Monday, July 13, 2009

Steps Returns: The Top 5 Offseason Story Lines

As the long cold winter that is the NFL off-season approaches its end, it is time for the Giants’ Steps blog to come out of hibernation. With training camp just a few weeks away, NFL players are getting in their last few weeks of vacation, family time, and, hopefully, some pain-free living. I, meanwhile, am trying to shake off the blog rust, prepare the site for the coming campaign, and locate my web cam for season two of GSTV

This year, I’m hoping to expand and diversify coverage on the blog as we go through training camp into the 2009 regular season. Devotees (all half dozen of you) will notice a revamped look. It's a work-in-process, however I'm trying to make the blog a little cleaner and easier to get around. There is a new layout, along with a fly new banner. I’m also attempting to relocate the site to a new URL.

These aesthetic changes are meant to embody a new start for the blog. Regular posts, GSTV webisodes and fan polls will continue, but I am hoping to introduce some primary content this year as well, with player interviews and (possibly) some direct coverage from training camp in Albany. The biggest addition will be the Giants’ Steps Podcast, which will break down each week’s Giants and general NFL news. Episode One should be online by late next week.

Counting Down

As the blog gets ready for the upcoming season, I wanted to set the table for 2009’s coverage with a look at the top five storylines that I think will have the biggest impact on how the coming season will play out. The list is not based on the profile of any one particular player or team, but simply on which factors could have the biggest bearing on who hoists the Lombardi Trophy next February. Let’s count ’em down…

5) T.O. gone from Dallas: There are many intriguing stories in the NFC East this off-season, not the least of which being how the Giants will replace Plaxico Burress. In the end however, I think the release of T.O. will have the greatest impact on the playoff picture in the NFC's toughest division.

Dallas struggled last year with injuries and locker room divisions. Having seemingly overcome both issues in the off-season, at the expense of losing one of the team’s biggest talents, the onus falls on Tony Romo, Roy Williams and company to return the team to 2008 form. The Cowboys’ ability to do so could have a dramatic effect on who and how many teams from "the Beast" are in the playoff picture come January.

4) Jay Cutler traded to Chicago: It’s extremely rare to see a franchise quarterback traded. It’s even rarer to see a franchise quarterback playing for the Bears. But the arrival of the former Denver QB to the Windy City injects intrigue to the NFC North and has the potential to shake up the playoff picture. With a bright draft class, some young offensive weapons in Greg Olsen and Matt Forte, and the addition of veteran LT Orlando Pace, the Bears might be a surprise team in 2009.


3) Favre’s Annual Retirement Shuffle: Swing a new team dosey-do! With new stories circling in the media every few days, it would seem Favre’s third comeback – this time to the Vikings – is only a matter of time. Number 4 wants to return to football, but judging from ESPN’s coverage, he needs to mow his lawn a few more times and attend a few more workouts at the local high school before he commits to the purple and gold. The hall-of-famer would certainly provide the missing piece to an already strong team, and could take the defending NFC North champs deep in the playoffs in 2009.

2) 11 Teams Have New Coaches: Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New York, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay. An unprecedented 11 teams will start the 2009 season with a different coach than they started with in 2008. Mike Singletary and Tom Cable attempt to build on what they started midway through last year with their respective teams. Jim Mora succeeds Mike Holmgren in Seattle and Jim Caldwell succeeds Tony Dungy in Indianapolis. Seven other teams went back to the drawing board.

Such a dramatic turn-around could really mix things up this year. Obviously, the Lions, Chiefs, Rams and Raiders probably won’t do too much, but what if the always-reliable Colts struggle to fend off a young and talented division under their new staff? What if Jim Mora can’t command his rejuvenated Seahawks squad with the same success as his predecessor? How will guys like Rex Ryan and Eric Mangini fare with their seemingly up-and-coming teams?

I believe such a dramatic coaching turnover will yield some surprising results when the dust settles at the end of the year.

1) Return of Brady: Finally, when the best player in the league returns to a team one year removed from the Super Bowl, which still managed to go 11- 5 in his absence, the result is pretty apparent. By all accounts, Brady is looking strong in offseason workouts. While it typically takes more than a season to fully recover from a knee injury like his (look at Donovan McNabb), barring any unforeseen setbacks, the QB’s return should have a major affect on the AFC playoff picture, and potentially, the Super Bowl.

Tick, Tock

So that’s the view from mid-July. Certainly, there are a number of other off-season story lines playing out as we head into training camp, but I believe these five will prove to be the most significant in influencing who vies for Super Bowl XLIV. In any event, I can't wait until August roles around.

Let me know what you think are the biggest stories heading into training camp! You can leave a comment below or post a video response to the preview on GSTV.

Can’t wait to get this show on the road!
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One more thing...I would like to acknowledge the passing of QB Steve McNair. As a fan, I will always remember his toughness, fortitude and leadership. His one Super Bowl appearance was one of the greatest games I've ever seen. It's a shame his life had to be cut so tragically short, and my thoughts go out to his family and friends. RIP Steve...

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