NFL training camps open this week, and questions abound. Most of the answers will reveal themselves during the next four weeks, when rosters are trimmed and depth charts are solidified.
Will Green Bay surpass Seattle as the NFC favorite? The Packers are 0-3 against Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, dating to the "Fail Mary" game in 2012, but this could be the season Green Bay claws its way back to the top of the NFC. A couple of factors to watch for at Packers camp are Mike McCarthy handing the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Tom Clements and the continuation of Clay Matthews spending more time at inside linebacker than on the outside.
Is a year off going to take a toll on Adrian Peterson? Peterson turned 30 this spring, a chronological milestone that often marks a productivity downturn for running backs. He's a freak of nature — witness his spectacular comeback from a devastating knee injury — so he probably still has a lot of tread on his tires. But will there be a psychological hurdle associated with sitting out all but one game of the 2014 season? Judging by the lucrative contract extension they gave him, the Vikings are betting he'll be just fine.
Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, which quarterback makes a bigger impact as a rookie? Tampa Bay's Winston and Tennessee's Mariota were the top two picks this spring, just the second time in the last 16 drafts quarterbacks were chosen back-to-back at the top. Former Buccaneers star Derrick Brooks has said he plans to communicate with Winston every day to help mold him into a pro. Mariota has gotten rave reviews from his Titans coaches, including for his passing accuracy, but he took a while to sign, finally inking his contract in the third week of July.
Is it Super Bowl or bust for Indianapolis? Of course every team is aiming to win a Super Bowl every year, but the Colts clearly feel they're within striking range. To that end, they signed a couple of impact players who might have a season or two left in their legs – running back Frank Gore and receiver Andre Johnson. Whereas a lot of teams are undergoing youth movements, the Andrew Luck-led Colts are adding some age and wisdom to their locker room.
Is Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly a mad scientist or just plain crazy? Philadelphia made several dramatic changes this offseason, including getting rid of running back LeSean McCoy, receiver Jeremy Maclin and quarterback Nick Foles and adding the likes of quarterback Sam Bradford, running back DeMarco Murray and linebacker Kiko Alonso. So much is riding on Bradford, whose past two seasons were cut short by torn knee ligaments. Bradford has said he'll be ready for the start of camp, and in Mark Sanchez the Eagles have a backup who can win games, too.
What happened to RGIII? A few years ago, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III looked as if he'd reinvent the game. Now, after consecutive disappointing seasons, he looks average at best. He threw just four touchdown passes in nine starts last season, quite a comedown from his rookie total of 20 in 15 starts. The Redskins have hired former NFL quarterback Matt Cavanaugh to tutor players at the position, and coach Jay Gruden said he's already seeing positive results from Griffin.
Pittsburgh can move the ball through the air, but will the Steelers be able to stop the pass? Ben Roethlisberger has some talented receiving weapons in Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, so scoring shouldn't be an issue. But for this franchise, which historically has leaned on its defense, the big questions are on that side of the ball. That means the young front seven has to step up its game, and the Steelers need to refashion a secondary that's dicey at the corners and is now missing Troy Polamalu, who retired.
Is this Peyton Manning's last hurrah? With a big birthday around the corner — he turns 40 in March — Manning begins another campaign for a second Super Bowl ring. He does so with Gary Kubiak as Denver's head coach, and that should be interesting. If history is a guide, Kubiak prefers a run-oriented offense that has the quarterback under center for much of the time, and that hasn't been Manning's style. Something's got to give.
Rex Ryan got off to a great start with the Jets. Can he do the same with Buffalo? When Ryan took over the Jets in 2009, the club hadn't won a playoff game in four seasons. His teams reached the AFC title games in each of his first two seasons. The Bills haven't won a playoff game since 1995. Challenge No. 1 for Ryan is finding a quarterback, and so far the trio of EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor hasn't generated a lot of excitement.
Is Johnny Manziel's NFL career salvageable? It's amazing how quickly things have gone south for Manziel, whose first year was a major disappointment on and off the field. The J.M. who appears far more suited for the Cleveland quarterback job is Josh McCown, more serviceable than spectacular. Manziel did make one wise move this offseason: He's dumping that finger-rubbing money sign he used to do in celebration, a holdover from his heady days at Texas A&M. Still, barring an unexpected U-turn, Johnny Football will remain Johnny Bench.