FOOTBALL'S BACK FOOTBALL'S BACK FOOTBALL'S BACK FOOTBALL'S BACK FOOTBALL'S BACK FOOTBALL'S BACK FOOTBALL'S BACK
And the real stuff, not that silly college nonsense! Look at them, they have one measly thread for the whole year!
San Francisco @ Dallas: The season could not arrive soon enough for the 49ers. With incidents that ranged from real to maybe not real to completely fabricated to surreal to we're-not-certain-yet-but-probably-really-bad, the 49ers have been in the newspaper all offseason for the wrong reasons. Yet, that aside, it has been an excellent offseason for the team, with some key free agent acquisitions and a bounty of draft picks, as well as signing their young QB to a team-friendly long term deal. Dallas is in cap purge mode in 2014 ($25 mil dead money), and made waves in the draft by not selecting the much-hyped QB from their home state. That non-pick comes with a report that Jerry Jones had written Manziel's name on the card, and his son and team executive Stephen Jones snatched the card out of Jerry's hand. That report is disputed, yet Jerry Jones says he's damn mad about missing out on Manziel, despite Manziel's abysmal preseason (don't worry Jerry, you can snatch him up in a couple years, just like Weeden).
Carolina @ Tampa Bay: I liked it better when I thought Cam Newton was phony. He enters 2014 on a team in full-on cap purge ($19 mil dead money), with a depleted receiving corps (save for a rookie WR who has given Carolina every reason to believe their faith was warranted so far), and he is set to play week 1 despite a foot injury and fractured rib that both could have reasonably delayed the start of his season. The sonofabitch is a happy, hard-working army of one, and while the Panthers picking up the option year of his deal has delayed his big payday another year, one should not doubt he will earn that big payday this season, even if the Panthers themselves aren't likely to remain at the level they have been while they get their books right. Tampa Bay enters the year with a big rookie WR of their own, a new (old) QB, a new (old) guard, a new (old) coach, a new (not so old) GM, and a reasonable chance to compete in a fierce division. For the first time in recent memory, thanks to the Mankins trade, the Bucs do not enter this season sitting on a Scrooge McDuckian stack of unused salary cap money.
Indianapolis @ Denver: On the list of headlines I did not expect to read this week, Wes Welker took Molly at the Kentucky Derby would have to rank highly. Welker was already on the fringes of the Denver gameplan after suffering a concussion in preseason. Peyton Manning will still have no lack of targets, with free agent Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer stepping in for Welker and departed free agent Eric Decker. On the defensive side, Von Miller went an entire offseason without a traffic incident. He will be joined by new additions Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and T.J. Ward, a group selected in a clear "Win Now" mentality. While the Broncos looked for help from the outside, the Colts largely retained their own, and improvement will have to come from within. With no 1st round pick after the Trent Richardson trade, Indy struggled to improve the roster in the draft, and lost Antoine Bethea to free agency. On top of that, Robert Mathis is suspended for 4 games, and their owner Jim Irsay has been suspended for 6. It has been a rough offseason for Indy, but ultimately they will go where Andrew Luck is able to take them.
NY Giants @ Detroit: The Giants started off 2013 at 0-6, making their eventual 7-9 finish kind of impressive. This offseason, the Giants replaced their cast of underachieving RBs with overachiever Rashad Jennings. They also drafted Odell Beckham to give them another legitimate outside target, although Beckham's injury has kept him on the sidelines, and will continue to do so for the early part of the season. Chris Snee retired, but the Giants gave their interior line some replacement help with free agent Geoff Schwartz and 2nd round center Weston Richburg (although Schwartz will miss time, prompting the Giants to sign recent 49er cut Adam Snyder). Detroit finally acquired a receiver to line up opposite Calvin Johnson, in free agent Golden Tate. They also drafted TE Eric Ebron to give them some juice at a spot Brandon Pettigrew has disappointed at for years. However, the Lions weak point - the secondary - remains as weak as ever.
San Diego @ Arizona: 2013 was a year of revival for the starting QBs of these two teams. Philip Rivers bounced way back under the scheme of the new regime, helped in no small part by the drafting and starting of Keenan Allen. Ryan Mathews played - all year! - and produced, along with utility halfback Danny Woodhead. Their defense, however, remains a concern in a division where they must chase Denver. Arizona is in the same boat, chasing San Francisco and Seattle. Like San Diego, offense gives them hope, particularly with the (soon-to-be?) emergence of Andre Ellington. But defensive concerns, including the season-long suspension of Daryl Washington, free agency loss of Karlos Dansby, and season-ending injury loss of Darnell Dockett, threaten to leave the Cardinals without enough defense to keep up.