With the NFL season upon us, all eyes are going to swivel upon America's sport from every angle. Here are four teams that will probably receive the most attention as they gear up for a hopefully good season.
New Orleans Saints
Last Season: 13-3, First in NFC South
Perhaps the team with the most amount of controversy starting the season, the New Orleans Saints must overcome their head coach being suspended for the year, the interim coach sitting out 6 games and even the General Manager is looking at eight games gone. These potential distractions aside, the Saints return an offense that was one of the most prolific in the league last season.
With Drew Brees getting his contract situation out of the way, the Saints offense is set to pick up where it left off last season. Though it may be much to ask if Brees can put up another 5,000 yard season, his experience and leadership will do much to overcome the lack of Head Coach Sean Payton's organizational skills.
The real key to the Saints success this season lies in whether its defense can perform better than it did last season. Their defense allowed opponents to pass for over 4,000 yards during the 2011 regular season, something that kept the pressure on the offense to keep up with. If they can get any improvement from that squad, this team should easily see double digit wins and another trip to the playoffs.
Last Season: 8-8, First in AFC West
The 2011 Denver Broncos were not pretty to watch. With Tim Tebow under center, it was a ton of running and ugly throws combined with mesmerizing comebacks and last minute wins to steal the AFC West. Not happy with their quarterback situation, the Broncos, led by their vice president and former QB great John Elway, went out and recruited the biggest free agent of all time, Peyton Manning.
With Manning under center, even despite some rust from coming back from a missed season, the Broncos are an instant upgrade over the team of 2011. Though it will take time for everyone to get used to each other and to Peyton's style of play, this team should be heads and shoulders better than they were.
Now, whether this translates to more wins remains to be seen. Last year was a fluky one for the AFC West but with San Diego, Oakland, and Kansas City all looking like they have the potential to break out, it's anyone’s ballgame.
Last Season: 8-8, Tied for second in NFC East
Last year's Cowboys squad was plagued by injuries, inefficiency and a general lack of killer instinct that saw them repeatedly lose games late. Dallas actually led the division with a 7-4 record before dropping four out of five, including two to the Giants, the team they practically handed the title over to.
This offseason, the Cowboys looked their problems in the face and did their best to shore them up. They went out and signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five year deal and traded up to draft fellow cornerback Morris Claiborne, moves meant to improve a secondary that was the reason for so many late game fails. Also, with the return of DeMarco Murray, who suffered a season ending ankle injury during that pivotal final season stretch, Dallas' run game should be back on track.
The only question marks surrounding this team, besides whether it can close out games, is when they will get pro bowl tight end Jason Witten back. They are, as of right now, still waiting to hear if Witten will receive medical clearance to play after suffering a lacerated spleen in the Aug 13 preseason opener at Oakland.
This is a make or break year for the Cowboys. They have to make it into the playoffs or it's inevitable that Jerry Jones will blow this team up.
Last Season:12-4, First in AFC North
It's really hard to get a handle on the threat level of the Baltimore Ravens this season. On the one hand, they are an angry team that was but one missed chip shot field goal away from potentially going to the Super Bowl. But on the other hand, their defense is one year older while their offense hasn't gotten remarkably better this offseason.
Ultimately, this season will come down to the performance of quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco must improve on his 20 touchdown performance of 2011 if this team is going to go all the way. With linebacker Terrell Suggs, the 2011 NFL defensive player of the year, missing most of the upcoming season, more pressure will be put upon the offense to contribute more. This is the year Flacco must prove his worth, plain and simple.
James LeBeau is a sports contributor for CraveOnline Sports and you can follow him on Twitter @JleBeau76 or subscribe on Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.
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