Early picks for this season’s biggest NFL storylines
It suddenly feels as if the NFL season is rapidly approaching. While we know that league coverage never really stops in the offseason, we’re now nearing the true preseason period.
The NBA has wrapped up (congrats to the Milwaukee Bucks), and with the Olympics starting up much of the sports world is soon to be distracted for a month. Once the Games are wrapped in Tokyo though, the NFL preseason will truly be upon us.
Given how close we are, it seems as good a time as any to take a broad look at what to expect from the coming NFL season. Specifically, I did some thinking about what figure to be the biggest storylines in 2022 — not just for Steelers fans, but for the broader football community.
As anticipation for the 2021 campaign builds up, these are the storylines I expect to be dominating the early coverage.
Tom Brady’s Encore
Unsurprisingly, talk of a Tom Brady repeat began almost immediately after the Bucs completed their Super Bowl run this past February. The whole Brady/Bucs thing felt almost like a stunt at first and briefly felt like a failure early in the season.
By the time we reached the playoffs though, it was clear Tampa’s rise wasn’t a fluke.
The team turned itself into a powerhouse, which makes repeat talk at least somewhat appropriate — or at least inevitable. So, while those of us beyond New England and Tampa may have had our fill of Brady news over the years, I expect to see him continuing to dominate headlines and talking points for as long as Tampa continues to seem competitive.
The Aaron Rodgers Debacle
I’m not quite sure what to say about the Aaron Rodgers situation at this point. Following an MVP-caliber season in 2020, Rodgers has seemingly spent the last several months vacationing with actress Shailene Woodley and pursuing a second career as the new host of Jeopardy!.
Along the way, Rodgers somewhat abruptly became completely disenchanted with the idea of playing for the Packers.
While it briefly seemed like this issue had boiled over, we recently learned that Rodgers rejected a contract offer that would have made him the NFL’s highest-paid player. Where does all of this end up? I have no idea. But the one guarantee seems to be that Rodgers will continue to be a big story.
The Patriots QB Battle
Maybe now that we’re a full season removed from the Brady era, New England won’t dominate the headlines quite as much.
It certainly seems that as long as the Patriots’ QB situation is in flux, it will generate a lot of attention.
There’s a lot of natural intrigue in the concept of an over-the-hill former MVP in Cam Newton attempting to stave off rookie Mac Jones — whom many New Englanders hope represents the future.
Trevor Lawrence’s Star Power
The last QB storyline (I promise) has to be that of Trevor Lawrence and his potential start power. The Jaguars rookie enters the NFL with the kind of hype we haven’t seen since Andrew Luck — and frankly seems to have a bigger persona.
Lawrence has a multi-year partnership with Adidas already and is also a representative for Bose and Gatorade. He’s connected to a cryptocurrency app and has his own COVID-19 relief fund.
It also doesn’t hurt that he’s coming off of a legendary college career, playing for an all-time great college coach starting out in the NFL, and can be somewhat reasonably compared to “Sunshine” Ronnie Bass from Remember The Titans. This guy is going to be a media magnet.
One More QB Story
Does anyone know what’s going on in Houston with the Texans and Deshaun Watson?
After firing Bill O’Brien as the head coach and general manager, Houston has been a dumpster fire intensifying in heat. They let long-time stars go such as WR DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt (who also helped raise funds for disaster relief in the area). Then Watson started demanding a trade before legal troubles surfaced like a bubbling crude a la the Beverly Hillbillies. (And turning into a gusher before it quietly hasn’t been brought up in weeks.)
The Texans didn’t have much in terms of draft capital and couldn’t even pick a player until pick 67, selecting Stanford’s Davis Mills, the eighth quarterback taken in the NFL Draft. They also signed veteran Tyrod Taylor, who seems to popup in the worst situations and enters a shaky one where the Texans lack playmakers and have a brand-new staff with an unknown, highly paid star problem.
Needless to say, this is a story to keep an eye on as the season nears.
The Rookie Wide Receiver Class
Maybe the most fun topic of all is the rookie wide receiver class we’re about to get a look at. Granted, the draft hype cycle has gotten a little bit out of control, to the point that it seems the media is telling us each year’s class is better than the last.
The top-tier receivers that were drafted in the spring look to be franchise-altering talents.
There will be a large spotlight on Ja’Marr Chase (Cincinnati), Jaylen Waddle (Miami), and DeVonta Smith (Philadelphia), and it will be exciting to see what they can do — even if I’m not especially thrilled about the possibility of Chase blowing up in their division.
The Steelers Defense
The good news is that we won’t have to worry much about the Ja’Marr Chase if the Steelers defense is as good as so many of us expect it to be. This was a dominant unit for long stretches of 2020 and could be better this time around.
Continuity matters in NFL defenses, and though there’s been a little bit of turnover the core is back.
Am I a little biased? Sure.
But I genuinely think the Steelers’ defense could be so good in the early going as to generate some league-wide buzz. (Stifling Josh Allen and the Bills in Week 1 would certainly get the ball rolling.)
If not, I could see the storylines swinging to the Steelers demise, should they start 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, etc. (The media had already done so for years with Brady’s tenure in New England, predicting an end that never came.)