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All the answers for a new NFL season

NFL columnist Sam Farmer has the players of the year, the best rivalry and the Super Bowl prediction. Hint: A former USC coach with the initials P.C. might be holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

September 04, 2013|By Sam Farmer
  • NFL columnist Sam Farmer has the Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks going all the way this season in a Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos.
NFL columnist Sam Farmer has the Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks going… (Elaine Thompson / Associated…)

DENVER — The Baltimore Ravens are rebooted.

Thirty-one other NFL teams are recommitted.

And, as always, the questions are relentless:

Rookie quarterbacks were all the rage last season, with a record five of them starting openers. Who are this season's stars-in-waiting?

Rookie running backs. We could see big years from Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard, Denver's Montee Ball, and Green Bay's Eddie Lacy. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell was showing a lot of promise before he was sidelined by a foot injury.

What about backs with an NFL season under their belt?

The first three backs taken in 2012 — Cleveland's Trent Richardson, Tampa Bay's Doug Martin, and David Wilson of the New York Giants — figure to be coast-to-coast household names this season, particularly Richardson and Martin.

Will the best back go back-to-back? In other words, can Minnesota's Adrian Peterson assemble another 2,000-yard season?

History says no. Each of the league's previous six 2,000-yard rushers saw their production drop off sharply in the season that followed. Then again, how many of those guys were fresh off a torn anterior cruciate ligament the way Peterson was last season? Don't count him out.

Is there another Peterson-type comeback story in the making?

Washington hopes so. Quarterback Robert Griffin III is looking to make the same kind of astounding recovery from a major knee injury.

Griffin was last season's offensive rookie of the year. Who wins it this season?

St. Louis receiver Tavon Austin. The Rams, who selected the versatile West Virginia star with the No. 8 pick, didn't use him extensively in the preseason, but they have big plans for him in games that count.

And defensive rookie of the year?

Carolina tackle Star Lotuleilei. He was a steal with the 14th pick, and tumbled out of the top five because of a heart scare. He will be the second consecutive Panthers player to win the award, with linebacker Luke Kuechly claiming it in 2012.

Who will be the first coach to go?

Rex Ryan doesn't look long for the New York Jets. Were he to lose his job during the season, he probably would be replaced on an interim basis by Dennis Thurman or Marty Mornhinweg, the team's coordinators.

Which coach will change the league?

Philadelphia's Chip Kelly — it's just not clear how.

By the way, in the time it took you to read that sentence, the Eagles got off three snaps.

Who was the best free-agent acquisition of the off-season?

Danny Amendola in New England. The Patriots lost three playmakers — Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski (at least for the opener) and Aaron Hernandez — so Tom Brady figures to go to Amendola early and often.

Welker was a solid addition in Denver, although Peyton Manning already has receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, and the Broncos are likely to run the ball more. So Welker might not be as essential to Denver as he was to New England.

Another free agent to watch is Reggie Bush in Detroit. He gives the Lions another playmaking threat to go along with Calvin Johnson, and could wind up being the team's best back since Barry Sanders. That's not to suggest Bush and Sanders are in the same league, but this team has been searching for an answer at running back for a long time.

Less splashy than Bush but just as important to their teams are Baltimore linebacker Daryl Smith, who replaces Ray Lewis; Chicago's Jermon Bushrod, who figures to give the Bears a reliable left tackle at last; and Tennessee guard Andy Levitre, who, along with rookie guard Chance Warmack, significantly fortifies the Titans up the middle.

A free-agent fizzler?

There will be plenty. An early one, though, didn't make it out of training camp. San Diego was hoping for more from former Pittsburgh Steeler Max Starks, who was beat out for the left tackle job by King Dunlap, who started 12 games in five seasons with Philadelphia. The Chargers didn't invest a lot in Starks, who got a one-year deal with a $160,000 bonus, but they thought he might be the player to protect Philip Rivers' blind side.

The league's best rivalry?

Step aside, Redskins-Cowboys, Bears-Packers and Patriots-Colts. The best rivalry is 49ers-Seahawks, even though it has come to a boil only in the past couple of years. Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll can't hide their mutual disdain for each other; Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are two of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the game; both teams have tremendous running games and stifling defenses; and Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman can shut down most anything but his mouth. They meet in Week 2.

Which third-year quarterbacks have to prove it this season?

When it comes to producing great quarterbacks, it's a safe bet the class of 2011 won't rival the Hall of Fame crop from 1983. But the 2011 group did include Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Kaepernick.

The quarterbacks from that class who need to step up are Tennessee's Jake Locker, Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert, and Minnesota's Christian Ponder.

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