How huge a blow is the loss of Pita to Joe Flacco and the Ravens? Is Baltimore a playoff team in 2013 given the attrition and injuries?
I think it is a huge loss, because Pita has a great rapport with Joe Flacco. He's really great on third down. The fact that they are also without Anquan Boldin really means that the Ravens are challenged for those tough catches, which are, often times, over the middle. I don't know how they make up that slack. You have to have a lot of faith in Ozzie Newsome to figure it out. I was optimistic about their two TE packages expanding this year, but now I don't think they can do that.
How much does the loss of Maclin hurt the Eagles?
It certainly hurts, because in this offense they use a lot of WRs. There are a lot of spread formations. Now they are without one of their most productive playmakers. They'll move on, but it's a big blow.
How will losing Koppen hurt the Broncos?
It really hurts because not only has Peyton always had a great relationship with his center, but this is usually the guy who makes all of the OL calls and is a steadying force. Replacing him, I'm sure, is a big concern for the team and the QB.
Do you think Houston could win the Super Bowl this year?
They certainly look like an elite team to me. I don't see a lot of weaknesses. They have playmakers on offenses. They're loaded on defense. I think they'll play with a lot of confidence. I expect Matt Schaub to have an excellent year. If they can stay away from injuries, they will be a tough team to beat in the AFC.
How much of these early pre-season injuries are fluke misfortune and how much is just not maintaining an off season training regime?
Oh, I think it's just a part of the game. If you want to call it a fluke, that's fine. The reality of it is, with the offseason programs the way they are now, players stay in great shape. You rarely have a situation where they come to training camp in questionable physical condition. These kinds of injuries can happen the first day of training camp or at any time during the season in practice. It's just something coaches have to deal with. But we're in an era now where players are happier when a season starts than we've ever seen.
Will Ed Dickson finally step up to the plate with Pita being out for the season? And how much does local star Visanthe Shiancoe still have left in the tank?
If he doesn't, they're in huge trouble. They're going to count on him now. Torrey Smith is a vertical receiver. Although, I've been told that he's really worked on his intermediate routes and catching the ball inside. He's still at his best as an outside deep guy, along with Jacoby Jones. With Boldin gone and Pita out, they need a guy that can move the chains on third down, make the tough catches in a crowd and over the middle. Right now, it looks to me that that guy needs to be Dickson. What Pita's injury does is take away a lot of the creativity that you can do with this offense, in terms of formations and options.
Do the additions St. Louis added to WR and O-Line allow Bradford to finally play like he was expected to?
I think you're exactly right. I've watched a lot of film on the Rams. I think they'll be one of the most improved teams in the NFL. There are questions about the back end on defense, but they have a terrific front seven. I've heard that Tavon Auston has been spectacular in the offseason and could be a dynamic WR. I think they have enough weapons, but they must keep Bradford upright. They need to develop at least the threat of a running game in the absence of Steven Jackson. The problem for the Rams is they are in a division with the 49ers and Seahawks, whom I think are the best two teams in the NFC.
What is your opinion on Romo? Have we seen the best he's got or do you think he can live up to Jerry Jones' predictions that he is an elite quarterback?
I know all of his problems from the past, but I'm still a Romo fan. When I watch him on film, he really makes a lot of plays. There is not a throw that he can not make. The question for the Cowboys is will they have a run game that's good enough this sesaon to give them balance and set up play action? If that happens, this could be a pretty dynamic offense.
Bill Callahan, who is calling the plays, is a run-oriented coach. I think we'll see a more physical style than we've seen in the past.
Do you see the Pats continuing the run the ball often with all the changes in New England?
I think you're right. Even before the Hernandez situation, I think they were committed to getting back to more balance on offense this year and running the ball better. In all of their Super Bowl runs, it seems to me that those teams had a run game that they could count on and the passing game fed off of it.
That's not the case now. And with all of the losses in the passing game, I Think they'll really try to run the ball more, make defenses play honest and that could lead to a really good Tom Brady play action package. I'm very interested to see if they run the no-huddle as much this year as they have in the past, with the challenges in the passing game.
Will Eddy LAcy win the starting job in Green Bay and if so do you think he will produce
I think the Packers actually have two rookies that they'll give snaps to. They must run the ball more effectively than they have in the past. Right now, defenses sit back in sub packages. They take away the deep ball and they don't allow Aaron Rodgers good one-on-one matchups because they don't respect the run game. The Packers don't have to be great in running the football, they just have to be good enough to respect the run game and give Rodgers a chance. And give him a chance with a play action package that at times has been non-existent.
Who is your sleeper team for this season that could surprise a lot of people? Do you think the Colts will back up their surprising season of last year?
I think the Colts will be as good as they were a year ago. They will really be well coached. But I don't know if it will be reflected in their record. They are still making a transition on both sides of the ball that requires different skill sets from the players they've had in the past and you can't do that overnight. I have a funny feeling that the Philadelphia Eagles are going to surprise a lot of teams, even though not much is expected from Chip Kelly's first year. I've watched a lot of film on his Oregon Ducks and there are so many similarities to the players he had when he was successful to the players he has in Philadelphia. My biggest question will be on defense and probably in the secondary where I just don't think they're very good. I also look at the NFC East as a good, not great division with a bunch of teams that are bunched together. That gives the Eagles a chance to be better than most people think.
Are the Chargers or Chiefs a threat in the AFC West, or do the Broncos run away with it?
In fact I just talked about the sleeper team being the Eagles, and I feel the same way about the Chiefs. This team was a quality team a year ago. They should have some balance and they now should have a QB who won't turn the ball over. I don't think they'll be quite good enough to catch Denver. But now that you've brought them up, I probably like them a little better than Philadelphia. As far as the Chargers are concerned, they're going to be young at a lot of positions and a lot of their success depends on Rivers having a bounce back year. If he gets on a roll, they might not win this division, but they can score a lot of points to keep them in some games.
What are your thoughts on the Jets' qb situation? Who starts week 1?
It's a tough decision for a coach, because there is obviously a feeling that Geno Smith is the future of the organization, though I'm not sure he is, but that's the feeling when they drafted him. As a coach, do you start Mark Sanchez and let him play until you're out of the playoff race, which could be early and then throw in Smith? Or, with such low expectations, do you start the rookie Day 1 and let him learn by fire? I would probably start Sanchez, but for a different reason. I think this offense is really going to struggle making plays and have any explosiveness. If you put a rookie into that situation, where failure is such a possibility early, it could really ruin his confidence. I think it's a tough decision but I think Sanchez will probably start for the first 4-6 weeks of the season.
What is your opinion of holding a Super Bowl in an outdoor facility that may be subject to poor weather?
The NFL will look closely at how this Super Bowl goes and if there are not a lot of problems, that could certainly be a positive sign for the future. The interesting thing about having a Super Bowl in New York, even if the weather is bad, it doesn't hurt all of the fans coming into town who are coming into town and spending money in Manhattan, snow or no snow. The only real concern is what the weather is like at the stadium on gameday. Obviously, we won't know.
For our chat next week, we'll actually be able to talk about a game, with the Hall of Fame weekend. I think it's always an exciting time to really kick off the season. We are on the ground and running now and it certainly is fun.