear to rely on quarterback Donovan McNabb bouncing back from an awful 2010 season with the Redskins.

First-time coaches Ron Rivera (Panthers), Pat Shurmur (Browns), Hue Jackson (Raiders) and Mike Munchak (Titans) are longtime assistants who take over teams that were a combined 21-43 last season. Former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh comes in with a rah-rah attitude in hopes of turning around a 49ers team that went 6-10 last season. And former Panthers coach John Fox switches over to Denver and tries to sort out quarterback Tim Tebow.

All the new coaches, with the exception of Garrett, have quarterback worries, which is why Garrett likely will have the most success.

Which teams are behind the eight ball because of the lockout?

For starters, any team with a new coach and/or new coordinators were hurt by not being able to have offseason workouts. Next up, teams trying to break in new quarterbacks such as the Panthers and first overall pick Cam Newton. Instead of getting a playbook months ago, Newton has just a few days to decipher jargon, schemes and better defenders than he has ever seen.

Then there are teams that were partially gutted after the lockout, and the team that jumps out there is the Ravens. Gone are a slew of veterans, including tight end Todd Heap, receiver Derrick Mason, running back Willis McGahee and nose tackle Kelly Gregg. Not only do the Ravens have a month to replace those players on the field, but their leadership in the locker room. True, leadership is never a major concern when you have guys such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. But don't underestimate how much the former players meant to this team that has been knocking on a championship for a few years now.

Are there any quarterback controversies to watch?

Plenty. The most intriguing would be in Denver, where Tim Tebow is trying to win the job over Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn. But early reports are Tebow is struggling again with his accuracy and Orton is back on top on the depth chart.

A few rookies are trying to win starting jobs. No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton is expected to be the man in Carolina, but veteran Derek Anderson could be the safe pick to start the season. Florida State's Christian Ponder is the future in Minnesota, but the present likely belongs to Donovan McNabb. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert is trying to supplant David Garrard in Jacksonville. And Jake Locker out of Washington will be the eventual starter in Tennessee, but the Titans went out and got Matt Hasselbeck to get them through this season.

After that, it's a battle among journeymen for starting jobs: Jason Campbell and Kyle Boller with the Raiders, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Thigpen with the Bills, Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst with the Seahawks and Rex Grossman and John Beck with the Redskins.

Meantime, the Bengals search for a quarterback to replace the disgruntled Carson Palmer. And if the Bengals ever decide to trade Palmer, some of the teams mentioned above could be interested.

How do last season's Super Bowl combatants look?

Just fine. The Packers and Steelers tinkered a bit with their rosters, but all the key parts from last season's Super Bowl teams return. The Packers hope to get through the preseason healthy while the Steelers are just hoping James Harrison can keep his mouth shut long enough to keep from being suspended.

Football is finally here. The lockout is over. Teams are in training camp. And preseason games start this week. Here is a quick tour around the league for some of the story lines to keep an eye on:

Which team is the most intriguing heading into the preseason?

N o doubt, the Eagles. Already a good team (remember, they almost knocked the eventual-champion Packers out in the playoffs), the Eagles made the biggest splash in free agency. They signed quarterback Vince Young, running back Ronnie Brown, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and defensive end Jason Babin and hooked the biggest free agent fish of all in shutdown cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Plus, Michael Vick is the starting quarterback from the get-go. The preseason will be for fitting all of these new pieces together and seeing what kind of puzzle they have. The Eagles believe it will end in a Super Bowl victory. But if we had to pick right now, we still say the Packers are the team to beat in the NFC.

Top NFL story lines 08/06/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 6, 2011 6:56pm]
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