By Clark Judge | July 20, 2018
Football returned this week, which means it won’t be long before you’re asking who’s going to win the Super Bowl.
Patience, people. Before we get there, we have 10 burning questions for some of the best and brightest of today’s head coaches … questions that must be answered before anyone gets to the Super Bowl. So let’s get started:
1. How carefully does Frank Reich handle Andrew Luck?
Reich was the offensive coordinator behind the Nick Foles Story, with Foles going from a career backup who considered retiring to a Super Bowl hero. Reich played a role — maybe a major role — in putting Foles back together. Luck, of course, is a whole different study. He’s one of the most talented quarterbacks in the game, but he’s coming off a serious shoulder injury that sidelined him all of last season. Luck has missed 26 of the past 48 games, which means Reich must handle him with care, even though he has no choice but to play him in preseason games.
2. Can Pat Shurmur restore Eli Manning … and the Giants?
Since winning Super Bowl XLVI, Manning is 42-53, with 154 touchdowns, 99 interceptions and one playoff appearance. In short, he’s been nothing more than underwhelming … and the same goes for Big Blue. Granted, Manning had little protection from his offensive line and a nonexistent running game, and the Giants will try to correct that with the additions of people like rookie RB Saquon Barkley and left tackle Nate Solder. But then it’s up to Manning … and that’s where Shurmur comes in. He played a key role in Foles’ first breakout season with the Eagles in 2013, and the Giants hope he can do for Eli what he did for Foles.
3. How and when does Doug Pederson make the switch from Super Bowl hero Nick Foles to Carson Wentz?
I know, the simple answer is: When Wentz is healthy. But he’s coming off a serious knee injury, and Foles is coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance. It’s a nice dilemma to have. But it’s a potential landmine if Pederson isn’t careful.
4. Will Hue Jackson live up to his word and stick with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback?
Color me doubtful. Jackson insists Taylor is his starter for 2018 and that Baker Mayfield will sit and learn … and that’s great. But Houston’s Bill O’Brien tried to sit then-rookie DeShaun Watson a year ago, too, and that lasted one half of one game. If the Browns struggle out of the gate — and this is a team that’s won one game in two years — there will be pressure galore on Jackson to turn to his top overall draft pick.
5. Can Jon Gruden do for Derek Carr what he did for Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson?
No, he doesn’t have to make Carr into an MVP like Gannon or a Super Bowl champ like Johnson. But he does have to get the guy to improve on a disappointing 2017 when his touchdowns were down and his interceptions up from 2016 and when he won half as many games (6). But how are the two going to get along? Carr insists that’s not an issue, but he hasn’t played a game with Gruden. Stay tuned.
6. How long a leash does John Harbaugh give Joe Flacco?
Flacco is the incumbent, has been the team’s starter since 2008 and was a Super Bowl MVP. But if the Ravens felt warm and fuzzy about the guy, they wouldn’t have traded up to draft former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Since winning Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco is 38-36, and the Ravens have been to the playoffs once. That has to change, and Flacco knows it. He also knows the Ravens won’t miss a chance to get Jackson on the field in some position … any position … this season and that they now have a Plan B if he plays like an ordinary Joe.
7. Can Kansas City’s Andy Reid win with a virtual rookie at quarterback?
He must think so. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have traded away Alex Smith. Patrick Mahomes has exactly one NFL start, and, okay, so everyone says all the right things about the guy. But this is a gamble. And it reminds me a little of when Reid traded away Donovan McNabb in 2010 and turned the keys to his offense over to Michael Vick. Result: Reid never won another playoff game in Philadelphia and was gone within three years.
8. How soon before the Jets’ Todd Bowles is all-in on Sam Darnold?
Some scouts thought the USC star was the best quarterback in the draft, and he was … if the draft were 2017. Nevertheless, he was a steal for the Jets at the third spot and figures to be the starter this year. The question, of course, is: When? For the moment, Darnold has journeyman Josh McCown in front of him, with former Viking Teddy Bridgewater an intriguing possibility – provided he’s healthy. But who’s kidding whom? There’s a reason the Jets traded up to take a quarterback, and it’s not to keep Fireman Ed company.
9. How does Pete Carroll reconstruct the Legion of Boom?
He doesn’t. Most of its key players are gone – including Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett – and the Legion’s last founding member, Earl Thomas, wants out if he can’t gain a contract extension. So what’s next? Ask Russell Wilson. Now, more than ever, the Seahawks are his team.
10. Is the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick “friction” real or fake news?
Ask an insider — former Patriots linebacker James Harrison qualifies. He claims stories about a fissure are “made up,” and maybe he’s right. But this just in: Brady didn’t show at offseason workouts and has talked about walking away from the game “sooner rather than later.” There are too many stories not to believe something is up, but will it keep the Patriots from going deep in the playoffs? Ask the experts. Oddsmakers make them Super Bowl favorites … again.