Can Jordan Love fill big shoes in Green Bay? Is it Brock Purdy’s job to lose in San Francisco? Is Sam Howell the answer in Washington? Neil Reynolds asks one burning question for all 32 NFL teams, continuing with the NFC…
NFL training camps are up and running across the United States and I’m on the road with our Sky Sports NFL film crew, taking in 10 teams in 12 days from sea to shining sea.
Starting in Miami and ending in San Francisco we’ll cover of plenty of miles in between in preparation for the new season.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with one key question for each NFL team and this article focuses on those in the National Football Conference (NFC).
Are head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Dak Prescott on a hot seat in Dallas?
The Dallas Cowboys have not won a Super Bowl or even reached an NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season. And yet expectations never seem to get lowered in Texas. It’s Super Bowl or bust for head coach Mike McCarthy – who insists he is putting his stamp on the offense this year – and quarterback Dak Prescott, who led the NFL with 15 interceptions in 2022 despite missing five games with a broken thumb.
Will Saquon Barkley be the star attraction for the New York Giants?
The Giants better hope the answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes’. Barkley was their main man in 2022, racking up 1,650 scrimmage yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. But will the star running back be motivated after failing to land a long-term deal this offseason? Barkley will play under the franchise tag. It will help if newly-minted $40m-per-year quarterback Daniel Jones throws more than 15 TD passes in 2023.
Did the Philadelphia Eagles do enough to keep a Super Bowl roster intact?
There was the expected raid on a Super Bowl squad that resulted in key losses such as defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and safety CJ Gardner-Johnson. But general manager Howie Roseman kept a talented roster intact by re-signing veterans in Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, James Bradberry and Darius Slay. They – along with excellent quarterback Jalen Hurts – will be the tone-setters in Philadelphia.
Will Sam Howell be the year-long answer at quarterback for the Washington Commanders?
The ascension of Washington’s fifth-round pick from 2022 is confusing. Sam Howell looked decent in a Week 18 outing against Dallas, but not much more than that. Is he the long-term answer after just one NFL start? Washington have started 13 different quarterbacks since 2016 – most in the NFL. Howell needs help from new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Washington have topped 30 points just six times since 2018 – the fewest in the NFL.
Have the Chicago Bears added enough to help quarterback Justin Fields?
There were times in 2022 when Justin Fields shone like one of the brightest stars in the NFL, particularly when he tucked the football and took off running. Of course, Fields was forced to run often due to poor protection up front. The Bears have attempted to upgrade the NFL’s 28th-ranked attack with the signings of offensive linemen Nate Davis and Darnell Wright, receiver DJ Moore and tight end Robert Tonyan.
Can the Detroit Lions live up to lofty expectations in 2023?
The Lions have not won a playoff game since the 1991 campaign. Needless to say that 31-season barren run is the longest drought in the NFL. And yet these perennial losers are favourites to take the NFC North this season after winning eight of their last 10 in 2023 and narrowly missing out on the playoffs. Detroit’s fourth-ranked attack should be feisty once more and improvements have been made to the league’s worst defense.
Can Jordan Love fill gigantic quarterback shoes for the Green Bay Packers?
Packers fans have enjoyed 31 straight seasons of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, celebrating a Super Bowl success with each legendary quarterback. Jordan Love – the 2020 first-round draft pick who signalled the beginning of the end for Rodgers at Lambeau Field – has gigantic shoes to fill. Very few know what Love is and can become as a player – he has thrown just three career TD passes in three seasons.
Will the Minnesota Vikings be involved in another roller-coaster of a season?
Think back to some of the most remarkable end-of-game moments in the 2022 season and many of them are likely to have featured the Vikings. Minnesota went a perfect 11-0 in one-score regular-season games but, frustratingly, lost by one score to the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs. After an offseason that saw multiple veterans off-loaded, Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson remain as the key men.
Will the Atlanta Falcons boast the NFL’s strongest rushing attack in 2023?
The Falcons averaged 159.9 rushing yards per game last season (third-best in the NFL) and adding Bijan Robinson to a stable that already includes 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Allgeier and still-explosive veteran Cordarrelle Patterson could lead to greater production on the ground. But second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder must also improve the NFL’s 31st-ranked passing attack. If that happens, Atlanta can take a wide-open NFC South.
Will rookie quarterback Bryce Young hit the ground running for the Carolina Panthers?
There will be some bumps in the road, but Bryce Young is expected to hit the ground running in Charlotte. Quarterback whisperer Frank Reich was brought on board as the new head coach and a returning offensive line and veteran additions such as running back Miles Sanders, receiver Adam Thielen and tight end Hayden Hurst should help. Young may be small in stature, but he could become an NFL giant given time.
Can Derek Carr resurrect his career with the New Orleans Saints?
There is synergy between Derek Carr and his new team. Both quarterback and franchise are being overlooked and positioned as middle of the NFL pack. Both will be motivated to surprise and make more noise than expected. Both have many doubters to silence. Carr needs help. Chris Olave looks the real deal at receiver but how much gas is left in the tank for veterans such as Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas?
Can Baker Mayfield save his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
Hearing Baker Mayfield’s name called first at the 2018 NFL Draft seems so long ago that it might as well have been filmed in black and white. Mayfield is already on his fourth team and is running out of chances. It won’t be easy filling the shoes of Tom Brady, of course. His stay in Tampa only lasted three years but the legend raised the bar in terms of what is expected of the Bucs. Will Baker make the same kind of demands?
Is Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray running out of time in the Arizona desert?
As he battles back from a torn ACL that ended his 2022 campaign, you have to wonder what goes through the head of quarterback Kyler Murray when he’s in the gym. Is it the homework clause that was briefly placed in his last contract? How about his own offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum saying publicly he “needs to grow up”? Or is it the fact USC QB Caleb Williams could be running this team in 2024?
Will returning veterans help the Los Angeles Rams get back to winning ways?
The Rams went all-in to win a Super Bowl, adding veterans such as Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey, Odell Beckham Jr and Von Miller to get over the hump against Cincinnati. Now, after 2022 brought the worst Super Bowl title defence in NFL history, the approach has changed. Younger and cheaper players are on board. But LA’s fortunes still rest on the veteran shoulders of Stafford, receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who all exited early through injury.
Is it Brock Purdy’s job to lose as quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers?
The fact that Brock Purdy has been cleared for the start of training camp strengthens the chances of that being the case. The previously-unheralded seventh-rounder was excellent as a rookie, winning his first seven starts before a serious elbow injury struck and he lost to Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. In the past four years, the Niners have been in a Super Bowl and two other NFC title games. They are close, very close indeed.
Is Geno Smith capable of an encore performance at quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks?
NFL Comeback Player of the Year Geno Smith might not just match his performance levels of 2022, he could raise the bar even higher in 2023. Another year as the starter should have Smith feeling even more comfortable. And his attack looks good as the Seahawks added first-round receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba to weapons such as DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Kenneth Walker. Seattle are very much in the NFC mix.