1. What effect will replacement refs have on the business?
Never thought you would see fans pining for more Ron Winter did you? Bumbling replacement officials birthed a new appreciation for the locked out regular zebras by week 2. … of the preseason. If this gets settled before the regular season’s four games in, the answer is none. If it doesn’t and games take too long with obvious blown calls costing teams games, that’s a problem.
2. What in-game toys, if any, will stem the slow in-game attendance slide?
There’s nothing like watching the NFL live. There’s also nothing like the RedZone Channel, an NFL Network creation that bounces you around to games when scoring is imminent. Or, cheaper alcohol, clean bathrooms (they go together) and the right to unilaterally eject that boorish Eagles fan working your last good nerve.
3. Will the Saints bounty stuff get settled in time for the Super Bowl?
The legal challenges keep New Orleans’ bounty black eye in the news while the image conscious NFL winces at how intent to injure combines with concussions. Even if it does, the NFL must know that even though the Saints are less likely than Alabama to turn up in the Super Bowl, it’ll be a story Super Bowl Week when the world’s media hits New Orleans, where the locals use words for Roger Goodell they used to save for Nick Saban.
4. Is Manning-in-Denver another Namath-in-L.A. or Unitas-in-San Diego?
Peyton Manning’s not the first future Hall of Fame quarterback to change teams. Those that don new colors late in their career, however, tend to have limited success at best. And none of them had an entire offense so tailor around him as Manning did in Indianapolis. At 36, 21 months removed from his last game that counted, the gloaming might’ve begun already.
5. Can Tebow make it there or anywhere?
The NFL’s most square-jawed, upstanding, genuine All-American Boy and polarizing player, Tim Tebow, got traded to the market that fashions itself as the most sophisticated and cynical in the world. Will Tebow become a key cog with the Jets, make New York love him, praise him or will his NFL career be buried a few miles from those who crossed the wiseguys in the 1950s and 1960s?
6. Who’s Eventually Going Hollywood?
Don’t expect lightning moves. A memo to each franchise from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly said teams evaluate and consult with the league on all options in the current market. That said, the league wants to be back in the second largest U.S. market soon. New Jaguars owner Shad Khan vows to keep the franchise in Jacksonville. The Chargers, which began existence as the Los Angeles Chargers, can’t get anything definitive from the City of San Diego on a new stadium. The Raiders, in L.A. from 1982-94, want to stay in Oakland while the NFL would like the team just to stay in the Bay Area. Buffalo? St. Louis?
7. What’s next in concussion news?
When Pittsburgh linebacker Larry Foote polished off a tackle with a superfluous, concussive forearm to the head Indianapolis wide receiver Austin Collie, it signaled the league office that the concussion culture hadn’t changed enough. So, now, it’s only a question of who’ll retire next or whose too-soon death will be laid at the feet of the Concussion Monster. And what effect that’ll have on legal questions facing the league.
8. Can rookie quarterbacks restore damaged franchises?
Once, the Redskins were Washington’s only unifying force, the Dolphins were the only thing that bonded South Florida and Cleveland thumped its chest over the Browns. Paint the nostalgic sepia on those days, they’ve been gone so long. Robert Griffin III (Washington), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins) and Brandon Weeden (Cleveland) have accepted the mission to restore the glory to these tarnished-by-failure franchise names. Good luck, men.
9. Will less camp mean less quality?
One thing the players got in this collective bargaining agreement — fewer minicamps, less hitting in camps, virtual elimination of two-a-days in the summer heat. The level of sloppiness in the play will tell us if the players were right (all those practices were unnecessary overkill by control freak coaches) or if the coaches were right (today’s game requires this level of commitment to execute well).
10. What’ll prove to be a flash in the 2011 pan?
The resurrection of San Francisco under rookie NFL coach Jim Harbaugh with Alex Smith under center? Carolina’s one-man offensive juggernaut, rookie Cam Newton, running and passing like an test tube-bred hybrid Pro Bowl running back and quarterback? Cincinnati’s rookies, quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, helping put teeth back in the Bengals?