NFL 2012: Five things to watch
Beginning with the Super Bowl champion Giants' home opener against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium tonight, the chase for the next Lombardi Trophy, to be handed out at New Orleans' Superdome on Feb. 3, 2013, will officially be under way. Here's a look at some of the compelling story lines as we enter what promises to be yet another thrilling NFL campaign:
Young Guns - There will be a record five rookie quarterbacks under center to begin the season, dwarfing the previous mark of two first-year signal-callers at the helm on Opening Day. Most of the rookie QB focus will be on first overall pick and Peyton Manning heir apparent Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in Washington. However, Miami's Ryan Tannehill, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden will also be "on the clock" to prove they can establish themselves as franchise leaders in arguably the most scrutinized position in professional sports. Remember, NFL stalwarts like Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers were relegated to clipboard duty on their first-ever NFL Sundays before emerging as master helmsmen.
Who's the Boss? - Rookie quarterbacks won't be the only new kids on the block with something to prove beginning this week. There's a Fab Five of first-year NFL coaches as well, even if a couple have already held the post with different franchises. Tampa's Greg Schiano, formerly of Rutgers, Indianapolis' Chuck Pagano and Oakland's Dennis Allen will each be taking their first stab at running a sideline. Pagano and Allen are defensive-minded coaches, while Schiano hopes to take his "keep choppin'" approach with the Scarlet Knights into the league where they pay for play. Longtime Titans head man Jeff Fisher hopes to revitalize a dormant program in St. Louis while Mike Mularkey needs to get disgruntled running back Maurice Jones-Drew and the rest of the Jaguars back into playoff contention in the AFC.
Bounty Brothers - Never underestimate a team with a giant chip on its shoulder, especially when it's being led by a quarterback coming off one of the greatest seasons in NFL history. Drew Brees, who threw for an astronomical 5,476 yards in 2011, won't have suspended head coach and offensive guru Sean Peyton to help him navigate the NFL's top defenses this season, but the defending NFC South champs are chomping at the bit to put "Bounty Gate" behind them. The pay-for-pain scandal also cost the Saints three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who continues to dispute Commissioner Roger Goodell's season-long suspension. Owner Tom Benson would like nothing better than to accept the Lombardi from Goodell while using his trademark umbrella to shield himself from the falling confetti at the Superdome come the first Sunday in February.
Peyton's Place - John Elway knows a thing or two about quarterbacks in their alleged "twilight" seeking to go out on top. The Broncos' vice president for football operations won the Super Bowl in each of his last two seasons behind center before calling it quits. He's hoping former Indy great and four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning can do the same in Denver beginning with Sunday night's season opener against Pittsburgh. Manning, 36, was pushed out of Indy after sitting out last season's 2-14 Colts disaster with a neck injury as owner Jim Irsay not-so-delicately nudged him to the side to grab Luck with the No. 1 pick. Manning will be putting both his health and reputation as a game-changing player on the line this season by chasing his second Lombardi sans horseshoe.
The Dez Rules - There's always something to watch in Dallas, be it a "celebrity quarterback", a mouthy owner or, in this case, a wide receiver with his own set of instructions. Dez Bryant, he of the infamous alleged "Mom Assault", is undoubtedly brimming with talent and could emerge as a key piece in Jerry Jones' desperate chase of a fourth Super Bowl title during his reign as Cowboys owner. But Bryant will be more closely guarded than the President this season as the 'Boys have doled out a set of rules for the former first-round pick to follow. They include: A midnight curfew, no drinking alcohol, no strip clubs, twice-a-week counseling sessions and almost constant surveillance and self-protection provided by a rotating team of security officials. For once, Tony Romo's infamous fourth-quarter meltdowns will be secondary fodder in the Dallas press.