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Lockout is over, but questions remain for new season

Although it's tough to repeat as Super Bowl champions, Packers are the only team with a chance.

September 07, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton is going to get his chance to prove he's ready for the NFL in the season opener.
Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton is going to get his chance to prove… (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )

Reporting from Green Bay, Wis. -- Have the Philadelphia Eagles assembled the "Dream Team," or is this another fantasy football roster built to disappoint?

That's just one of the pressing questions heading into this NFL season.

A few of the others:

Did the lockout truly favor those teams with an established coach and quarterback, or can the teams that really had to cram in this compressed off-season make the grade?

Will the Peyton Manning saga be a pain in the neck for the Indianapolis Colts all season?

Seattle made the 2010 playoffs at 7-9; is the NFC West still the NFC Worst?

Carolina's Cam Newton looked very good in the preseason. Will this top pick follow in the cleat-steps of fellow No. 1s Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford, or will he go the way of JaMarcus Russell and Alex Smith?

Will a franchise that has never won the Super Bowl — maybe San Diego, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit or Houston — finally hoist the Lombardi Trophy?

Minnesota, which last year had a 41-year-old quarterback in Brett Favre, now has a relative pup in Donovan McNabb, 34. Can McNabb rekindle some of the success he had with the Eagles, or is this experiment simply Redskins redux?

Which team will make a beeline for the bottom of the league and be in position to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck?

Back-to-back Pack?

The Green Bay Packers are ready to defend their Lombardi Trophy. That's not so easy to do. Only eight times in the past 45 years have Super Bowl champions come back the following season to win it all, with three other teams losing in the title game. The last to repeat were the 2003-04 New England Patriots, who beat Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

How the previous 10 champions fared the following season:

2000; XXXV; Baltimore; Lost divisional playoff game

2001; XXXVI; New England; Missed playoffs

2002; XXXVII; Tampa Bay; Missed playoffs

2003; XXXVIII; New England; Won Super Bowl

2004; XXXIX; New England; Lost divisional playoff game

2005; XL; Pittsburgh; Missed playoffs

2006; XLI; Indianapolis; Lost divisional playoff game

2007; XLII; New York Giants; Lost divisional playoff game

2008; XLIII; Pittsburgh; Missed playoffs

2009; XLIV; New Orleans; Lost wild-card playoff game

New rules

There are several new rules and points of emphasis this season:

Unnecessary roughness: Illegal "launching" — a player leaving both feet prior to contact to spring upward into an opponent and deliver a blow to any part of the helmet — has been banned. Also, roughing-the-passer rules have been clarified so that hits to the passer's head by a defender's hands, arms or other body parts will not result in a penalty unless they are forcible blows.

Kickoffs: Kick returns are among the most exciting plays but also some of the most dangerous. The league, therefore, has moved kickoffs up five yards to the 35 to promote touchbacks. The kicking-team formation also has been adjusted so all players other than the kicker must be lined up no more than five yards behind their restraining line.

A legal reception: In order to complete a catch, a player must first have a firm grip and control of the ball, and two feet or some other part of his body other than his hands on the ground. He then must maintain control of the ball long enough to make a "football move" — a common act such as being able to pitch, pass or advance the ball.

Instant replay: The replay official will review all scoring plays.

Dead-ball personal fouls: If a team commits a dead-ball personal foul at the end of a half, that penalty will now be enforced on the opening kickoff of the third quarter, eliminating the extension of the first half.

Color of playing field: The surface must be a league-approved shade of green, so no unusual colors such as those for the home fields of Boise State (blue) or Eastern Washington (red).

Trading places

Familiar players who have switched teams (new team/old team):

Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (Eagles/Raiders): More a shutdown corner than a big playmaker, Asomugha has a total of three interceptions in the last three years.

Marion Barber, RB (Bears/Cowboys): Barber's signing paved the way for Bears to release Chester Taylor from their crowded backfield.

Nick Barnett, LB (Bills/Packers): A wrist injury limited Barnett to four games last season. In Buffalo, he's reunited with former Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, now a linebackers coach.

Kevin Boss, TE (Raiders/Giants): Oakland signed Boss to fill the vacancy created by Zach Miller's departure. The Giants couldn't match the Raiders' offer to Boss.

Ronnie Brown, RB (Eagles/Dolphins): Brown is a good third-down back and could step in for starter LeSean McCoy in a pinch.

Plaxico Burress, WR (Jets/Giants): Burress, recently released from prison, is an upgrade from Braylon Edwards, but can he stay healthy after his hiatus from the NFL?

Reggie Bush, RB (Dolphins/Saints): Bush had some splashy plays for the Saints, but he never made a Pro Bowl or rushed for as much as 600 yards in a season.

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